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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walker, John (1799–1874)

by Waldemar Wolfhagen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Walker (1799-1874), miller, brewer, merchant and landowner, was born at Ednam, near Kelso on the Scottish border, the son of Robert Thomas Walker, a local flour-miller and farmer. John went to school at Kelso and attended the Presbyterian Kirk of Rev. John Pitcairn. His father failed in the depression after Waterloo, so at 21 John decided to emigrate in order to retrieve the family fortunes. In September 1822 he arrived in Hobart Town in the Heroine. By his own account he was 'penniless and unfriended', but among his acquaintances were John Dunn, George Carr Clark and Henry Hopkins. Within a month he was appointed superintendent of the government flour-mill on the Hobart Town Rivulet. Next year he received a grant of 200 acres (81 ha) and in 1824 built a mill at Richmond. Thanks to convict labour he had five prosperous years, increased his capital to £2000 and received a maximum land grant of 2560 acres (1036 ha). Moving to Launceston in 1830, he built a mill at the foot of the Cataract Hill. Back in Hobart he bought the government flour-mill together with its attached residence in Barrack Street and opened a brewery. By adding a steam-engine he greatly increased his milling business and extended his activities to commerce, whaling, shipping and insurance. He became a local director of the Bank of Australasia and of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land. He also helped to form the Derwent Bank and as managing director had to act as its liquidator in 1850. He was also commissioned to wind up the Tasmanian interests of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur. As his assets increased Walker acquired the estates of Belmont and Shawfield on the River Ouse and Clarendon on the Derwent where he opened another flour-mill.

Walker served actively as a commissioner for Hobart before the municipal council was formed, and in 1840 he was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1851 he was elected for Brighton to the Legislative Council and after responsible government he represented Hobart in the Upper House. In 1857 he became a member of the ministry under Sir Francis Smith and was admitted to the Executive Council. Private business took him several times to Britain. In these travels he was shipwrecked three times: in the Schomberg off Cape Otway, in the Royal Standard off Rio de Janeiro and in the Rangoon in Galle Harbour. He was a zealous apostle for emigration in Scotland and engaged twenty-nine Welsh miners for the Douglas River Coal Co. of which he was a director. He kept a sharp watch for improvements in agriculture and is credited with introducing steam-engines in Van Diemen's Land. About 1855 he revisited his native village, where he distributed largesse to his kinsfolk, to the poor and to the Kelso Free Church, although in Hobart he was an elder of St Andrew's under the ministry of Rev. John Lillie. He was also secretary and treasurer of the Presbyterian Tract Society, an active member of the Hobart Infant School Society, and energetic in a variety of other causes. He died at his home in Barrack Street on 27 February 1874. Walker was twice married: first in 1827 to Janet Glass; they had several children, all of whom with one exception survived him; and second in 1858 to Julia Speke, née Coverdale, the widow of Charles Bradbury, inspector of schools. At Walker's death she and their only son were in England, and she died there at Cheltenham on 19 December 1891.

Select Bibliography

  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vol 2 (Lond, 1952)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 23 Mar 1874
  • Kelso Chronicle, 19 June 1874
  • correspondence file under John Walker (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Waldemar Wolfhagen, 'Walker, John (1799–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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