Booktown’s Boulton Ghosts

Issue OneNon-Fiction

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By Louise Wilson

© Louise Wilson, 6 May 2016.

The small Victorian town of Clunes has become famous in recent years as Australia’s ‘Booktown’. Yet a small guest house operated by a Mrs Boulton at Wentworth Falls, NSW in the later 1890s was named ‘Clunes’. Why? Wraith-like, this ‘Clunes’ disappeared into the Blue Mountains mist around 1900. Why?

For the answers, step back in time to the birth of Philip Boulton in London, at 5 Fulham Place, Paddington on 15 June 1852.[1] Now get set for a long list of family deaths. In 1860 when Philip was just eight years old his 37-yr-old father Thomas Dawson Boulton died of consumption (tuberculosis).[2] In that same year Philip’s 62-yr-old paternal grandfather Thomas Willson Boulton also died, from disease of the heart and kidneys. The latter’s father and grandfather had died at the ages of 45 and 52 respectively, for reasons unknown two centuries later. The influence of Philip Boulton’s new stepfather John Bishop, who was a Railway Superintendent, lasted for a brief period of four years, as 51-yr-old John Bishop died in 1866.  Within months Philip’s 70-yr-old maternal grandfather Charles Butterfield died, of apoplexy and exhaustion. Philip had not yet turned fourteen.

All these deaths of the male breadwinners placed pressure on Philip to contribute financially to his family’s welfare. His Butterfield grandfather had been an accountant, and Philip opted for a similar role in the workforce. Probably with the help of his stepfather’s contacts, 15-yr-old Philip entered the service of London Chatham & Dover Railway Company.[3] His office was located at Victoria Station, near Buckingham Palace and not far from his birthplace on the opposite side of Hyde Park.

Just after Philip’s 21st birthday in 1873, his 47-yr-old mother died of phthisis (an old name for tuberculosis). In her will she made Philip and his older brother, soon to captain merchant ships on the Australian run, the guardians of their two younger sisters. His two grandmothers evidently had good strong genes and survived the longest in his family, into their early eighties: his maternal grandmother Caroline Butterfield lasted until 1876 and his paternal grandmother Elizabeth Boulton until April 1877.

The story goes that Philip Boulton sought to escape the ‘early death’ syndrome affecting so many members of his family by moving to a warmer and healthier place with cleaner air. In June 1877, arrangements for his sisters being satisfactory, 25-yr-old Philip left the London Chatham & Dover Railway Company voluntarily in the hope of bettering his position.[4] He’d inherited sufficient money from his various deceased relatives that he could afford to be choosy about what he did next. In a testimonial written a year later his former boss wished Philip well with his intended move to Australia:

During the whole time that you were with the company, I never once had occasion to find fault with you. You proceeded step by step to the position that you eventually occupied, and had you remained with us, there is no doubt that as opportunity offered, you would have gone on advancing. I cannot speak too highly of your general good conduct, your zeal, ability and correctness in discharging your duties, and I have always regretted the severance of your connection with this company, as we never like to lose a good officer … and if there is one thing of which I can feel absolutely certain it is that nobody who gives you occupation will ever have occasion to regret it.[5]

Ten days later Philip sailed from London, never to return, and arrived in Melbourne on 28 December 1878, just in time to commence duties with his new employer on 1 January 1879.[6] His new role took him out of crowded, unhealthy cities. Working as a travelling auditor for Mr W G Sprigg of William McCulloch & Co, he proved himself to be of more than average ability.[7] In this capacity he appeared in April 1880 at a Police Court hearing in Hay, NSW when a man named William Williams was committed for trial at Deniliquin for embezzling £51, the proceeds of a valuable document.[8] McCulloch’s had bought its business in Hay from Williams, who was now working for McCulloch’s in a ‘loose arrangement’. Philip Boulton told the court that Williams was a very sloppy bookkeeper but he could not say that Williams’ errors and omissions in the accounts were deliberate, especially as he made no attempt to hide his actions.

Some kind of corporate vendetta brought Williams before the law five times on the same matter but, partly through Philip’s evidence, Williams was eventually discharged by a jury.[9] It seems that Philip and his employer did not see eye to eye over this case as Philip sought another position long before the Williams matter was settled. It’s a sign that he had personal integrity and was prepared to stand his ground, even if it cost him his own job.

