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Sir Samuel Robert Walder (1879–1946)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published:

Samuel Robert Walder (1879-1946), by unknown photographer, 1925-27

Samuel Robert Walder (1879-1946), by unknown photographer, 1925-27

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/100

Sir Samuel Robert Walder (1879-1946), businessman and politician, was born on 8 October 1879 in Sydney, son of Samuel Walder, sailmaker, and his wife Mary Ann, née Hatton, both native-born. Educated at Cleveland Street Public and Christ Church St Laurence schools, at 13 Samuel entered his father's sail, tent and tarpaulin manufacturing business as an apprentice. When his father died, Walder took over as manager, aged 18. Under his guidance the firm expanded and was floated as a limited company in 1911. It made its name by supplying tents to the Australian Army in World War I.

On 22 March 1911 Walder had married Elsie Helena Blunt, a milliner, at St Martin's Anglican Church, Kensington. In 1924 he retired as managing director of S. Walder Ltd, which remained a family company, to devote himself to 'the interests of the city'. Standing for the Citizens' Reform Association, he was elected to Sydney Municipal Council at a by-election for Flinders Ward; he served as an alderman until 1927 (when the council was abolished) and for Macquarie Ward from 1930 until he retired in 1941 due to ill health. In evidence before the 1926 parliamentary select committee he denied allegations of involvement in bribery. Having been the C.R.A.'s party secretary since 1925, he became lord mayor in 1932, the worst year of the Depression: he chaired the Citizens' Employment Committee which placed over 3000 people in a 'Back to Work' programme within two months. He advocated civic improvements, notably the extension of Martin Place to Macquarie Street, and effective civil administration; he also devised a scheme in 1932 for civic employees to receive retiring allowances. Knighted in January 1933, he was elected vice-chairman of the city council finance committee in 1935.

As an Imperial patriot, Walder regarded Labor supporters as disloyal. He was a vice-president of the National Association of New South Wales in 1930-32 and a member of the committee that negotiated its merger with the All for Australia League to form the United Australia Party, of which he was a vice-president in 1933-39. Nominated to the Legislative Council in September 1932 and elected to the reconstituted council in November 1933 for nine years, he served until his defeat in April 1943. He criticized the 'frenzied' efforts of the Lang government to alleviate unemployment and to introduce a basic wage tax in the early 1930s. Although the Sydney Morning Herald in 1933 described Walder as 'an influential although unobtrusive figure in State politics', he never gained ministerial rank.

Restricting his business interests, he was a director of the Eagle, Star and British Dominions Insurance Co. Ltd, Lowe Bros Ltd, Monsoon Waterproof Co. and National Studios Ltd, and chairman of Sargents Ltd. Having been prominent in the harbour bridge celebrations in 1932, Walder chaired the finance committee for Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations Council in 1938 and supported the establishment of a festival to attract tourists to Sydney.

An active philanthropist, he was president of the Allies' and the China days funds, and of Hammond's Pioneer Homes Ltd, Liverpool, a director of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (1933-35) and a member of the Rotary Club of Sydney. Lady Walder was also active in welfare work, especially in finding employment for women and the young. Sir Samuel took a keen interest in the Church of England and introduced an annual 'Civic Service' at St Andrew's Cathedral. During World War II he chaired the council's National Emergency Services committee, advocating the construction of underground air-raid shelters and the hosing down of hoodlums who persisted in smoking through blackout tests.

Walder lived with his family at Deauville, Point Piper. Handsome, with clear-cut features and dark hair, he enjoyed golf, yachting and motoring, and belonged to Tattersall's, the New South Wales, Millions, Australian and Elanora Country clubs. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of cancer on 24 November 1946 at Woollahra and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £88,261.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1926, 4, 2nd session, p 677
  • United Australian Review, Jan 1933
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Aug, 11 Oct 1924, 4 Feb 1925, 8, 9, 21 Oct 1926, 10 Dec 1931, 1 Apr, 1 Sept, 13 Oct, 11 Nov 1932, 2 Jan 1933, 19 Feb, 25 Sept, 25 Oct 1941, 25 Nov 1946
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 Nov 1946
  • T. D. Mutch, An Account of the Family of William Walder (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Walder, Sir Samuel Robert (1879–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Samuel Robert Walder (1879-1946), by unknown photographer, 1925-27

Samuel Robert Walder (1879-1946), by unknown photographer, 1925-27

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/100

Life Summary [details]


8 October, 1879
New South Wales, Australia


24 November, 1946 (aged 67)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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