Beginnings in Fremantle

Isaac and Isabella Bolton and their eight children arrived in Fremantle on the steamer Yeoman in 1887. Shortly after his arrival, Isaac founded a coach building business known as Bolton & Sons in Fremantle, having been a wheelwright in Hollingbourne, Kent England. Their initial factory was at 45 William St Fremantle and he employed most of his sons.

In 1902 Bolton’s engaged an architect Oldham’s to design a new factory at 63 Henry St Fremantle (corner of Henry St and Marine Terrace) with 40 x 40 ft showrooms and was made dustproof. Their business brochure circa 1909 Bolton & Sons boasted the best workmen in the Commonwealth and manufactured all types of Buggies Wagons etc and every kind of vehicle new and second-hand. They were also direct importers. Isaac retired in 1912 and the business was carried on by two of his sons, Alfred and Len until 1924 when Alf retired. Isaac died in 1912 and it is of interest that one of his mourners was a leading hand by the name of Porter who later started his own bus building business as Howard Porter.

As Bolton’s used Tuart for the most of their timber that was used for wheels hubs and even car bodies, they purchased a timber mill (Bailey’s) in Mandurah where Len Bolton installed a manager W McKerracher after the war and operated the mill for their own use until about 1926. This gave then a big advantage over other coach builders at that time as they had access to their own timber and could control the seasoning of the Tuart.

In 1926 Leonard Bolton purchased the business of Daniel White and Co., amalgamating the two and formed Bolton’s Ltd. Daniel White and Co. was a company who had their main business in Melbourne that was formed in 1869 and opened in Perth in 1897. They started to build bodies on imported car chassis in 1904 both British and American. Bolton’s turnover in 1928-29 reached £80,000 and they had about 200 employees.

Move to West Perth

In 1935 Bolton’s Ltd purchased, for about £5,000, 1and 3/4 acres of land belonging to Holden’s Ltd (the early car manufacturer) at the corner of Sutherland and Stone St. West Perth just under the subway. They proceeded to build a new factory consisting of approximately 35.000 square feet and large enough for 300 employees. It was opened in June 1936 by the then Minister for industry A R Hawke (later premier of WA 1953) at a function attended by over 200 prominent business persons of WA.

In his speech Minister Hawke mentioned that the factory was designed to allow plenty of light and for keeping the air clean and fresh for the workers. Also that Bolton’s had endeavoured to see that there was an entire lack of monotony in their employee’s work. Also during his speech he stated that the value of imported car bodies from abroad amounted to £10,000 and from the eastern states approximately £227,000. The building was built by well know Perth builder Doust.

Before moving to West Perth, Boltons had built many of WA’s Trams Buses and coaches including ten of the Alpine Co’s Reo parlor cars in 1936.The Alpine Co’s Parlor car board of directors at that time included Mr J J Poynton, Lord Mayor of Perth and G. Nankivell whose family in later years was involved also in Perth’s body building industry.

In 1939 Mr L Bolton submitted a tender to build 44 Double-decker buses for Melbourne but was not successful.

War-Time Work

After being successful in a tender to manufacture 2000 timber boxes for packaging 18 pounder shells for the Defence Department in 1938 Bolton’s war time work continued by an order in 1940 for the machining and completion of 550,000 smoke bombs worth around £75,000. They also were to make up to 120,000 wooden containers for the bombs. During the war Bolton’s paid their women workers 90% of the male award rates even when the union recommended about 80%.

A gas producer called the EVER-READY was also made by the company to help the war effort as well as military ambulances. At the time of closure of the munitions manufacture Bolton’s employed some 330 workers who were working up to 3 shifts a day.


In 1948 Mr Leonard Bolton MLC died and two of his sons took over the management of the company. Mr Keith Bolton became the Managing Director and retained that position until Bolton Ltd closed in 1972.

Immediate post-war public transport body building would naturally be a time of slow build-up and Bolton’s first large body building order was for 40 bodies to be built on the Sunbeam trolley buses in 1949. 
The Government Tramways had ordered 50 Sunbeams and 10 were built at Commonwealth Engineering in NSW. The first 26 chassis arrived in Fremantle in October 1949 and Bolton’s first built Sunbeam was delivered in to the WAGT in July 1950, (WAG 51). It was stated that this was also WA‘s first all-steel bus body, however Bolton’s also built in 1948 two all-steel bodies on Daimler CVD6’s for United Buses. They also built some AEC Regal Mk 111’s for the WAGR immediate post war period. There is large photograph of the AEC Regal fleet in the East Perth Terminal.

There was considerable co-operation between Bolton’s and Commonwealth Engineering (Waddingtons) of NSW in the early post World War II period and beyond. Commonwealth Engineering is said to have provided Boltons with jigs or patterns for the framing for steel bodied buses and some 1960s buses had front had rear moulds very similar to Comeng bodies of the same period.