In September 1880 Philip applied to join the Union Bank of Australia Limited (later absorbed into the ANZ Banking Group). Described as a ‘gentleman’, on 18 November 1880 he was accepted as a clerk with a salary of £150p.a., based on recommendations that he was a superior officer and good accountant.[10] To gain employment, a surety of £1,200 was paid to the bank, provided by Philip himself and a solicitor named Arthur Palmer Blake (one of the founding partners of the Blake Dawson law firm). There was a family connection between the two men, each sharing Blake first cousins in common.

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Philip Boulton, Melbourne, c 1880

(Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse (dec’d), the author’s mother)

Prior to his employment with the bank, Philip passed a medical examination from a Dr James, who noted that Philip’s ‘mother died at the age of 47 of doubtful lung ailments but there was no trace of anything in the lungs of Mr Boulton’. The doctor’s report did not mention the death of Philip’s father from consumption at the age of 37 years, or other early deaths among his direct forebears.

In July 1881 Philip moved to Stawell as provisional Accountant, still on his starting salary. His first step up the promotional ladder came with a salary increase of £50p.a. after a year with the Union Bank.

In April 1882 he made a quick trip on leave to Sydney before taking up a new position early in May.[11] This was as provisional Manager at the brand new mining village of Allendale, in gold & lead-mining country between Creswick and Daylesford. In 1881 the population of the new town was 139 and by 1891 Allendale was home to 1,562 inhabitants.[12] Like so many towns of Australia’s gold rush boom and bust days, today it’s back to being a hamlet.

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Union Bank of Australia (possibly Allendale, c 1882)

(Picture by Free & Co, Melbourne, Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)

Philip was at Allendale for only three months. He was promoted in July 1882 to the nearby substantial and bustling town of Clunes, site of Victoria’s first discovery of gold and by now a major gold-mining town with well-established banking services.

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Clunes, 1882

(State Library of Victoria Image IAN01/11/82/164)

Its heritage of significant buildings, rather sad and neglected a century later until the Booktown Festival began in 2007, prove how economically important Clunes once was.

Union Bank, Clunes

(Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)

In Clunes the young bachelor quickly joined the town’s activities. He was one of three judges of the Colonial Wines section of the Clunes District Agricultural Show in November 1882. He was elected as one of four Vice-Presidents of Clunes Football Club in April 1883. He was involved with the committee of the Clunes District Agricultural Society in September 1883.

His diplomacy skills were tested one Thursday evening later that month when he tried to be an effective force in resolving a thorny issue for the town’s community:

A largely-attended meeting of subscribers to the local Free Library was held in the lecture room of that institution this evening. Mr R. H. Bland, president of the library, occupied the chair, and stated that the meeting had been called to consider the question of opening the library on Sunday afternoon. Mr. P. Boulton then moved that it is desirable to open the reading rooms of the Clunes Free Library on Sunday afternoons from 3 to 5. He had neither the desire nor inclination to enter into an agreement on the respective merits of the question, but contented himself by simply moving the motion. Mr J. E. Meyers, J.P., whilst disclaiming any sympathy with the motion, seconded it, merely as a matter of form.

Lots of heated discussion followed. The local doctor offered that he and others would man the library as a volunteer, but the townsfolk were 4:1 against the idea of disrupting the Sabbath day.[13] What would they say about today’s ‘Booktown on Sundays’ events at Clunes?

Career progression for Philip meant he soon bid the town farewell:

This afternoon a very pleasing ceremony took place at Wiles’ Club hotel, the occasion of which being the departure of Mr Philip Boulton from our midst. Mr Boulton has acted as manager of the local branch of the Union Bank for the past 18 months, and during that time has made many friends by his courteous manner and genial disposition. Mr Boulton has always allied himself with any movement for the benefit of the town and his departure will be regretted by all.

