BULL, GEORGE PERKINS (he may also have had a third Christian name, Bothesby), printer, newspaperman, and office holder; b. 14 June 1795 in Drogheda (Republic of Ireland), son of Captain Joseph Bull; m. 28 June 1818 Dorothea Burland, and they had four sons; d. 5 Dec. 1847 in Hamilton, Upper Canada.
George Perkins Bull came from a military family of slender means. Both his father and his brother Richard were officers in the light dragoons. George, trained in Dublin as a printer, had prospered sufficiently by 1823 to assume responsibility for the care of Richard’s two children. In 1827 he became the publisher, and fellow Orangeman Ogle Robert Gowan* the editor, of the Antidote, or Protestant Guardian, a Dublin periodical designed to conduct an eleventh-hour defence of Protestant privileges against the threat posed by Roman Catholic emancipation. The Antidote collapsed when Bull served a year in prison after libelling a Catholic priest. At this time Bull broke with Gowan. Although Gowan had undoubtedly imposed upon Bull, at the root of the quarrel was a clash of personalities between the flamboyant and gifted Gowan and the hard-working but less imaginative Bull. Bull retaliated by conducting a campaign against Gowan which he was to carry into the New World.
Bull emigrated to Lower Canada late in 1831, settling in Montreal, where he opened a business as “a Printer, Stationer & Bookseller,” and later began publication of the London and Canada Record. Gowan, who had established himself two years earlier as a gentleman farmer in Leeds County, Upper Canada, had united most of the Canadian Orangemen under his leadership in the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America (founded I Jan. 1830). Bull’s first thought was to undo Gowan’s work. He managed to convince Montreal Orangemen that Gowan was an impostor of bad character. As a result the Lower Canadian Orangemen broke with Gowan’s lodge and established a direct connection with the grand lodge of the United Kingdom; Bull became temporary master of the Montreal Lodge No .434. Although Bull’s charges were circulated in the Upper Canadian press, during the course of 1832 Gowan was able to answer them to the satisfaction of his Upper Canadian followers and to secure expressions of confidence from the British grand lodge.
Bull made an effort to find a place in Montreal as a supporter of the English party. He acted as a special constable during the election riots of 1832 and was a crown witness in the trials which followed. Yet, as he stated on 20 June 1833 in a petition to the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Sir John Colborne*, he had not “received sufficient encouragement” to remain in Montreal and had thus removed to York (Toronto). His petition to Colborne, which listed as references the names of more than 40 gentlemen, noblemen, magistrates, and clergy, all Orangemen, is a testimonial to Bull’s diligence in using his Orange connections. Although he did not secure assistance from Colborne, in July 1834 Bull was able to establish the Toronto Recorder and General Advertiser, a substantial journal which supported the tory interests in the election of 1834.
In the Recorder, Bull eagerly reported the violence at the polls in Leeds County which led to Gowan’s election being declared invalid. Their continuing feud may explain the invitation Bull received in 1835 from Allan Napier MacNab*, another of Gowan’s staunch opponents, to establish a tory newspaper in Hamilton. Bull’s Hamilton Gazette, published semi-weekly, was moderate in tone, represented high church toryism, and enjoyed moderate success. By the mid 1840s, however, the aggressiveness of Solomon Brega’s reform Journal and Express convinced Hamilton tories that they needed a more active voice than the Gazette, which seemed to be turning more to theological concerns. On 15 July 1846 the Hamilton Spectator, and Journal of Commerce, established by Robert Reid Smiley*, began to champion the tory cause. Bull, who had been appointed coroner for the Gore District on 19 June 1846, continued the Gazette until his death the next year, at which time one of his three surviving sons, Harcourt Burland, took over its operation until it was absorbed by the Spectator in the mid 1850s.
The son of an army officer, George Perkins Bull was born with a status that could not be sustained by his means, and he sought to secure himself as a gentleman through political journalism. In his dispute with Gowan and in most of his writings, he adopted the tone of a decent man outraged by the presumptions of his personal and political enemies, an approach which, in combination with effective commercial journalism, enabled him to garner the security and political connections he sought.
AO, MU 1857, no.2311; RG 22, ser.205, no.740. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 202–1: 17–18; MG 27, 1, E30; RG 5, A1: 71753–56. G.B., Parl., House of Commons paper, 1835, 17, no.605, Report from the select committee appointed to inquire into the origin, nature, extent and tendency of Orange institutions in Great Britain and the colonies, app., no.23: 396. Interesting trial: Hopkins against Gowan, Wexford spring assizes, March 14, 15, 1827 . . . (Dublin, 1827; repr. Kingston, [Ont.], and Toronto, 1837; copy at Queen’s Univ. Library, Special Coll. Dept., Kingston). Brockville Gazette (Brockville, [Ont.]), 21 June, 16 Aug. 1832. Church, 10 Dec. 1847. Constitution, 14 June 1837. Hamilton Gazette, and General Advertiser (Hamilton, [Ont.]), 1835–47. Recorder and General Advertiser (Toronto), 14 May, 6 June 1835. St. Catharines Journal, 16 Dec. 1847. Vindicator (Montreal), 2 April 1832. Death notices of Ont. (Reid). DHB. Hereward Senior, Orangeism, the Canadian phase (Toronto, 1972), 41–42, 48.