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Bird, Bolton Stafford (1840–1924)

By the death of the Hon. Bolton Stafford Bird, C.M.G., which occurred in his 85th year at his residence, Brunivale, Lunawanna, Bruny Island, yesterday afternoon, Tasmania has lost a worthy citizen, held in the highest esteem, and with a long honourable and useful career of public service to his credit. For 42 years he was in the State Parliament, first in the House of Assembly and afterwards in the Legislative Council, and it was only in May last, at the expiration of the term of six years to which he was elected in 1918, that he relinquished active participation in State politics and entered into retirement at his picturesque home on South Bruny. His striking figure – tall, well set-up and with a snow white beard—was familiar to most people in Southern Tasmania and he was wonderfully active and vigorous for a man of his years until quite recent times. Two months ago his health began to fail, but he had only been in bed a fortnight when he passed peacefully away. To the end his mind was perfectly clear, and he read with the keenest interest the reports of the State Parliament in the press up to a few days ago. His only son, Mr. R. C. Bird, who had come over from Melbourne, and his daughter, Mrs. Weatherley, were present when the end came. His other daughter, Mrs. Garnsey, had visited him recently.

Mr. Bird has left behind him an exceptional record of public usefulness in religious, social, and political spheres extending over a very long period of years. He was born at Hazelrigg, near Newcastle (England), in 1840. His mother, Ann Stafford, was a descendant of the family of that name, well known in the North of England. Both his father's and his mother's people had large interests in shipbuilding, and in North Sea and Irish trading concerns. Mr. Stafford Bird received his early education in his native country and in Victoria, to which State he came with his parents, who took up land at Clunes in 1852. Whilst in that State he studied and was trained for the Wesleyan ministry, and was admitted in 1865. Subsequently he joined the Congregational body, and his first charge was in connection therewith, at Ballarat, where he remained for three years. He was afterwards for three years in charge of various Congregational churches in the Avoca district of Victoria. In 1873 he ministered at Redbank (Victoria), and in 1874 he came to Hobart. The late Rev. George Clarke, minister of Davey-street Congregational Church, and family went on a trip to the Old Country, and having to be away about three years the pulpit at that church became vacant. Mr. Bird, then at Bendigo, was induced to come over to fill the vacancy, and as a result he was chosen as Mr. Clarke's successor. A few years afterwards, about the time that Mr. Clarke was returning to the city, Mr. Bird's health broke down, and he resigned from the pastorate, and Mr. Clarke was welcomed back.

Mr. Bird then bought a farm called "Waterloo," in the Huon district, took up his residence there with his family, and embarked on fruitgrowing, his health thereby greatly improving. At this time he took a very active and prominent part in initiating the shipment of Tasmanian apples to the Old Country, spending and losing a good deal of his own money in relation to the trial shipments, and had ever since been regarded as the pioneer of the big fruit shipments overseas which followed in subsequent years, and which resulted in a large number of orchardists making comfortable fortunes.

Mr. Bird was not at "Waterloo" long before his abilities and uprightness of character became publicly recognised, and he was returned to the House of Assembly to represent the Franklin district in May, 1882, and subsequently re-elected in July, 1886, April, 1887, May, 1891, December, 1893, and January, 1897. Having been chosen as Treasurer in the Fysh-Bird Government in that year, he had to submit himself to his constituents for re-election, and was duly returned, and also returned again in October, 1899, and February, 1900. In 1904 he was chosen to represent South Hobart in the Assembly, and again in 1905. He held the office as Treasurer, Postmaster-General, and Minister for Education in the Fysh-Bird Government from March, 1887, to August, 1892, was next Leader of the Opposition during the Dobson-Henry administration, and again during the Braddon-Fysh administration from 1898 to October, 1899. His speech on the occasion of his introducing a want of confidence motion, which resulted in the overthrow of the Braddon Government, was considered to have been one of his finest efforts He was chosen as Minister for Education and Postmaster-General in Sir Elliott Lewis's Ministry in October, 1899. When the post office business was transferred to the Commonwealth Government in March, 1901, he took the portfolio of Minister for Railways in addition to the Treasurership. He was one of the Tasmanian representatives on the Federal Council of Australasia, which met in Hobart in the days prior to Federation, and took a prominent part in many notable debates. He was also one of the representatives of Tasmania at the Federal conference held in Melbourne in February, 1890, and at the Federal convention held in Sydney in March, 1891. From February, 1894, to December, 1896, he was Speaker of the House of Assembly. In May, 1909, he was returned to the Legislative Council for the Huon district and was re-elected in May, 1912, and May, 1918. In 1919 he was appointed chairman of committees in the Legislative Council on the death of the Hon. R. J. McKenzie He remained a member of the Council until May last when, at the expiration of the period of six years for which he had been elected, he decided not to offer himself for re-election. Mr. Bird was also a territorial magistrate, and legal manager and representative in Tasmania of several important mining companies. The honour of C.M.G. was conferred by the King on Mr. Bird on January 1, 1920.

Mr. Bird's training and experience as a preacher gave him much freedom in expressing himself, and he was a man with a good deal of insight and incisiveness, whilst he accounted nothing too much trouble in connection with his Parliamentary duties, and rendering public services to his constituency. As to his political views, they were somewhat democratic, and on several occasions as leader of the Opposition and as a Minister, he displayed considerable tactical skill in debates and party strife. He was never an unfair opponent, being always courteous and never indulging in personalities or displaying personal bitterness, but showing always a frankness and broad mindedness towards those who were opposed to him. As a public man, though he made no pretensions to brilliance, he was one of the most useful of the State’s politicians, fair, honest, and conscientious in all things and always a man of his word. Though in favour of Federation, he was one of the minority who strongly disapproved of the principles upon which it was founded in the Enabling Bill which the majority carried in the conventions of 1890 and 1891, where be made his voice heard in some very thoughtful speeches, especially in relation to the financial aspect, of which he showed a firm grip. That he was right in his opinions as to the effects of federation on Tasmania subsequent events have clearly shown. As a citizen he was liberal minded and kindly in all his actions, much disliking narrow, bigoted notions and dogmas. Whilst filling the office of Treasurer in the Fysh-Bird Government, he displayed much sound administrative ability, and delivered several notable speeches, but in common with his colleagues of those days, when a serious financial slump set in, he shared in the severe criticism that was levelled at their lavish expenditure, as it was termed, though subsequent developments showed that their policy was more far-seeing than erratic.

The Hon. B. S. Bird was married to Helen Chisholm, whose father, Robert, was one of the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank and owned considerable property in Peebleshire, and who emigrated to New Zealand hoping to find in a new country better opportunities for his large family of sons and daughters. Mrs. Bird predeceased her husband a few years, their family remaining consisting of one son (Mr. R. C. Bird) and two daughters (Mrs. Weatherly and Mrs. Garnsey).

The funeral wall take place at Lunawanna on Thursday at 10.30 am.

Premier's Eulogy
"The people of Tasmania generally will regret the death of Hon. Stafford Bird" said the Premier (Hon. Joseph Lyons). "He was one of the old time statesmen of Tasmania, and a very able man. Although his politics differed from mine, I cannot but recognise his splendid work for Tasmania. During his long political career he occupied many highly important and responsible positions with conspicuous ability. He was an outstanding figure of wonderful personality."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Bird, Bolton Stafford (1840–1924)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bird-bolton-stafford-1664/text1778, accessed 30 July 2014.

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