BOLTON, William Kinsey (1860–1941)
Senator for Victoria, 1917–23 (Nationalist Party)

William Kinsey Bolton, soldier and foundation president of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, was born in Lostock Gralam, Cheshire, England, on 1 November 1860. The son of John Hammersley Bolton, corn dealer, and Hannah, née Kinsey, Bolton arrived in Australia with his parents in 1868. The family settled in the western district of Victoria, where his father became a storekeeper. Bolton was educated at Darlington State School before taking up a carpentry apprenticeship in Mortlake. He attended the Sydney School of Mines and for three years, from 1879, studied architecture in Sydney, working as a foreman-carpenter. Returning to Victoria in 1884, he set up as a builder in Warragul, Gippsland, and, in 1890, joined Victoria’s Public Works Department as an inspector of works in the Bendigo and Ballarat districts.

Bolton displayed an early interest in military matters, joining the Southern Rifles. He was commissioned lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Victoria, and, in 1897, became a captain. He led the officers’ team at the inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901. In 1903, he was promoted to major in the 7th Australian Infantry Regiment and, in 1910, to lieutenant colonel. In the following year, Bolton was awarded the Volunteer Officers Decoration and, in 1912, assumed command of the 70th Regiment.

With the outbreak of World War I, Bolton enlisted in the AIF. He sailed for Egypt in October 1914 with the 8th Battalion and landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Following the Battle of Krithia, Bolton briefly took command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, but deteriorating health led to his being invalided home later in 1915. At Gallipoli, a hill and ridge bear his name. Bolton commanded the Ballarat Training Depot and the Defended Ports of Victoria. He was appointed CBE in 1918, retiring as an honorary brigadier general in 1920.[1]

Bolton’s serious interest in politics began during the war. He attended the inaugural meeting of the Nationalist Party in January 1917, was encouraged by W.M. Hughes to stand for Parliament and, in May 1917, was elected to the Senate for Victoria. With a successful military career to his credit, it is not surprising that his time in the Senate was characterised by a strong interest in defence and military affairs. In June 1917, the Government established a twelve-member parliamentary recruiting committee on which Bolton served. In January 1918, he was appointed to the Senate select committee charged with investigating the effect on Australian soldiers of intoxicating liquor. The committee recommended against prohibition, but Bolton joined Senators Thomas and Guy in a dissenting report that supported prohibition, claiming ‘perfect sympathy with the soldiers’ who had to combat the adverse effects of alcohol on their compatriots.[2]

Bolton’s concern for those soldiers who had served overseas was apparent during debate on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill, when he argued against administration of the Repatriation Fund by non-professionals—members of honorary commissions and various boards and committees. He regarded such organisations as having ‘neither souls to be saved nor bodies to be kicked’. Bolton was concerned that the fund might become dependent on public charity, believing that it was a soldier’s right to go directly to the Commonwealth government for help, and the Government’s responsibility to respond sympathetically. Fearing maladministration of the fund by civilians, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to amend the Bill to require that half the members of local repatriation committees should be returned soldiers. Referring to the proposal to settle returned soldiers on the land, he doubted that few servicemen were able, physically or mentally, to take up farming.[3]

Bolton was deeply patriotic and an ardent supporter of the British Empire on which, he believed, Australia’s future safety depended. On occasions, however, his patriotism verged on xenophobia. When debating the Defence Bill he moved, unsuccessfully, an amendment that aliens or descendants of aliens, even if naturalised Australians, should not be eligible to become officers in the Australian Military Forces. He considered aliens (whom he defined as those who might be enemies ‘ten years hence’) as the ‘accursed of all humanity, [who] by their diabolical treatment of human beings . . . have forfeited all right to sympathy and consideration’.[4]

Bolton’s concern for the plight of those on active service is evident in the debate on the Supply Bill in 1917. He stated that, on their return to Australia, servicemen had little chance of attaining high positions in the defence department because senior places were already occupied by people (with little training or qualifications) who had not been at the Front. He also criticised proposed expenditure on the citizen forces as being of no military benefit. He did not forget Australian nurses who served under the British during the war, speaking of the niggardly treatment these ‘devoted women’ had received at the hands of the British and Australian Governments.[5]

