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Walker, Dame Eadith Campbell (1861–1937)

by Jennifer MacCulloch

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Eadith Campbell Walker (1861-1937), by unknown photographer

Eadith Campbell Walker (1861-1937), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/4716

Dame Dame Eadith Campbell Walker (1861-1937), philanthropist, was born on 18 September 1861 at The Rocks, Sydney, only child of Scottish parents Thomas Walker, merchant, and his wife Jane, née Hart. The family moved to Yaralla on the Parramatta River at Concord in 1870. After his wife died in December, Walker brought his sister Joanna (d.1890) from Scotland to look after Eadith, whose childhood was shared by Annie Masefield; the girls were educated at home, but attended dancing classes in the city. Strictly raised, Eadith was taught that wealth brought responsibilities and obligations.

In 1886 she inherited her father's estate, sworn for probate at £937,984. She commissioned (Sir) John Sulman (who married Annie Masefield in 1893) to design additions to Yaralla in the 1890s. To the traditional English grounds she added exotic plants, and employed European stonemasons to build a sunken garden, an Italianate terrace and a grotto; her home had, as well, a swimming pool, croquet lawn, and tennis and squash courts. A keen oarswoman, Eadith was vice-president (1895) of the Sydney Rowing Club; she was also a patron of the Yaralla cricket club and leased land to (Royal) Sydney and Concord golf clubs. She loved animals, especially her dogs, and was an executive-member of the Animals' Protection Society of New South Wales (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Before World War I Miss Walker showed flair in organizing lavish balls, children's parties on a grand scale, fêtes and charitable functions at her home; her guests included visiting royalty and other dignitaries. Widely travelled and interested in music and art, she brought back memorabilia: after visiting New Delhi for the 1903 Coronation Durbar, she built an Indian room to house some of her treasures; on another occasion she brought home a Norwegian house that was reassembled at Yaralla. She enjoyed reading, accumulated an extensive library (which she bequeathed to Women's College, University of Sydney) and collected valuable glass, porcelain, paintings and antique furniture. She was a founder of the Queen's Club (1912) and a life-member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales.

Far from frivolous, Miss Walker was to perpetuate her father's philanthropies and generously supported the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital that he had founded. She was an executive-member of, and a subscriber to, many charitable organizations, among them the Women's Industrial Guild, Queen's Jubilee Fund, Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington. Eadith also supported religious and educational institutions, including local churches and the University of Sydney. She maintained her staff in their old age and built cottages for needy men.

World War I sharpened the focus of her endeavours. An executive-member of the State division of the Australian Red Cross Society, she was a member of its finance committee and a delegate to the central council in Melbourne. Working through the Red Cross and later the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, she personally did much for ill and disabled servicemen, and set up 'The Camp' at Yaralla for those with advanced tuberculosis. Miss Walker established and maintained a library at the Prince of Wales Hospital and donated her house at Leura for use by consumptive servicemen. She formed friendships with returned soldiers and occasionally established them in small businesses. Appointed C.B.E. in 1918 and D.B.E. in 1928, she was described as fiercely patriotic, loyal to the Empire and 'a Britisher to the Backbone'.

Eadith never married; her aunt Joanna reputedly had instilled in her a fear of fortune-hunters. In maturity, she looked imposing, and was rather full-faced with gently waved, grey hair. A shy, but strong and capable woman who disliked publicity, she spent most of her later years at the Astor, Macquarie Street. Dame Eadith died at Yaralla on 8 October 1937, her dog Cobber beside her. Returned servicemen and boy scouts lined the approach to the chapel at Rookwood where she was cremated; her ashes were buried at St John's Anglican Church, Ashfield. Her estate, sworn for probate at £265,345, was disposed of in accordance with the terms of her father's will after the Walker Trusts Act was passed in 1939.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Tanner & Associates Pty Ltd, Yaralla Estate Concord (priv print, Syd, nd)
  • J. R. Lawson and F. E. de Groot, Estate of the Late Dame Eadith Campbell Walker to be Sold. Yaralla, auctioneers' catalogue (Syd, 1938)
  • G. N. Griffiths, Some Houses and People of New South Wales (Syd, 1949)
  • A. L. May, Sydney Rows (Syd, 1970)
  • S. Coupe, Concord, a Centenary History (Syd, 1983)
  • Women's Industrial Guild, Annual Report, 1891
  • Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Annual Report, 1891-1922
  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Annual Report, 1894-1937
  • Australian Red Cross Society, New South Wales division, Annual Report, 1914-37
  • Junior Red Cross, New South Wales branch, Annual Report, 1917-37
  • Home (Sydney), 1 Nov 1924
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Nov 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1914, 23 June 1924, 22 Sept, 26 Nov 1927, 4 June 1928, 15 Oct 1937
  • Daily Mail (Sydney), 13 Oct 1937
  • Sydney Mail, 13 Oct 1937.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Jennifer MacCulloch, 'Walker, Dame Eadith Campbell (1861–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-dame-eadith-campbell-1100/text15745, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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