Joseph Medcalf

Cabinet-maker, Undertaker

Terms served on Council

Title Council From To
Alderman Redfern 1881 1907
Mayor Redfern 1897 1898
Mayor Redfern 1904 1905
  • Redfern Council seal (Civic Collection 2006.032.7)

Family background

Joseph Medcalf was born in 1840 to Joseph Beddy and Ruth (nee Unthank) Medcalf. In 1865, he married Ellen (nee Harris or Newman, see note*), and the couple had eight children.

Medcalf’s son Albert Josiah Medcalf also served on Redfern Council from 1925 – 1929 and represented the same ward as his father.

Medcalf died in 1916 on July 2nd in his 75th year, and was buried at Rookwood Cemetery. His burial service was attended by a large number of mourners, and followed by a masonic service performed by members of the Masonic Lodge at Kilwinning.



Occupation & interests

Joseph Medcalf began his working life as a French polisher, operating a furniture warehouse on the corner of Redfern and Regent Streets. Most large city buildings requiring French polishing used his services.

In 1880, Medcalf established himself as an undertaker, at 172 Redfern Street. Today, Joseph Medcalf Funeral Services continues to operate in Redfern and in Belmore. Medcalf set up at Redfern, servicing what was then known as the General Cemetery, located on Devonshire Street where Central Station now stands. When a new cemetery was established in Botany, Joseph Medcalf Funerals arranged the first internment on February 11, 1894, marking the opening of the cemetery’s Presbyterian section. The firm also conducted the first Roman Catholic funeral at the cemetery on March 9, 1894. It was a prominent funeral business which conducted many burials in the local area.

Community activity

An excellent all-round sportsman, Medcalf was a prominent cricketer and cricket enthusiast, when games were played at the Albert Cricket Ground. He continued to play in friendly inter-council cricket games and his excellent playing was frequently remarked in news reports. Medcalf was elected patron of the inaugural Redfern baseball club established in 1897 and remained a committee member until his retirement from Council. He also played lawn bowls, participating regularly in inter-council tournaments and was a member of the Redfern Swimming Club, which had as its headquarters Coogee Baths and planned at one stage to convert the Old Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park into a grand central baths.

Joseph Medcalf was also extremely active in his local church, the Mt Lachlan Methodist Church, and served for more than 30 years as Sunday School Superintendent, Senior Circuit Stewart and Choir Conductor.


Local government service

Medcalf was elected as an alderman in 1881 and was instrumental in the establishment of electric lighting to Redfern. During his two mayoral terms in 1897 – 1898 and 1904 – 1905, he initiated considerable municipal improvement and development, including sewerage, road development and improvements to Redfern Park. Medcalf was on the electric lighting sub-committee, which in 1891 applied successfully to the Colonial Secretary to borrow £50 000 in order to install lighting in the borough. By the time that Medcalf retired as mayor in 1905, some 155 arc lamps had been installed in Redfern for lighting its main streets and private homes were increasingly able to have electricity installed.

Joseph Medcalf served as mayor on two separate occasions. During his second mayoral period (1904-5), he worked to obtain a new site for the Council’s Working Plant from Redfern and Turner Streets, to a new position on the Lackey portion of the Hutchison Estate.

During Medcalf’s lengthy service, Redfern Council engaged in ongoing negotiations with the Railways Commission to extend the Redfern rail yards and tramways, with transport to and from the area constituting a significant issue. In addition, Council members debated at length the question of a mayoral allowance, from 1894 to 1897, with the issue at times dividing council. Medcalf believed firmly that the mayor deserved financial remuneration.


Biography researched and written by Marian Lorrison, November 2015.

NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, at has 2 records for 1865 for the marriage of Joseph Medcalf to Ellen Harris, and Ellen Newman: Record number 898/1865.

Souvenir of Redfern Municipality 1859-1901

Presentation’, The Methodist, April 15, 1905, p.6

‘Redfern’, Evening News, June 19, 1891, p.2

‘Redfern’ The Sydney Morning Herald, September 25, 1893, p.6

‘Sydney and Redfern lighting’ Evening News July 30, 1904, p.6

‘City railway extension: A municipal alliance formed’ Sydney Morning Herald, May 9, 1896, p. 7

‘Redfern Mayoral Allowance’, Evening News, January 26, 1894, p.2

‘Baseball: Redfern Club’, Sydney Morning Herald, April 4, 1903, p.12

‘Yesterday’s bowling: The Pennant Championship, City Club Victorious’. The Sunday Times, May21, 1899, p.3

‘Swimming’ Evening News, September 27, 1902, p. 5

‘Late Mr Joseph Medcalf’ St George Call, July 15, 1916, p.3

‘Redfern v Waterloo Boroughs’, Evening News, January 29, 1896, p.2

Redfern Minute Books July 7 1903 – January 15, 1903; p.231 and ‘Special Mayoral Minute’, June 2, 1904.

‘Father: Son Aldermen’, Evening News, November 1, 1929, p.3, accessed on November 2, 2015.


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