Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Walker (1855–1941)

by Robert Withycombe

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John Walker (1855-1941), Presbyterian minister, was born on 17 April 1855 at Oxton, Cheshire, England, son of Scottish parents David Walker, builder, and his wife Jemima Elizabeth, née Blackie. After schooling at Birkenhead, Walker spent five years as a Liverpool merchant's clerk. A committed Presbyterian from 1871, he worked for the American revivalists, D. Moody and I. Sankey, in their 1875 Liverpool mission, and with Professor Henry Drummond.

Migrating to Sydney for health reasons in 1876, Walker was befriended by J. H. Goodlet. Walker's evangelistic interests led him to enter St Andrew's College in 1879 to train for the Presbyterian ministry. Licensed to minister at Burwood in 1881, he was ordained in 1882 and sent as first Presbyterian minister to Germanton (Holbrook) where he pioneered the nearby parishes of Tumbarumba, Culcairn, Corryong and Upper Murray. On 13 June 1883 he married Jessie Dight (d.1932) at Richmond. Next year he became evangelist at Bathurst.

After visiting England, Walker was called in 1888 to the new Sydney parish of Woollahra. His parish paper, as the Messenger, became the official organ of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. With James Cameron, he edited its two-volume Centenary History (1905). For the General Assembly, he convened committees on religion and morals, and on foreign missions; in 1899 he was appointed commissioner of the Centenary Thanksgiving Fund and in five years raised over £50,000; he was founding secretary (1899-1905) of the evangelical New South Wales Council of Churches. His pastoral abilities and zeal were recognized: he was inducted as moderator of the General Assembly on 6 May 1902 and issued his address, Some Urgent Church Problems. The Steel lecturer in pastoral theology at St Andrew's College in 1906, he published his lectures as The King's Business (1908).

At St Andrew's Kirk, Ballarat, Victoria, from 1908 to 1926, Walker was president of the Ballarat College council and wrote sundry poems. As Presbyterian chaplain with the Australian Imperial Force, he sailed to England in a troop-ship in 1917 and visited Australian soldiers in French and British hospitals. His five sons were serving with the A.I.F. (three were killed in action) and his daughter Janet nursed with a British unit at Salonica, Greece.

Moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia in 1918-20, he published his address, The Protestant Catholic Church: and Church Union for Greater Christian Service (Melbourne, 1918). Spruce, with a full moustache, Walker belonged to the Naval and Military Club, Melbourne, and was a philatelist.

To raise funds to build and endow a Presbyterian church and manse in Canberra, Walker was appointed commissioner of the national General Assembly (1926) and inducted as the first minister of St Andrew's in February 1927. Despite the Depression, he raised more than £50,000. In 1930 the University of Edinburgh conferred an honorary D.D. upon him. Walker retired to Sydney on 31 December 1933. Survived by two sons and two daughters, he died at Woollahra on 14 September 1941 and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. White, One Hundred Years of the Presbyterian Church in N.S.W. (Syd, 1937)
  • Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, Minutes of Proceedings of General Assembly, 1942
  • Town and Country Journal, 17 May 1902
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Mar 1932, 15 Sept 1941
  • Canberra Times, 16 Sept 1941
  • Walker papers (Ferguson Library, Sydney).

Citation details

Robert Withycombe, 'Walker, John (1855–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 May 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

Life Summary [details]


17 April, 1855
Oxton, Cheshire, England


14 September, 1941 (aged 86)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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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.