Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

John Woolcock

1842 - 1912


Personal Photo 1

John Woolcock started working life as a butcher on the Collingwood Flat and in the 1890s his business became an essential part of T K Bennet and Woolcock Ltd’s wholesale and retail meat and smallgoods network with branches in metropolitan Melbourne and throughout Victoria. He raised a large family in Collingwood where he acquired extensive property holdings.

John Woolcock was born in Cornwall and sailed to Port Phillip with his family as a six-year-old in 1849. In 1864 he married Matilda Jenkin Webber, a Collingwood resident also of Cornish stock, and the union produced seven sons and three daughters.

In 1888, the extent of Woolcock’s butchery was celebrated in Victoria & its metropolis, p. 708:

John Woolcock came to Victoria with his parents when a boy. He started in the butchering business with Mr. Swan in Wellington Street, Collingwood. He remained with Mr. Swan for twenty years, being a member of the firm Swan & Co for the last ten years of that period. 
In 1874 he commenced his present business at 18 (sic) Johnston Street, Collingwood, being the first butcher in that locality, which was at that time but sparsely populated. He has extended his business since then so much that, what was an ordinary butcher’s shop is now an extensive meat market requiring fifteen carts to distribute the goods to his customers, and the services of forty two men.

Woolcock briefly ran his own business on the corner of Johnston and Sydney streets, living behind the shop in Sydney Street with his growing family, but soon crossed the road to larger premises at 218 Johnston Street. In 1890 Woolcock, said to be one of the best butchers in the trade, sold his business to Thomas Knight Bennet (1830-1913), who had started a butcher shop in Melbourne in 1854 and later set up in South Yarra. Woolcock remained as a managing director of TK Bennet and Woolcock Limited along with Mr Bennet. Newspaper reports of the company indicate that it flourished during the early 1890s. In 1890 the company paid a dividend of 16 percent, followed by 20 percent in 1891.  At the sixth annual meeting in 1894 T.K. Bennet and Woolcock Limited declared their financial position ‘was never stronger than today and the prospect of continuous dividends was almost assured.’ The positions of the managing directors, Mr. Bennet and Mr. Woolcock, were extended for another five years(The Argus. 21 Nov. 1894).

The newspapers of the day also provide accounts of social activities around the butchery.  The firm participated in the popular annual Butchers’ Procession and were regular prizewinners. In 1895 the T.K. Bennett and Woolcock Bourke Street shop won third prize for Best Butchers Turnout, cart and horse, while the Johnston Street shop won second prize for Best Decorated Turnout. The Argus 6 June 1895 reported:  

The annual procession of the Butchers’ Union to celebrate the Wednesday half holiday took place yesterday afternoon … it covered nearly a mile and a half, and was probably the longest of all ... was witnessed by thousands of people. The “bone and cleaver band”, tastefully arrayed and wondrously equipped, rendered selections of music along the route. The “new woman” was represented, mounted on a horse, dressed in an attractive modification of the journeyman butcher’s uniform and carrying a basketful of meat for the household.

However, in 1897 The Argus reported on the ninth annual meeting of shareholders under the heading HEAVY LOSSES ON YEAR’S BUSINESS, A STORMY MEETING (The Argus, 1 December 1897, p. 6) Statements were made from the floor that the company was improperly managed. In late 1901 the business was sold, having been carried on at a loss, and Woolcock prepared to retire. TK Bennet and Woolcock Limited continued as the name of the business and it was not until 1987 that their trademark, Champion Brand, ceased registration. 

The Mercury and Weekly Courier 25 July 1902, gave a detailed account of The Woolcock Social held to celebrate his retirement: 

A social was given by the employees of Bennet and Woolcock in the Collingwood Town Hall on Tuesday evening in honour of Mr. and Mrs. Woolcock. The hall was prettily decorated and excellent music was supplied by Messrs Aumont and Smart’s string band. There were many spectators in the balconies. Mr Goodall provided sumptuous refreshments in the lecture hall, and [there was recreation, ping pong, cards and other amusements]. Several beautiful presents were made to the guests by their appreciative employees, and speeches were made by Crs. Aumont, Beasley, Wilkins, Davey (of Heidelberg), and others. The following address was given to Mr. Woolcock; Dear Sir, ‘Following the merging of the firm TK Bennet and Woolcock Limited into the firm of John Cooke Esq., we, the employees of the old firm we beg your acceptance of this address as a token of the respect and high esteem which you are held by us. During many years you were head of the firm, the uniform kindness and courtesy which characterized your dealings with us has gained our lasting regard.’

Punch published a marvellous photo of the ball. By this time the Woolcocks had moved to Ivanhoe. Around 1888 Woolcock had re-located from Collingwood to Clifton Hill, where he was owner and occupant of a substantial brick house at 211 Gold Street, now the site of three storey flats. His brother Nicholas had been living in Gold Street and running a butcher’s shop in Queens Parade; on his death in 1889 John took on the responsibility for Nicholas’s five young children. In 1891 the death of  George Langridge, acting Premier of Victoria, occasioned the sale of his Clifton Hill house and another move for the Woolcock family. The grand house at 17 (now 12) North Terrace came with a bowling green to the east of the house; coachman’s quarters (now demolished) at 17 Turnbull Street and stables (now demolished) at 21 Turnbull Street

Woolcock left Clifton Hill for Hillsley in Upper Heidelberg Road Ivanhoe in the mid 1890s, at which time another prosperous Collingwood butcher, Edward Wilkins, moved into the North Terrace house. Around 1909 John Woolcock and his wife Matilda moved to yet another grand house in Vale Street East Melbourne, but Matilda died soon after, leaving John living with his son Henry, daughter Alice Barr, her husband and three children.

In 1912 John died, leaving £94,782 to his daughters and five surviving sons, two of whom had followed him into the butchering business. His estate comprised, as well as land and buildings in other Melbourne suburbs, an extraordinary array of properties in Collingwood, including at least 40 shops, dwellings and factories in Johnston Street alone. His house in East Melbourne was acquired by the Berry Street Babies Home.

Work Photo 1

TK Bennet & Woolcock shop Johnston St

House Photo 1

North Terrace house in the 1880s

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1842 Cornwall, England
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Matilda Jenkin Webber 27 December 1864 Alfred John, 1866 - 1873, Frederick, 1867, William Nicholas, 1869, Edward James, 1871, John Alfred Ernest, 1874, Alice, 1876, Albert, 1878 - 1878, Lily Mabel, 1879, Henry, 1882, Gertrude, 1886.
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Down Street Collingwood Demolished
Cromwell Street Collingwood Not identified
Sydney Street Collingwood West side, not identified
236 - 338 Johnston Street Collingwood Demolished
211 Gold Street Clifton Hill Demolished
12 North Terrace Clifton Hill Extant
58 (formerly 68) Vale Street East Melbourne Extant
Work Addresses
Work Street Work City Status of Building
70 - 72 Wellington Street Collingwood Demolished
201 Johnston Street Collingwood Extant?
236 - 238 Johnston Street Collingwood Demolished
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
6 April 1912 East Melbourne Melbourne General Cemetery

Victoria and its metropolis, volume 2The ArgusMercuryThe AustralasianPunch; The Age; The HeraldCollingwood & Fitzroy illustrated directory and handbook, 1905.

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