JOHN EDWARD NEWELL BULL, MILITARY OFFICER & PUBLIC SERVANT
This O.H.M.S. cover is addressed to J.E.N. Bull Esqre JP, Res. Warden’s Office, Castlemaine and has a dull rose ‘Emblems’ 4d stamp (SG 68). It was sent in June 1858 from Maldon Victoria. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
He was born in Athlone, Ireland on 11 October 1806, the second son of Lt.-Colonel Robert Bull and his wife Harriet. He was educated in England and entered the Military College at Sandhurst in 1820, became a lieutenant and his regiment was transferred to Ceylon, where he married Mary Gunn in Kandy in April 1830. Four of their 10 children were born there. He returned to England in 1838 and he was appointed a deputy judge advocate, although still in the army. In June 1842 his regiment was transferred to Hobart in charge of Irish convicts, and then on to Sydney, where he was sworn in as magistrate. He later opened a camp at Blackheath NSW in the Blue Mountains, where for six years he was in charge of convicts.
In October 1852 he was appointed commissioner of crown lands in Victoria and resident commissioner of the Bendigo goldfields. He supervised the establishment of the town of Castlemaine and contributed significantly to this town over the next 44 years. His tact and sense of justice won him the respect of the diggers and the townspeople. Bull attended the meetings of the local branch of the Gold Fields Reform League. On one occasion his reference to the gold licence system as ‘this unfortunate tax– unfortunate it is for all of us’ met with the warm response by the diggers. When the goldfields administration was reorganised in 1855, he was appointed warden of the Castlemaine district, a position he held until his retirement in 1869.
The warmth of the local feeling for Bull can partly be explained by his interest in local affairs outside his administrative duties, the Castlemaine Hospital, the Mechanics Institute and the first National school. He was an active member of the Anglican Church, a trustee of the Savings Bank for 40 years from 1855-95, and first president of the Benevolent Asylum. He was also a president of the Castlemaine and Muckleford Agricultural Society, and the Castlemaine Philharmonic Society.
He was the first commanding officer of the Castlemaine Volunteer Rifles, and in 1863 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in charge of the corps in the north western district. A picture of Bull seated on a horse, with troops of the Castlemaine Rifle Corps and band members in 1861, is shown in Figure 2.
Bull’s later years were spent with his wife at their home near Castlemaine. They celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in 1890, but suffered a severe blow when their house and all their possessions were destroyed by fire. Bull died at his daughter’s home in Goulburn, NSW on 25 May 1901. Historic Bull’s Camp is named after him at Woodford NSW in the Blue Mountains, which was first set aside as a stock reserve in 1829, then a camp for convicts employed in the building of roads.
This paper is based on the entry on John Edward Newell Bull in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.