The ceremony in question was presided over by his Worship the Mayor, Mr Jas. Edwards and consisted in drinking Mr Boulton’s health and wishing him God speed. There was a good attendance of the leading townspeople, who thereby manifested their appreciation of Mr Boulton. The health of the guest was drunk with enthusiasm. Mr Boulton feelingly replied, thanking his Clunes friends for their many acts of kindness to him, and stating he would always remember with pleasure his residence in Clunes. Various other toasts were drunk, including that of Mr Boulton’s successor, Mr Martin, of Geelong. A very pleasant afternoon was spent, the company breaking up singing Auld Lang Syne. Mr Boulton proceeds tomorrow to Queensland, where he will take charge of a branch of the Union Bank there.[14]

His new home was to be at Bundaberg, a centre of growth for the nation, with sugar-cane growing well-established and the sugar-milling industry having commenced in 1882.  The doors opened on the Union Bank’s new branch for the transaction of general business on 13 November 1883.[15] Local sources reported that:

the Union, if prepared to act handsomely, is likely to draw several good customers from the other monetary institutions. Mr Boulton is a gentleman who is likely to make friends with everybody, and to obtain all the business at all obtainable for the institution he represents. Ordinary commercial life is active and an increasing population brings an increase in traders’ houses.[16]

Philip’s posting to Bundaberg lasted for five and a half successful years, but that’s another story.

At the end of May 1889 he returned to Clunes, by now a married man but a man who continued to suffer the grief of loss. His firstborn, 7-month-old son Geoffrey, had died tragically in mid-summer Queensland in 1888 after suffering from diarrhoea for ten days.

His wife Dolly (née Dora Mary Flockton, another Londoner), his new 7-month-old son (Nigel Philip) and a maid had accompanied him on the ship as far as Sydney, where he stopped over for several weeks and met his parents-in-law for the first time.[17] They’d recently arrived from London as new settlers.

Dolly & Nigel, Sydney, 1889

(Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)

Nigel Boulton, Clunes, c 1889

(Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)

Philip was an enlightened man for his times. He’d made his new wife his sole beneficiary and executor in his will when they married, and now he did not insist that Dolly act as the corporate wife. He travelled on alone to Clunes while she and baby Nigel stayed behind in Sydney to enjoy some family togetherness and did not reach Clunes until July.

With responsibilities to his family and more responsibility at work, Philip Boulton had a lower profile among local community groups during his second posting to Clunes. But his name popped up when an English visitor gave him the opportunity to reminisce about his good old days in London:

Archdeacon Julius delivered his celebrated lecture, “Westminster Abbey,” in the Town Hall last evening before a large audience, who manifested the utmost interest in the deliverances of the lecturer, and were evidently delighted with the views of the grand old abbey with which the lecture was illustrated. At the close a vote of thanks was proposed by Mr P. Boulton, seconded by Mr P. Kempson, and supported by the vicar, the Rev. J. F. Dewhurst, who expressed a wish that the archdeacon might be prevailed upon to preach here before his departure for New Zealand. In replying, Archdeacon Julius stated he could not promise, but would do his best to meet the wishes of this and other congregations throughout the archdeaconry.[18]

The Boulton family expanded with the birth at Clunes of Stephen Philip Boulton on 31 March 1890.[19]

Stephen & Nigel Boulton, Clunes, c Dec 1890

(Picture Courtesy Julia Woodhouse)

Having spent a total of just under four years in the town, Philip Boulton’s second stint in Clunes ended in July 1891, as most of the mines were closing down. He was further promoted as the manager of the Union Bank in Sydney Road, Brunswick, Melbourne.

By March 1893 he was again championing the working man’s access to books and knowledge, being active in the affairs of the Brunswick Mechanics Institute which ran the local library.[20]

But disaster was about to strike. Two months after his daughter Dorothea Margaret was born, the Union Bank granted him one month’s sick leave on 5 March 1895. It was an ominous sign of things to come. At a special meeting of the Brunswick Mechanics’ Institute in May:

A letter was received from Mr. P. Boulton, one of the vice-presidents of the institute, apologising for his non-attendance, owing to continued ill-health. On the motion of the chairman, seconded by Dr. Hamilton, the apology was accepted, and the secretary was instructed to write to Mr. Boulton expressing the sympathy of the committee.[21]

