Port Phillip Apostle No. 8 John Maude Woolley

As part of my consideration of the financial crisis of the 1840s, you’ll be aware that I’m looking at the “Twelve Apostles”, a group of men who backed W. F. A. Rucker’s debt of 10,000 pounds to the Union Bank.  As part of this arrangement, they were committed jointly and individually liable for the debt.  This arrangement was ruinous to many of them personally, and seemed to exemplify the ricketty and precarious state of the Port Phillip economy at this time.

Among the Twelve Apostles that Garryowen listed, two seem to stand out from the rest.  One is Alexander McKillop, of whom there shall be more anon, and the other is John Maude Woolley.  They are the only two Apostles designated as “settlers”, as opposed to the “landholders” and “landowners”, merchants, solicitors and auctioneers who made up the rest of the merry band.  I find myself wondering how and why they found themselves embroiled in all of this.

Woolley in particular seems rather invisible in Port Phillip Society. According to Loyau’s Notable South Australians, he came to Port Phillip from England in 1839, bringing with him a large stock of general merchandise and set himself up in partnership with a Mr Bacchus of Bacchus Marsh.  Garryowen identifies him as a merchant located in Collins Street, but not the Woolley of the Campbell and Woolley firm which seems to have been much more prominent.

Paul de Serville lists him as a squatter and “a gentleman in society”, along with his brother Thomas Woolley, who is listed as a squatter and merchant.  Both belonged to the Melbourne Club (hence, presumably, their designation as “gentlemen”, as de Serville used membership as a basis for inclusion on his Appendix II category).  However, he is not listed as a voter for the Legislative Council elections in 1843, which had a property qualification of 200 pounds freehold or 20 pounds annual rental.  Moreover, so far I haven’t found him sitting as a juror either,  although I’m not sure what the qualifications for that were ( legislation passed in 1847 deemed 30 pounds annual income or 300 pounds property as a qualification).

In any event, things had turned sour by 1844.  On 31 January 1844 John Maude Woolley was declared insolvent, on the same date, interestingly enough, as Alexander McKillop.  Loyau describes it rather more delicately as a “retirement from business” in 1845.  Woolley returned to England, but reappeared in Sydney in 1848, where he brought horses, cattle and sheep overland to South Australia.  He joined the Customs Service in 1850, and in 1858 took up the appointment of Inspector of Sheep for three years.  In 1861 he rejoined Customs and was appointed Sub-Collector at the port of Blanchetown when it opened.

There’s photographs of him and his rather unprepossessing cottage at Blanchetown.

He later held a similar post at Morgan in South Australia, but resigned in 1883 due to illhealth.  He died in January 1885.

Is there an Entrepreneurial Lesson from John Maude Woolley? I don’t really know that there is. He had two bites of the cherry: once as a merchant, and then again as an overlander, but spent most of his life as a public servant.  And I’m absolutely at a loss to understand what could have motivated him to guarantee another man’s debts to the tune of about a thousand pounds.  I’m sure that there’s a lesson of some sort there.


  • George E. Loyau Notable South Australians, published 1885.
  • Finn The Chronicles of Early Melbourne (Garryowen)

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