Bolton’s plant and machinery was more up the date that any other Body Building factory in WA and would one would assume be the preferred choice for a local manufacturer

Until their closure in 1972, Bolton’s Pty Ltd regularly built bus bodies for the Metropolitan Transport Trust, as indicated in the list below

  • Sunbeam Trolleybus – 40
  • AEC Regal 111,1V,V1 – 58
  • Albion Viking – 10
  • Leyland Tiger Cub – 41
  • Daimler – 11
  • Daimler Roadliner – 1
  • Guy Arab – 150
  • Leyland Leopard – 50
  • Leyland Lion – 11
  • Leyland Tiger – 8
  • Leyland Worldmaster – 24
  • Leyland Panther – 19

A number of these contracts ran in parallel with deliveries from competitors including Howard Porter and Freighter WA. Boltons last bus delivered to the then MTT was a Leyland Panther MTT 849 in December 1971. A number of buses were also built for private operators.

Community Involvement

Isaac Bolton and his sons were quite involved in local sporting and political scenes. It started when Mr. Isaac Bolton was elected to the first Municipal Council of North Fremantle and later, his eldest son, Herbert, was Mayor for three terms. A second son, Harry, was the member for North Fremantle in the Legislative Assembly and, when this seat was abolished in 1911, he represented the South Fremantle electorate. On his return from active service is World War I, he became State president of the R.S.L.

Mr. Leonard Bolton was for six years a member of the East Fremantle Municipal Council and was also Mayor for five years. In 1930 he was elected to the Legislative Council as the member for the Metropolitan Province. He also was on the executive of the Royal Agricultural Society 1932

In sport the family also had a distinguished record. Mr. Herbert Bolton was a prominent cyclist who was narrowly beaten by an Italian champion, M. Porta, when he visited this State, and Mr. Leonard Bolton represented WA in a Dunlop 100 miles relay race, in addition to playing first grade cricket and being selected for the State lacrosse team for the first interstate carnival in Adelaide in 1905. His three sons played first grade cricket in WA. Bowls has always been a popular sport with the family and during one season four of the Bolton brothers, playing as a team.

J W Boltons

After Bolton’s Pty Ltd closed Keith Bolton’s only son John with the help of some of the staff and workmen from Bolton’s started a new company based in Belmont called J W BOLTONS. They started manufacturing Fire Tenders and then bus bodies, mainly for the MTT on Mercedes 0305, 0305G, Leyland B21 and Renault PR100 and PR180 chassis.

A batch of Mercedes 0303 coaches for Westrail in 1983 were built by Ansair in Mebourne but fitted out by J.W. Bolton. The last buses produced were MTT Renault PR180.2 (753-756) all delivered in October 1989.
John was not an apprentice at Bolton’s Pty Ltd, however he continued in the long line of WA Body Builders that his great grandfather Isaac Bolton commenced in 1888 and their last bus body delivered was in December 1989. His contribution to the Bolton’s Body Building Dynasty was to ensure that the name BOLTON survived for just over a century of coach building for Western Australia.


Two early Bolton (Commonwealth Engineering style) half cab buses survive in preservation in presentable condition. These are Metro Omnibuses 81, a Leyland OPS4 and WA Govt Tramways Guy Arab 101. WAGT subsequently had other buses bodied by Commonwealth Engineering in Sydney, – Leyland OPS4 and OPD2 half cabs and more AEC Regal IIIs. One of the Leyland OPS4s is in preservation, although the MTT rebuilt its body to the extent there is very little of the original remaining.

About The Author

I am the great grandson of Isaac and Isabella Bolton. One of Isaac’s daughters Maud married Evan Thomas who was the author’s grandfather. Keith Bolton’s family lived nearby and the families were close. My connection to buses, trams and trolleys comes about thru my father who was workshop manager at the WA Government Tramways and later became chairman of the MTT. Hence my first PSV vehicle was a tram which, when I was 10 yo I drove it at about 2 am one night after Dad attended a late night derailment. I also spent a lot of time as a youngster at the car barn during weekends.

I served an apprenticeship as a fitter and then a few years as a draughtsman and then travelled to the UK and worked for AEC and Leyland Motors as a service engineer. Returning to Australia, I worked for Leyland in Adelaide for a short-while then for Freighters Industries as their Hino bus sales representative in WA. Freighters had just taken over Martin Nixon in Osborne Park.

At Freighters WA I was in charge of the bus body-building. We built 50 Leyland Cubs and then the Hino RC100P’s for the WAGR in 1967, the first Hino’s to enter into service in WA. I then went to the MTT as an engineer. During the years I was there I spent most of my time problem solving.

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