William Nugent Bull and his wife Mary founded WN Bull Funerals in December 1892. William was a second generation Australian; his grandparents James and Ann had emigrated from Ireland to Australia on the Minerva, arriving 11 January, 1800. Mary Bull’s (née Palmer) family background was also Irish.
Although it was William’s name above the door, Mary was equally important to the business, according to their grandson Father Patrick Corbett, C.Ss.R., whose mother was Kathleen Bull.
“Certainly my grandmother seemed to be the business mind behind it all. My grandfather used to work for another funeral director, then he went out on his own at her instigation. She was the driving force behind all of that,” said Father Patrick Corbett.
Father Edmund Barry, son of Gladys Bull, remembers “Ma Bull” as a genuine matriarch.
“In my memory, whenever she went out she was always in black clothes, with black lace gloves, a hat and a walking cane. She was a very regal person.”
“Pa was a much gentler, open, warm-hearted sort of guy. They called him Billy Bull,” said Father Edmund Barry.
Monica Walsh, Father Corbett’s sister, concurs.
“He was a gorgeous man, generous and kind, just a beautiful person and we all loved him,” said Monica Walsh. The family’s strong tradition of faith and involvement with the Catholic Church was very much Mary’s influence. The Bull family were originally of the Protestant faith and William was a convert to Catholicism.
“Their contribution to the Church was around bringing us up in the faith,” said Margaret White, one of Kathleen Bull’s daughters.
“They were very strong Catholic people,” said Father Edmund Barry.
“When they lived at Newtown they went to the Broadway Church on Abercrombie Street. They had their own pew in the church and would march in there and set up in royal splendour!”
Over the years, several of the Bull grandchildren worked for WN Bull. Pauline (deceased) sat on the board and Father Edmund Barry spent a period employed by John Quain before he joined the priesthood.
But even those who weren’t actively involved in the funeral business came into contact with it one way or another.
“Many people didn’t have cars in those days. But the WN Bull cars were always available for us. We’d always get cars from there to take us on holiday or wherever we needed to go,” said Father Patrick Corbett.
WN Bull’s vehicles were also offered up for the use of Catholic dignitaries for events or processions, a tradition that WN Bull has continued into the modern day, providing transport for Pope John Paul II retinue during his visit to Australia in 1995.
“Whenever there was a function or a reason for Bishops to be transported somewhere, it was always WN Bull’s cars that took them. They often drove the Archbishop around,” said Father Edmund Barry.
After William Bull’s death in 1932, the business was managed by his oldest son Gregory, with support from Dr Ignatius Bull.
Then when Gregory died suddenly, the remaining Bull siblings prevailed upon family friend and solicitor John Quain to take over the business.
William Nugent’s photograph is still on display at the WN Bull premises in Newtown, unconsciously reflecting Father Patrick Corbett’s strongest memory of his grandparents.
“Their photos were on display all through my childhood and we looked upon them as one might look at holy pictures…there was some kind of silent reverence when they were mentioned,” said Father Patrick Corbett.
“They never moved from their place of honour on the mantelpiece!”