Friday, April 27, 2012

Bullock Drivers - Mates of the Whip

Although bullockies were popularly perceived as figures of fun and ridicule, of appallingly obscene language, and notoriously dissolute habits, they performed an essential service in the early days of the colony.

Unloading a Bullock Wagon

Until the coming of the railway in the 1860s, the wool from the vast sheep runs of the Darling Downs and the districts below the Range was transported to Ipswich by bullock drays.  Travelling over rough country and unmade roads, bullocks were much more proficient draught animals than horses.

Before the railway, Ipswich was a busy river port as it lay at the farthest navigable point inland. A wharf and warehouse was soon built to accommodate the river steamers.

Ipswich landing place Nov 24, 1851 (Conrad Martens)

As a result the streets of Ipswich were lined with bullock wagons bringing in bales of wool and waiting for return loads of various goods and supplies for the sheep stations.  During the layover, the bullockies enjoyed the hospitality of the local public houses and the charms of the ladies of “ill repute”.

A well-known bullocky character familiar to the residents of Ipswich was known by the curious nickname of “McGouzlem's fool”[1].  He was also a frequent guest of the constabulary.

Bullocky standing with his whip and bullock team at Rosewood c.1882

The sittings of the Ipswich Court in 1849 saw the usual parade of misbehaving bullockies.  First to appear was one William Smith on a charge of indulging in the use of obscene language. The magistrates were making use of the new Vagrant Act.

William Smith, bullock driver to Mr. C. W. Pitts, was brought up for using blasphemous language in the streets. The charge was fully proved, but as this was the first case under the new Act, which was not perhaps generally known amongst the working classes, their Worships fined the defendant only one shilling, at the same time admonished Smith, and directed him to spread the news far and near, especially amongst his "mates of the whip," whose propensities in this unfortunate failing are proverbial.[2]

Bullock Driver Brandishing his Long-handled Whip

Next to front the court was a colleague of Smith, one Thomas Milner, popularly known about the streets of Ipswich as “McGouzlem's fool”.  The Ipswich Correspondent of The Moreton Bay Courier took great delight in describing his appearance and his dialogue with the magistrates.

Next appeared, for the same offence, and also drunkenness, a mate of the former defendant, named Thomas Milner, better known as McGouzlem's fool, a regular Victor Hugo's "Quasimodo"[3] in ugliness, whose entree created much mirth.

He was indeed as ugly as sin, with an obliquity of mug truly remarkable, and lips that would rival any Hottentot[4] Venus, beard of at least a week's growth, manured by a portion of some puddle which his phiz[5] often appears to fondle,- and hair of "mud coloured grey," standing out like quills upon the fretful porcupine. Fancy all this, and you have my "Caliban"[6].[7]

Their Worships struggled to maintain their serious demeanour as the following exchange proceeded.

The subject matter in dispute will be seen by the following colloquy between Bench and defendant -

 Bench - Were you drunk?

Defendant - Oh! yes.

Bench - How much did you drink?

Defendant (grinning most ominously) - Until I got drunk.

Bench - Had you no water to wash your face?

Defendant (another grin) - I forgot the water while I drank the rum.

During this short confab the calcinatory muscles of the auditors were exercised to an unusual degree; even the stern front of Justice was compelled to relax, which was perhaps so much in favour of McGouzlem's fool, that he was only admonished as to the present working of the Vagrant Act, and fined five bob.[8]

This would not be the last time McGouzlem would appear in the Court reports, but by all accounts he was a likeable, harmless character who was fond of children.

Bullock Wagon in front of Cribb and Foote London Stores, Bell Street, Ipswich, 1850s-1860s

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] Of obscure origin.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Monday 10 December 1849
[3] i.e. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
[4] A derogatory term for an uncivilised, primitive “native”.
[5] face or facial expression (OED)
[6] A man of degraded bestial nature (a character in Shakespeare's Tempest)
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier Monday 10 December 1849
[8] The Moreton Bay Courier Monday 10 December 1849


  1. I wonder what the reference to "McGouzlem's fool" means? In another article, on 28 July 1849, the Ipswich Correspondent refers to an Edward Dawson as being known as "McGouzlem's Ned". He too was also apparently fond of children.

  2. The reference to McGouzlem has also intrigued me. The "Ipswich Correspondent" was fond of peppering his entertaining reports with references to the classics, Shakespeare, and contemporary literature, but I have yet to find a reference to McGouzlem. Perhaps it is rhyming slang or most probably a local joke lost to the times. The answer must be out there somewhere.