At the first national conference of the states’ Returned Soldiers’ Associations in Melbourne on 3 June 1916, Bolton was elected federal president of the newly formed Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League. While the League had approved his nomination for the Senate in 1917, it became increasingly dissatisfied with his dogmatic approach, and, in July 1919, he was displaced as president. The following December, he was subjected to a bitter attack by the Labor Party in Ballarat, accusing him of cowardice at Gallipoli. Giving a spirited defence against the charges at a public meeting, he produced documents and signed statements from senior officers to substantiate his case. Bolton was strongly supported by a Major Kerby, who had been with him at Gallipoli. The medical officer of the 8th Battalion, and one of Bolton’s subordinates, Captain Jackson, had made clear (in 1917) that Bolton possessed ‘the respect and trust of every officer and man in his battalion, and, better still, their affection’. Jackson added that, as a soldier, the ‘long-sighted and cool-headed’ Bolton, ‘grasped details and essentials while others were thinking of them’.[6]

In 1920, he became a member of the joint committee of public accounts. Conscious of Australia’s vulnerability as an island continent, in 1922 he stressed the need to expand the population by encouraging natural population growth. He favoured immigration of ‘men and women of our own race’, who, if they were to settle Australia’s ‘waste lands’, would require the provision of roads, railways, water supplies, telephone, telegraph and postal services. He proposed that expenditure on the development of Canberra be postponed ten years.[7] At the 1922 election he lost his seat. In 1929, he unsuccessfully contested the House of Representatives seat of Henty.

Outside the Senate, Bolton worked as a partner in a building company. He lived for some years at Ballarat, later moving to Melbourne, where he died at home in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton on 8 September 1941. On 29 December 1881, he had married Jane Morpeth Gillies at the Presbyterian Church, Warrnambool; the couple had four sons and two daughters. Jane died in 1893, and on 18 August 1894 Bolton married Margaret Ford at Bendigo. They had two sons and three daughters. Margaret, and three sons and four daughters of his two marriages—John, Hunter, Sydney, Ethel, Helen, Ena and Madge—survived him. Three of Bolton’s sons had fought in the war, and Ethel May had served as a nurse.[8]


Brian Wimborne


[1] J. N. I. Dawes, ‘Bolton, William Kinsey’, ADB, vol. 7; Geelong Advertiser, 27 April 1936, p. 1; Argus (Melbourne), 27 March 1917, p. 6; C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1981, pp. 133, 365–367, 397–399, 413–414; Ernest Scott, Australia During the War, A & R, Sydney, 1943, pp. 375–376.

[2] CPD, 14 June 1917, p. 28; Argus (Melbourne), 22 June 1917, p. 8; CPP. Report of the select committee on the effect of intoxicating liquor on Australian soldiers, 1918.

[3] CPD, 19 July 1917, pp. 275–279,26 July 1917, pp. 491–492, 1 August 1917, pp. 596, 626.

[4] CPD, 23 August 1917, pp. 1343–1345, 1357–1368.

[5] CPD, 22 August 1917, pp. 1287–1291, 18 April 1918, pp. 4056–4064, 16 October 1918, pp. 6907–6909.

[6] G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism,ANU Press, Canberra, 1966, pp. 5–9, 12–14, 124–125, 146–147, 154, 157, 213, 241, 248; L. Hills, The Returned Sailors & Soldiers Imperial League of Australia,Southland Press, Melbourne, 1927, pp. 9–14; Ballarat Courier, 8 December 1919, p. 4, 10 December 1919, p. 7, 11 December 1919, p. 4; Argus (Melbourne), 27 March 1917, p. 6.

[7] CPD, 29 June 1922, pp. 33–37.

[8] Age (Melbourne), 9 September 1941, p. 8; Argus (Melbourne), 9 September 1941, p. 3.


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 317-319.

BOLTON, William Kinsey (1860–1941)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Vic., 1917–23

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on Intoxicating Liquor—Effect on Australian Soldiers, etc., 1918

Library Committee, 1917–22

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1920–23