125 Years of WN Bull Funerals

18 October 2017

WN Bull Funerals today celebrate their 125 year anniversary.

Celebrating a mile stone is one thing; taking the past glories into the future is another. William and Mary Bull began their funeral company in 1892. William was descended from a member of the New South Wales Corps who had journeyed to Australia as part of the protective troop guarding political prisoners.  Mary was from Irish Catholic stock, come to the New World for a new life.

The funeral company they created was closely associated with the Church. ‘To provide a reverent and dignified Catholic funeral’ was the goal; the respectful burial of every person in the community, rich or poor, was the taken-for-granted consequence of this aim.

While William Nugent’s name was the signature of the company, the couple’s grandchildren recall that Mary was the practical and driving force.  Along with the identification with the Catholic community, WN Bull Funerals gained a reputation for development and innovation in the funeral industry.

The first motorised hearse in Sydney was operated by W N Bull in 1914 and in 1936 “WN Bull Funerals acquired a beautifully designed Rolls Royce hearse, specially equipped to meet Catholic requirements, the finest in Australia”, as one newspaper reported.  In December of 1938, WN Bull Funerals was the first company to adopt “dignified white uniforms designed for Australian conditions and used by staff in the summer months”.

The spirit of the founders persisted after William’s death in 1932 and Mary’s in 1939. In 1942, Mr John Quain assumed management of the company after the death of Gregory Bull, Mary and William’s son. The family continued to maintain an interest in the board of the company into the 1940’s. The relationship with the Church was always part of this story.

Significantly, WN Bull Funerals published a booklet in the 1930s, Symbols of Our Faith and conducted an essay competition for children to promote a deeper knowledge of Church ritual and ceremony. The management saw the importance of traditional symbols in the celebration of funerals and to this day attention to the details of every aspect of funeral preparation and preparation has been a priority.

Patsy Healy, General Manager, WN Bull Funerals.

When John and Agnes Harris purchased WN Bull Funerals in 1986 there was need for some renewal. John and Agnes had conducted their own funeral business in Wagga Wagga prior to being invited to take over WN Bull. John and Agnes brought to this well known Sydney company the energy and practicality reminiscent of its original founders.

John Harris had a long term involvement in the funeral industry having learnt his trade with Tobin Brothers in Melbourne. John had a fund of stories and he spoke with affection of the different Tobin brothers and their contribution to the company. When John and Agnes were leaving Melbourne to begin their business in Wagga, Leo, one of the brothers, took John aside and showed him the company’s top-of-the-range coffin, ‘That’s yours, for when and where you need it’, or words to that effect.

The coffin accompanied John and Agnes and their family to Wagga and occupied a prominent place in a spare room until required. When the Bishop of Wagga died in 1968, John and Agnes’ funeral company was asked to conduct the funeral for Bishop Francis Henschke; they had the appropriate coffin.

John had a sense of history and a strong feel for style and ceremony. Instinctively, he saw the importance of ritual and symbols and continued the strong Catholic tradition of WN Bull Funerals. However, the reputation of the company spread beyond the Catholic community.

By word of mouth or from attending funerals conducted by WN Bull Funerals, more people came to appreciate the quality of service provided. The company was engaged to arrange the funerals for Sir Roden Cutler, the Governor of New South Wales and for Dr Victor Chang, pioneering heart surgeon. The familiar premises in King Street, Newtown and the new office in Parramatta saw a growing number of people from all walks of life seeking out WN Bull’s services.

In 2010, John and Agnes Harris retired and WN Bull Funerals was bought by InvoCare. Patsy Healy, a member of staff of the company for over 25 years and the long standing General Manager, has worked closely with InvoCare management to ensure that the vision and service of 125 years will endure.

People speak of buildings or businesses that have been an ‘institution’ in the life of the community; such a description could be applied to WN Bull Funerals. The role of such institutions in our society is to remind us, with affection and gratitude, of the value and significance of the service they have provided. The celebration of 125 years of WN Bull Funerals is an expression of this ‘affection and gratitude’.

WN Bull have been a long-term sponsor and supporter of the Diocese of Parramatta.

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