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Walker, Thomas (1804–1886)

After a brief illness, the abovenamed gentleman died yesterday at, his residence Yaralla, Concord. The deceased was a very old colonist, and was well known to a large section of the community. He was born in Scotland, and came out to Sydney about the year 1822. Upon his arrival he entered into the employment of Messrs. William Walker and Co., of Battery Point, who carried on the business of general merchants. The senior partner in the firm was his uncle. He remained in the employ of the firm for a considerable time, and displayed marked business ability. On the retirement of the partners, the business was transferred to him and a cousin. The enterprise, however, did not afford sufficient scope for Mr. Walker's commercial talent, and he devoted himself to higher speculative pursuits.

By the time he reached middle age, Mr. Walker had accumulated a very large fortune. Being a man of great energy, he took a prominent part in the management of a number of the companies that came into existence a generation ago. For many years he was a director of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company. It is understood that he was one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales; at any rate, he took a prominent part in its management. Almost from the time it was established, and for many years preceding his death, he filled the position of its president. By degrees Mr. Walker withdrew, for various reasons, from the directorate of the financial institutions with which he was connected with the exception of the Bank of New South Wales. He had a peculiar pride in that institution, because it was the first bank established in Australia that attained proportions, which made it worthy to be compared with the great monetary institutions of England and America, and in occupying the position of president one of his highest ambitions was realised.

Like many of the best men in the community, Mr. Walker had a constitutional dislike for active politics but he took an interest in political topics, and when occasion required, he proved that he could discuss them, with great ability. He wrote a number of letters and pamphlets on the land question when it was before the country in connection with the present Act, and it was generally acknowledged that they displayed considerable intellectual vigour, and more than ordinary knowlodge of the subject. Mr. Walker was in favour of the system of agricultural areas, and he never wavered from the conviction that in sanctioning free selection all over the country the State did irreparable injury to the pastoral industry.

If Mr. Walker had large means, it has to be said also that he used his money wisely. He delighted in acts of beneficence, and during his lifetime gave away many thousands of pounds for the relief of the suffering and in aid of various charitable enterprises. To some extent he acted upon John Wesley's famous rule, "Make all you can; save all you can; give all you can." It is well known to many people that Mr. Walker kept an agent constantly employed in searching out, inquiring into, and relieving cases of distress. The amount of money he dispensed in this manner was considerable. Often, he himself was his own almoner, and he took pleasure in visiting the numerous persons whom he relieved. His most munificent act of charity was performed in April, 1882, just before his departure on a short trip to the old country. He placed at that time a cheque for £10,000 in the hands of his friends Mr. Thomas Buckland and Mr. Shepherd Smith, to be distributed by them amongst certain benevolent institutions. The following is an extract from the letter which he wrote to them on the occasion: "On the eve of saying - for a short time only, I hope - good-bye to the colony in which I have so long been a resident - my object in leaving being to regain good health, impaired by the incessant overwork to which I have of late been subjected - I desire to evince my sympathy with those of my less fortunate fellow-colonists, young and old, who are afflicted in divers ways by the ills and evils that beset civilised humanity, by distributing a sum of money amongst those institutions established among us with a view to care for and relieve such sufferers. I most willingly would, have personally made the distribution, but requisite preparations for my departure have so entirely engrossed my time that I have not been able to find space in which I could accomplish the pleasing, though somewhat onerous, task." The duty was wisely performed by the gentlemen selected by Mr. Walker, and the money was distributed amongst 20 charitable institutions, in sums varying from £100 to £800.

Mr Walker's family, in this colony consists of a daughter and a sister. Mr. Walker's wife died a long time ago. The deceased gentleman was as ardent believer in the principles of Christianity, and recognised the obligation which the Founder of the system imposed on believers to do good to all men according as they had opportunity. It is said of him by a gentleman who knew him for half a century that he never spoke evil of any man. Mr. Walker was not prominent in the sense in which that term is usually understood; but he lived a pure life, and relieved much misery and suffering, and in doing that he established a claim to be always regarded as one of the worthiest of our citizens.

Original publication

Citation details

'Walker, Thomas (1804–1886)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/walker-thomas-1101/text1096, accessed 21 November 2017.

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