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William Horatio Walsh (1812–1882)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

William Horatio Walsh (1812-1882), Church of England clergyman, was born on 10 September 1812 in London, the son of Isaac Richard and Sarah Walsh. He was accepted in May 1838 by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel on the recommendation of the archdeacon of St Alban's, ordained deacon by Bishop Blomfield of London, and appointed a colonial chaplain to Van Diemen's Land. He married Anne Ireland Treherne in London and sailed in the Fairlie. There was some misunderstanding about his official destination and on his arrival at Sydney on 5 December he was retained as minister to the penal establishments, and in April 1839 licensed to the new parish of St Laurence. He was priested by Bishop William Grant Broughton at St James's Church on 22 September.

Services had been held in St Laurence's parish since 1838, in the store-room of a brewery in Elizabeth Street. Walsh immediately began to organize his large and unformed parish, and had rapid and substantial success. Bishop Broughton laid the foundation stone of Christ Church on 1 January 1840 and consecrated it in September 1845. Walsh made it one of the principal churches in the diocese. The large congregation included many of Sydney's poorest inhabitants and some leading citizens. Walsh ministered to the former with the help of the latter. His parochial 'association for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, more particularly amongst the poor' was one of the largest of its kind; the Christ Church school, founded in 1845 and greatly enlarged in 1861, gained a high standard. Thomas Mort assisted Walsh in these fields and worked under him at the Homoeopathic Dispensary and in promoting the Australian Mutual Provident Society. Walsh gained a reputation for constructive efforts on behalf of the under-privileged and was summoned to give evidence before several parliamentary inquiries into urban poverty. He was intelligent and cultivated, moved easily in what passed for polite society, and never hesitated to use the close friendships that he made among the upper classes to serve the interests of his church.

Walsh was influenced by the Tractarian movement and became its chief practical exponent in the diocese. He lacked scholarship but he sought to make Christ Church a centre of liturgical revival in its services and furnishings. These were modest by later standards but they provoked considerable criticism. When two Sydney clergymen, Robert Sconce and Thomas Makinson, were converted to Roman Catholicism Walsh, who had been associated with them, became involved in a bitter pamphlet and press controversy. In all these ecclesiastical developments Walsh was a staunch ally of Bishop Broughton, who thought him 'not to be surpassed … in any good and effective quality, so far as his strength, which he taxes to the utmost, will carry him'. Broughton secured a Lambeth M.A. for him and in 1852 made him a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral. Walsh had intended in 1841 to take out a Cambridge divinity degree as a 'ten-year man' but did not persist with this discredited procedure. He visited England in 1850 and on his return was commissioned to act as one of the bishop's commissaries if Archdeacon William Cowper could not serve during Broughton's absence in England. The commission remained dormant; Walsh was never anxious to assume high office in the church.

On the arrival in 1855 of Broughton's successor, Frederic Barker, Walsh's influence in diocesan affairs was reduced. He continued his parochial and educational work, he became a fellow of St Paul's College within the University of Sydney, and his social activities remained unabated. But his school of theology was at variance with the strong Evangelical convictions of Barker and he played only a minor part in the debates on the constitution of the church. By the early 1860s Walsh's health was failing and a long trip to Tasmania did not effect any improvement. He remained at Christ Church until February 1865, when he took leave to go to England. He had rejected an offer of the precentorship of the cathedral, although he was interested in church music; he declined the incumbency of St Mark's, Darling Point, whither some of his leading parishioners had migrated.

In 1867 he resigned his cure and soon found preferment in the diocese of Lichfield. His close friend G. A. Selwyn, bishop of New Zealand, was translated to the see and promoted Walsh's interests. He held the Staffordshire livings of Alrewas (1869-75) and Penn (1875-82), of which Selwyn was patron; he was given a prebendal stall at Lichfield and an episcopal chaplaincy. He returned to Australia in December 1880 and went to live with the family of T. S. Mort on their Bodalla estate, 'a domestic retreat of unrivalled serenity'. There a fine church was being built in Mort's memory but Walsh's duties were 'in the nature of domestic chaplain … rather than a licence to a separate cure of souls'. In 1882 Walsh resigned his English posts and died on 17 December at Bodalla.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937)
  • L. M. Allen, A History of Christ Church S. Laurence, Sydney (Syd, 1939)
  • manuscript catalogue under William Horatio Walsh (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Walsh, William Horatio (1812–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 June 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]


10 September, 1812
London, Middlesex, England


17 December, 1882 (aged 70)
Bodalla, New South Wales, Australia

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