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Walker, James Thomas (1841–1923)

by Margaret Steven

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

James Thomas Walker (1841-1923), by unknown photographer, 1900s

James Thomas Walker (1841-1923), by unknown photographer, 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23514938

James Thomas Walker (1841-1923), financier and politician, was born on 20 March 1841 in Edinburgh, fifth son of John William Walker, wine merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Waterston. John ran Castlesteads station, Boorowa, New South Wales, in 1845-49; having sold it to Hamilton Hume, he returned with his family to Scotland. Educated at the Edinburgh Institution, then at King's College, London, James went back to Scotland for two and a half years to learn office management. In March 1860 he joined the London staff of the Bank of New South Wales, of which his cousin Thomas Walker was a director. James sailed for Queensland in 1866 to manage the bank's Townsville, and later its Toowoomba, branch and was appointed assistant inspector of Queensland branches in 1879. On 16 April 1868 he had married Janette Isabella Palmer at Range View, Toowoomba. Foundation general manager (1885-87) of the Royal Bank of Queensland, he resigned to become manager and trustee in New South Wales for Thomas Walker's wealthy daughter (Dame) Eadith Campbell Walker.

Deeply interested in the constitutional aspects of Federation, Walker was a member of the People's Federal Convention at Bathurst in 1896. There he propounded a detailed scheme for Federal finance. A delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention (1897-98), he was dismissed by Alfred Deakin as 'a mere commercial man' and ignored by the Adelaide finance committee. His Sydney admirers feared that he was 'one crying in the wilderness', but he published the speeches he delivered to the convention in Sydney as Draft Commonwealth Bill (1897). To the great satisfaction of Liberty, Walker's proposals were adopted at the Melbourne sittings 'in preference to the ideas set forward by the politicians which were found to be quite impractical'. He was returned at the head of the New South Wales Senate poll in 1901, and sat as a Liberal and a Free Trader in four Federal parliaments before retiring in June 1913.

Walker had resigned his presidency (1897) of the Bank of New South Wales before entering parliament, but retained a directorship (1895-1921). He owned Mount Ubi estate at Wide Bay, Queensland, and was a veteran director of such leading companies as Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd and the Australian Mutual Provident Society. Keen but composed and exuding rectitude, with classic features enhanced by elegant whiskers, Walker was, nonetheless, warm-hearted and capable of fiery response. An 'old and valued' member of the Highland Society and president (1903-19) of the Australian Golf Club, Sydney, he was chairman of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, and a director of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the Burnside Presbyterian Orphan Homes. He sat on the finance committee of the Presbyterian Church of Australia and was a councillor of Women's and St Andrew's colleges, University of Sydney. Vice-president of the Australian Economic Association and a fellow (1886) of the Institute of Bankers, London, he was 'prominently identified' with the Bankers Institute of New South Wales. Survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, he died on 18 January 1923 at Woollahra, Sydney, and was buried in South Head cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate in New South Wales at £27,697.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Deakin, The Federal Story, J. A. La Nauze ed (Melb, 1963)
  • R. Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth (Melb, 1975)
  • Liberty (Sydney), 23 Dec 1896, 25 Feb, 26 Nov 1897, 29 Mar, 27 Apr 1898
  • Scottish Australasian, 21 Feb 1923
  • Punch (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1907
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19, 20 Jan 1923
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • J. T. Walker papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Margaret Steven, 'Walker, James Thomas (1841–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-james-thomas-995/text15755, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 October 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

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