One month later the spectre hanging over Philip all his life became a grim reality when he died of liver cancer and exhaustion in the bank’s Brunswick residence. He was buried at Melbourne General Cemetery on 15 June 1895, his 43rd birthday.[22] Dolly’s sad tribute to him indicated a close marriage:

In Loving Memory


Philip Boulton

Manager of Union Bank Brunswick

Died 13th June 1895

Aged 43 Years

I Shall Go to Him but He Shall Not Return to Me

His only brother also died in his mid-forties, of acute nephritis, in England.[23]

Dolly and the three children relocated to Sydney to join her parents. Here the enterprising widow conceived the idea of supporting her children by establishing a guest house in the Blue Mountains holiday resort of Wentworth Falls. Nostalgic for past happy years, she named her new property ‘Clunes’. Since renamed as ‘Verna’, this house at 230-232 Great Western Highway is one of a number of sites at Wentworth Falls with NSW Heritage listing.[24]

Stephen & Nigel Boulton, England, Sep 1917

(Picture Courtesy Sarah Dennis)

Philip’s two sons were as gentlemanly and bookish as their father had been, qualities revealed in a moving series of letters they wrote during WW1. Dolly saved the letters and they’ve recently been compiled as Brothers in Arms: The Great War Letters of Captain Nigel Boulton, RAMC, & Lieut Stephen Boulton, AIF. For details, see Louise Wilson’s website


[1] General Register Office London, 1882, Certified Copy of Entry of Birth for Philip Boulton, No 129, Born 15 June 1852, Issued 14 Jun 1882

[2] Wilson, L, w.i.p., George Boulton of Charing Cross, & Some Descendants contains relevant birth, death & marriage details for all persons mentioned in paragraphs 2-6

[3] Harris, M, 1878, Letter to Philip Boulton, from Genl Mgr’s Office, Chatham & Dover Railway Company, Victoria Station, London, 25 Oct 1878

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Public Record Office Victoria, 2016, Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria 1852-1923, indexed as Bollor, viewed 11 May 2016, <>

[7] ANZ Bank Archives, 1999, Philip Boulton’s Staff Records, which track his employment history in Australia, including  his entry to, and career with, the Union Bank of Australia Limited

[8] ‘Police Court’, 1880, The Hay Standard, 21 April, p. 5.

[9] ‘Deniliquin Assize Court’, 1881, The Riverina Grazier, 30 April, p. 2.

[10] ANZ Bank Archives, 1999, op cit

[11] ‘Shipping, Hobson’s Bay’ 1882, The Age, 22 April, p. 4; and ‘Clearances, May 2’, 1882, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May, p. 4.

[12] ‘Victorian Places, Allendale’, 2016, Monash University & University of Queensland, viewed 11 May 2016,  <>.

[13] ‘Sunday Question at Clunes’ 1883, The Ballarat Star, 21 September, p. 3.

[14] ‘News and Notes’ 1883, The Ballarat Star, 16 October, p. 2.

[15] ‘Classified Advertising’ 1883, The Brisbane Courier, 19 November, p. 6.

[16] ‘Bundaberg’ 1883, The Brisbane Courier, 22 November, p. 3.

[17] Wilson, L, 2016, A Fragrant Memory, Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

[18] ‘Clunes’ 1889, The Ballarat Star, 5 October, p. 4.

[19] ‘Family Notices’ 1890, The Argus, 3 April, p. 1.

[20] ‘News and Notes’ 1893, The Coburg Leader, 8 April, p. 2.

[21] ‘Brunswick Mechanics Institute’ 1895, The Coburg Leader, 18 May, p. 1.

[22] Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, Melbourne 2000, Certified Copy of Entry of Death for Philip Boulton, No 5421, Died 13 Jun 1895, Issued 5 October.

[23] General Register Office London 2002, Certified Copy of Entry of Death for Thomas Osborn Boulton, No 326, Died 31 Jul 1897, Issued 18 December.

[24] Wilson, L 2016, The Boultons at ‘Clunes’ a.k.a. ‘Verna’, Wentworth Falls, 1895-1906, work in progress for the Blue Mountains Historical Society.


Featured image by Free & Co, Melbourne, Courtesy Julia Woodhouse