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Walter Lamb (1825–1906)

by G. P. Walsh

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Walter Lamb (1825-1906), businessman and pastoralist, was born on 8 January 1825 in London, eldest son of John Lamb and his wife Emma Trant, née Robinson. He arrived in Sydney with his parents in the Resource on 6 May 1829 and was later educated at William Timothy Cape's school and Sydney College. At 15 he became a clerk in his father's firm and at 22 a partner in Lamb, Spry & Co. On his return from a visit to England in February 1857 he, his brother John and Charles Parbury carried on as Lamb, Parbury & Co. In January 1855 Lamb had become an original shareholder and director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. and in 1880 chairman. By 1860 he was a director of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney, the Australian General Assurance Co. and the Sydney Exchange Co., and had served on the committees of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and the Union Club.

In 1862-63 he revisited England. On his return he retired from the importing business. In the 1860s Lamb, Parbury & Lamb held 11 sq. miles (28 km²) on the Darling Downs and 10 stations totalling 238,000 acres (96,315 ha) in the Leichhardt district of Queensland. Lamb turned to grazing and farming, first at Greystanes near Liverpool, where he bred Shorthorn cattle, then at Merilong on the Liverpool Plains and Rooty Hill near Sydney. He claimed to be the first pastoralist to preserve native grass fodder on a large scale for dry seasons: in 1889 he had about 2000 tons of ensilage at Merilong. He visited England again in 1882-83 and in 1884 decided to establish a cannery and fruit preserving works on his Woodstock estate at Plumpton (Rooty Hill). A £10,000 family company was formed and part of the estate leased to smallholders for the cultivation of stone fruits. Lamb studied the canning process in California and brought back R. Lister as his manager. The cannery opened late in 1887 and was successful until November 1893 when Lamb went bankrupt.

Lamb was a local director of several English insurance companies and the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank. He was a director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary, a trustee of the National Park in 1879 and president of the Union Club in 1878-82. He had been appointed a lieutenant in the Sydney Volunteer Rifles in September 1854 and was later a vice-president of the Rifle Association. A good judge of horses and a promoter of coursing, he introduced the new Plumpton system of coursing to the colonies at his Rooty Hill estate and later sold his grounds to the New South Wales Coursing Club. He twice refused Henry Parkes's offer of a seat in the Legislative Council before serving as a member in 1889-93. He claimed to have been a staunch protectionist since 1867 and favoured payment of members, early closing and was generally sympathetic towards labour interests. He protested against the proliferation of gambling, sweeps and totalisators, and advocated their proper control; in August 1891 he forecast that 'New South Wales will become the Monaco of the Australias and Sydney will be its Monte Carlo'.

Lamb died at Plumpton, Rooty Hill, on 13 November 1906 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. Probate was not granted until April 1918 when his estate was sworn at £10. He was survived by a daughter of his first wife, Jane (d.1855), fourth daughter of William Cox, whom he had married in 1847, and by three sons and four daughters of his second wife Margaret Elizabeth (d.1901), daughter of Henry Dangar, whom he had married on 11 February 1858 at St Michael's Church, Surry Hills.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1858, 3, 566, 580
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 Apr 1882, 15 Oct 1887, 23 Mar, 7 Sept 1889, 6 Feb 1892
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Nov 1906
  • 'Obituary: Mr. Walter Lamb', Pastoralists' Review, vol 16, no 10, Dec 1906, p 836
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Walter Lamb (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Lamb, Walter (1825–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 January, 1825
London, Middlesex, England


13 November, 1906 (aged 81)
Rooty Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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