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William Walker (1800–1855)

by S. G. Claughton

This article was published:

William Walker (1800-1855), Methodist minister, was accepted as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry in England in July 1819. A year later he was preparing for the Gambia Mission, but on 30 August 1820 he was appointed 'to the black natives of New South Wales', since his health would not allow him to go to West Africa. He sailed for Sydney in the Brixton with Rev. Samuel Leigh and Rev. and Mrs William Horton. On the voyage Walker's health worried Leigh, but he arrived safely on 16 September 1821.

In October, with Jonathan Hassall, he visited the Aboriginals at Blacktown. 'All they require is a few clothes, agricultural implements and a supply of food until their crops be reaped', he wrote. 'I left them with a consciousness of having never been favoured with a more profitable or serious season during my ministerial career'. However, he later found a different group of them 'idle and vagrant and the colonists too often encourage their vices'. He adopted the son of Bennelong and baptized him on 27 September 1822, but next January the boy died, aged 20. Walker's experience in 1821-23 led the Wesleyan missionaries to support the establishment of a seminary for the maintenance and instruction of a select number of youths. The government approved but the project had little success and in 1824 was abandoned, partly because of conflict between the Wesleyan leaders.

On 14 May 1823 Walker had married Eliza Cordelia, daughter of Rowland Hassall, at St John's Church, Parramatta. Walker and Walter Lawry benefited materially from their matrimonial alliances with the Hassalls and both were later accused of having commercial interests outside the scope of their ministerial duties. The Wesleyan Overseas Committee informed the local missionaries 'that if they expect to be acknowledged as Methodist missionaries they will be required to decline the keeping of all farming and grazing stock and the following of any worldly business whatever'; and so, 'to break up his connection with temporal things, Mr. Walker was removed'. This was suspension rather than expulsion, for on 10 August 1825 the English committee consented to his restoration to office if he humbled himself before God, delivered up all the mission property together with £40 for a mare bought for the mission, sold his farm stock, and engaged 'for the future to submit yourself to your brethren, both with respect to the place where you shall labour and the work you shall perform'. If he accepted these conditions, Walker was to go to Van Diemen's Land.

However, the local committee remained difficult. In May 1825 it 'severely rebuked' Walker for preaching for Leigh, when the latter was ill; it also complained that without its consent and contrary to its judgment he had left the Aboriginal mission to accept appointment as superintendent of the Female Orphan School. Walker argued that the mission had proved 'a wasteful and devouring vortex of public money' and maintained that he had always acted with the full knowledge and consent of Rev. G. Erskine, chairman of the New South Wales district. At the orphanage charges were made against Walker's administration, while he accused other Wesleyan missionaries of joining Rev. Samuel Marsden and Archdeacon Thomas Scott in opposition to Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane.

In November 1825 Scott, who as 'King's Visitor' had been to the Female Orphan School in the superintendent's absence, accused Walker of ill treating the inmates and made specific charges to the governor about their health. Though even the benign Anne Hassall criticized Walker, in due course the Supreme Court decided that Scott had prematurely assumed his visitorial functions. Walker was also criticized because he attended political meetings, and in April 1826 he and his wife resigned from the school.

Walker then took up pastoral pursuits at Brisbane Grove, O'Connell Plains, and in 1828 he owned 2000 acres (809 ha), 230 cattle and 2300 sheep. Meanwhile in opposition to public opinion he had been supporting Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling in anonymous articles in the press, and later accepted a land grant from him for his children. Despite a formal separation from his ministerial brethren he conducted services in his home and his popularity with Wesleyan families and the community generally seems well established. Rev. Joseph Orton, Erskine's successor, rated him as 'most certainly a clever man … injudiciously managed by those who were placed over him'. Brisbane declared him the 'best educated man in the colony'. Unfortunately, when he died on 23 November 1855, leaving two sons and three daughters, he requested that his many manuscripts be destroyed, and only a catalogue of his library of 1057 books remains as evidence of this claim; but obituary notices affirmed the value of his writings.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-15
  • The Fifth Report for the Wesleyan Auxiliary Missionary Society for New South Wales, for the Year 1825 (Syd, 1826)
  • J. Colwell, The Illustrated History of Methodism, Australia (Syd, 1904)
  • W. J. Townsend et al A New History of Methodism, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1909)
  • Australian Magazine, 1-2 (1821-22)
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 35 (1949)
  • Empire (Sydney), 28 Nov 1855
  • William Walker letters, 1825-26 (Methodist Missionary Society, London)
  • manuscript catalogue under William Walker (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

S. G. Claughton, 'Walker, William (1800–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




23 November, 1855 (aged ~ 55)

Cultural Heritage

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