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Walker, Henry (1821–1900)

by Bernard Barrett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Henry Walker (1821-1900), industrialist, was born on 24 December 1821 near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England, son of Robert Walker, land bailiff, and his wife Hannah, née Cudworth. Educated from the age of 10 at the Quaker school at Ackworth, Yorkshire, he left at 14 to learn from an uncle in Leeds the merchandizing of tea, coffee and hops. He then travelled for a tea firm in London, Liverpool and Belfast. In 1849 at Leeds he married Elizabeth Lee and in 1852 they left England in the Cleopatra, arriving in Melbourne on Christmas Day. They went to Sydney and conducted a profitable confectionery shop. Revisiting England in 1854, they returned to settle permanently in Melbourne next year.

Walker was a book-keeper and salesman for several Melbourne merchants before managing a soap and candle factory by the River Yarra at Collingwood; in 1863 he bought it. He soon opened another works near by where he also produced wax matches and smelted antimony. In 1868-88 he owned and operated the Hobson's Bay soap and candle works at West Melbourne. With other industrialists he was continually criticized for causing air and river pollution, but a royal commission in 1870 reported that he was less negligent than most others. He upheld the local council's view, however, that the benefits of local prosperity outweighed complaints about pollution. In 1874 he became a shareholder in a company which proposed to distil the contents of Collingwood's cesspits into a concentrated fertiliser. Although the company failed after a year because of engineering difficulties, it encouraged many householders to substitute portable pans. In 1881 he was a founding director of the Victorian Tramway Co.

For twelve years between 1872 and 1894 Walker was a member of the Collingwood Council, and was mayor in 1872-73, 1874-75, 1878-79, 1880-81 and 1887-88, visiting England twice. He helped to introduce into Collingwood some of Australia's first underground storm-water drains and was a pioneer advocate of asphalt paving. In the early 1880s he was instrumental in having the Victoria Street bridge built over the Yarra near his factories; he subscribed £100 to the building fund. He encouraged spectacular mayoral and municipal festivities and was a supporter or patron of many community and sporting organizations, especially bowling, racing, cricket and football. A justice of the peace, he was for many years chairman of the local bench. He was originally a free trader but became a protectionist; although regarded as 'very passive' in political matters, in February 1880 he contested the seat of Collingwood in the Legislative Assembly, but was defeated.

Walker died of chronic cystitis at Collingwood on 3 December 1900, survived by his only child, a daughter. He was buried in the Boroondara cemetery. A mayoral portrait, by Tom Roberts in 1889, is held by the Collingwood City Council.

Select Bibliography

  • Our Local Men of the Times, reprint from Collingwood Observer (Melbourne, 1889)
  • B. Barrett, The Inner Suburbs (Melb, 1971)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1870, 2nd session, 1 (22)
  • Advertiser and Observer (Collingwood), 1 July 1875, 15 Mar 1888, 4 Apr 1889
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Dec 1900
  • A. H. B. Barrett, The Making of an Industrial Environment: Collingwood, Victoria, 1851-91 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1970).

Citation details

Bernard Barrett, 'Walker, Henry (1821–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-henry-4785/text7967, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 August 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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