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Walsh, William Henry (1823–1888)

by David Denholm and H. J. Gibbney

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

William Henry Walsh (1823-1888), squatter and politician, was born probably on 18 December 1823 at Milton, Berkshire, England, son of Charles Walsh, and his wife Elizabeth. He reached Sydney in the Mary Sharp on 11 June 1844, gained colonial experience with David Perrier of Bathurst and in 1847 opened a station for him on the Macintyre River, Moreton Bay. He took a Perrier flock through floods to open another station on the Burnett River, then took up Degilbo near Gayndah for (G. R.) Griffiths, (W.) Fanning & Co. of Sydney. He later acquired the property himself. In August 1850 Walsh joined M. C. O'Connell, W. Forster and others in punishing Aboriginals for the murder of Gregory Blaxland junior. A subsequent bitter feud led to the dismissal of native police commandant F. Walker and was followed by public quarrels with Edward Deas Thomson, A. G. Maclean, Sir George Bowen and A. E. Halloran; the conflict revealed Walsh as gauche, nasty, devious, highly egocentric and prone to strident appeals to English tradition. On 20 February 1857 at Paterson he married Eliza Brown.

He sat in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1859. Believing that separation would leave him stranded 'among pigmies', Walsh declined any part in the Queensland parliament but tried to keep in touch with New South Wales. He soon relented, failed to win Leichhardt in 1863 but won Maryborough in 1865. Accused of monomania about maltreatment of Aboriginals, with little help he continued an eloquent fight for the rights of Aboriginals, Kanakas and Chinese for the rest of his life: he was governed by genuine Christian charity and by a distaste for working-class prejudice.

Despite early attacks on railway construction Walsh joined the Palmer government in 1870 as secretary for public works in charge of railways. The 'Demon of discord' had found a satisfying occupation and he emerged as a creditable administrator. He had opposed payment of members and the abolition of non-vested schools; when the ministry sponsored legislation for them he resigned his office on 10 July 1873. On 7 November he lost Maryborough to B. B. Moreton but managed to win Warrego on 1 December. He was manoeuvred into the Speakership on 6 January 1874 but was never happy in a role that silenced him; unable to secure proper respect, he resigned suddenly on 20 July 1876. He was defeated again in December 1878, failed to win Logan and on 20 February 1879 was appointed to the Legislative Council.

Two years in London in 1885-86 as an executive commissioner to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition almost ruined Walsh; relatively poor, he died on 4 April 1888 leaving four sons and three daughters. Bernays claims that much of Walsh's prickly pugnacity was a conscious pose which amused him, but he was probably one of the most hated men of his time. Sir Robert Herbert described him as 'a horrible new member of Parliament called Walsh who makes endless speeches and bores me to death. He is rather mad'. W. H. Wiseman was probably fairer when in 1852 he described him as 'The deceiver who first deceived himself!'

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Loyau, The History of Maryborough (Brisb, 1897)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • D. Dignan, The Story of Kolan (Brisb, 1964)
  • P. Bell, ‘The Walshs of Degilbo’, Queensland Women's Historical Assn, 1859 and Before That — 1959 and All That (Brisb, 1960)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1861, 75, 1864, 347, 1865, 395, 1875, 2, 437, 1876, 1, 62
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1867, 1877, 1878
  • Moreton Bay Free Press, 17 Jan 1854, 22 Nov 1859
  • Archer papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Griffith papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Herbert letters (State Library of Queensland)
  • Palmer-McIlwraith papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's files, 60/512, 61/290 (Queensland State Archives)
  • CO 234/18/24.

Citation details

David Denholm and H. J. Gibbney, 'Walsh, William Henry (1823–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walsh-william-henry-4795/text7987, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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