Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walter Adams (1830–1892)

by J. G. Nolan

This article was published:

Walter Adams (1830-1892), businessman, sugar planter and politician, was born at Yeovil, Somerset, England, son of George Adams, tanner. After elementary education at Somerton he was employed in a large machinery factory owned by his cousin. In search of greater independence he arrived in September 1849 at Sydney, where he tried to set up as a dealer in machinery but had to take work in a blacksmith's shop. Attracted by the opportunities in the north, he established himself in 1853 as a blacksmith at Maryborough. In 1860 he showed his versatility by taking up farming. In 1872 he moved to the new settlement at Bundaberg, where he again engaged in farming and also worked as a contractor, building the first substantial wharf and government bridge as well as the telegraph line to Burnett Heads. Another of his varied activities was hotel-keeping. On his farm he first cultivated maize and then wheat, but soon began to experiment with sugar, some of which he sent to the Paris Exhibition of 1877. By this work and his encouragement of outside investment to set up the Millaquin refinery, he became a founder of the sugar industry at Bundaberg.

Adams was always interested in local affairs; in the Maryborough Council he had been an alderman and chairman of works and in Bundaberg he was a leader of the Progress Committee which continuously petitioned the government for local improvements. He first opposed the movement for a municipal council at Bundaberg, believing that he could win more for the town by direct pressure on the government. However, when the municipality was established he became its first mayor in 1882 and later served a second term. He was president of the School of Arts, vice-president of the Hospital Committee and a leader in other local organizations, notably agricultural and building societies. He also paced out the first race-course in Bundaberg. At first opposed to Kanaka labour, he later came to support it on economic grounds.

Very popular in Bundaberg because of his many activities he was elected in 1886 to represent Mulgrave in the Legislative Assembly where he supported Thomas McIlwraith. After the redistribution of electorates in 1888, he was returned for Bundaberg; with his limited interests, he made little mark on the assembly but held the seat till his death in Sydney on 15 May 1892. He was buried in the Roman Catholic portion of the Bundaberg cemetery. He had married Mary Shannon at Gayndah on 20 March 1854, and was survived by five daughters and a son.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of Queensland, vol 2 (Brisb, 1888)
  • J. Y. Walker, History of Bundaberg (Brisb, 1890)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1886-92
  • Mount Perry Mail, 1876-88.

Citation details

J. G. Nolan, 'Adams, Walter (1830–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Yeovil, Somerset, England


15 May, 1892 (aged ~ 62)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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