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Frederick Walker (1820–1866)

by David Denholm

This article was published:

Frederick Walker (1820?-1866), pastoral superintendent, police officer and squatter, was born probably at Dawlish, Devon, England. His widowed mother reared six children in genteel poverty, one invalided and one mentally retarded. Soon after his arrival in New South Wales in the Ceylon in August 1844, Frederick became superintendent on William Charles Wentworth's Tala station on the Murrumbidgee River. He was big and commanding; his fine singing, heavy drinking, courage and easy acceptance of Aboriginals soon made him popular.

Walker became clerk of Petty Sessions at Tumut on 12 April 1847 and at Wagga Wagga on 12 June. His views on racial harmony won him command of the native police force. He recruited and trained Aboriginals, and in May 1848 led them to the disturbed Macintyre River district. Based first at Boggabri and then at Callandoon, the force soon impressed warlike tribes and some squatters, two of whom enlisted as senior subalterns; another, Augustus Morris, supported and advised Walker. Despite government objection to 'the Battle of Carbucky' in 1849 and his outspoken criticism of many squatters, the force was widely acclaimed in 1848-49. He declared that if white settlers broke the law protecting Aboriginals, the latter had a reciprocal 'right'. He even proposed that protection be denied to settlers who took the law into their own hands.

In 1851 Walker's men were welcomed in Wide Bay and the Burnett. He stayed at Callandoon but some Burnett squatters joined William Forster and William Walsh to denigrate and oppose him. When he began to drink to excess in 1852 his incapacity seemed proven to all but close friends. Factions accentuated discipline problems in the force. Money was short and distance made it difficult to obtain authority for payments. He muddled through 1852 and 1853 by withholding some or all of his officers' salaries, but angry victims found the sympathetic ears of his critics, and he was accused of defalcations. Humanitarians like the missionary William Ridley, noting Walker's intemperance, began to accept hearsay reports of native police outrages; his view of race relations became discredited. The government supported him and rejected demands that control of the police be handed over to local benches of squatter magistrates. At Christmas 1854 Walker arrived drunk at a Brisbane Court of Inquiry. Summarily dismissed, he was vilified for two more years by Forster and Walsh.

In mid-1857, seeking self-respect, he joined Arthur Wiggins and two ex-troopers in search of new pastoral land. On the night of 27-28 October some of the Aboriginals responsible for the Hornetbank massacre attacked the party. An Aboriginal trooper saved them but Walker and Wiggins were injured. He soon recovered and raised a force of ex-troopers; probably paid by squatters, it patrolled the disturbed Dawson River area until disbanded on instructions from Sydney. The new commandant of the native police, Edric Morisset, complained to the government that Walker was calling him 'the boy Commandant'. With peace restored and his ego on the mend, Walker joined in speculative tenders for thirty-one runs, comprising almost 800 sq. miles (2072 km²). Most were soon sold.

Walker's protests against the methods of the new native police were disregarded, but he remained a respected bushman, commissioned in 1861 to search for Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills, and in 1866 to find a route for a telegraph line from Cardwell to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He arrived at the Gulf ill, and on the return journey on 19 November 1866 he died at Floraville on the Leichhardt River, and was buried there. The calumnies of Walsh and Forster obliterated all memory of his dream.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Murphy, Frederick Walker's Expedition in 1866 (Brisb, 1953)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1848, 315
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1856-57, 1, 1157, 1858, 2, 843
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1861-62 (108)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1867, 2, 1015
  • ‘Journal of Mr Walker’, JRGS, 33 (1863)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16, 23 June 1852, 31 Oct 1854
  • Brisbane Courier, 28 Jan 1867
  • Cummins & Campbell's Monthly Magazine, May 1934
  • J. H. Watson, scrapbook, vol 1 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • F. Walker journal (State Library of Queensland)
  • manuscript catalogue (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary, special bundles, 4/719.2, 7/2697b (State Records New South Wales)
  • Native Mounted Police, Special Bundles, RES 2 (Queensland State Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Denholm, 'Walker, Frederick (1820–1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Dawlish, Devon, England


19 November, 1866 (aged ~ 46)
Floraville, Queensland, Australia

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