Thomas Edward Bulch

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Thomas Bulch had a hand in the evolution of what is, arguably, Australia's most iconic song and tune, "Waltzing Matilda".

Thomas Edward Bulch (1862-1930) was the son of Thomas and Margaret Bulch, one of thirteen children. The family lived in New Shildon, just south of Durham in the north of England. Thomas’s father worked for some time as timekeeper at the New Shildon Railway Wagon Works. It there that Thomas became an apprentice Blacksmith by 1881, and by 1884 appears to have progressed to the position of Fitter. Thomas’ father and uncles were bandsmen in local bands, and his maternal grandfather Francis Dinsdale was the bandmaster of the New Shildon Saxhorn Band. Thomas showed a great aptitude for music in his early years and at age 17, composed his first contest march, “The Typhoon”.

In 1884, aged 21, Thomas migrated to Adelaide, Australia, soon traveling on to the Victoria goldfields. Shortly after his arrival in Creswick, Vic. Thomas was asked to take control of the 3rd Battalion Band, and the Allendale and Kingston Brass Band. Bulch soon formed his own band, “Bulch’s Model Band”, in 1886/7. This band eventually became the City of Ballarat Brass Band. A much respected bandmaster, Bulch maintained his association with brass bands until his death in 1930.

Bulch composed and arranged many tunes to meet his interests and commitments. A list of known compositions and arrangements by Bulch can be found here: <>

One tune of great interest to Australia and Australians is, "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigelee". There is a fair amount of conjecture here but the opinion round the traps is that:

- Bulch seems to have obtained, adapted and orchestrated for brass band, a tune composed by Carl Volti.

- But it turns out that Carl Volti was a pseudonym used by Archibald Milligan, (1848 - 1919) a well known Glaswegian composer and conductor.

- Milligan in turn had adapted a tune composed in 1818 by Scotsman James Barr (1779 - 1860).

- Barr had composed the tune to provide a setting for a poem written, by Robert Tannahill (1774 - 1810). There is a bit more information here: <>.

- Bulch's tune, "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigelee" now orchestrated for brass band, was available to the Warrnambool Garrison Artillery Band, which played it during the Warrnambool Race Carnival on 28 April, 1894.

- Christina Macpherson confirmed, in a letter she wrote some 40 years later (but did not send), the fact that she had heard the tune played in Warrnambool.

So the big question is how did Barr's tune, if indeed it did, turn into Waltzing Matilda some 80 years after it was written. Barr's tune and "Waltzing Matilda" are different to listen to, although there is a clear resonance.

So to complete the conjecture it would seem that: - Bulch adapted and orchestrated a tune based on/inspired by a tune published by Archibald Milligan who in turn pinched it from James Barr.

Beyond this we do know that:

- Christina Macpherson remembered the tune played in Warrnambool in April 1894 (or perhaps misremembered it) when she played it for Banjo Paterson at Dagworth Station and a few days later at her brother's home in Winton, in August 1895. Paterson wrote lyrics to fit the tune. An image of Macpherson's transcript of the tune and lyrics can be found in the NLA <>

- In 1903 Paterson sold his copyright to the lyrics, together with a 'lot of old junk', to Angus & Robertson, for five pounds. The copyright was bought by Inglis & Co, who used the song to brand and sell "Billy Tea". Marie Cowan, wife of the manager, rewrote the tune introducing a more upbeat tempo, adding the word "Jolly" to the lyrics. The tune and lyrics were used on the packaging for the tea.

Both Dennis O'Keefe and Benjamin Lindner provide detailed accounts on how all this happened.

References: More detailed biographies of George Allen (The Wizard) and Thomas Bulch (The Typhoon) can be found on the website "The Wizard and the Typhoon" <>. This website sets out the "The Story of Two County Durham Railwaymen and their Global Influence Throughout the Golden Era of Brass Music". The site is operated by and Copyright © 2021 to, Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC. All rights reserved.

Wikipedia also has a biog. <>

"Waltzing Matilda", Dennis O"Keeffe, Allen & Unwin, 2012

"Waltzing Matilda", W. Benjamin Lindner, Boolalong Press, 2019