WALKER, George Washington (1800-1859)


WALKER, George Washington (1800-1859)
missionary
was born in London on 19 March 1800, and was educated at a school at Barnard Castle. His parents were Unitarians, but he came in touch with the Society of Friends while working for a draper at Newcastle who belonged to that body. When 20 years of age he met James Backhouse (q.v.) and developed a close friendship with him. He shortly afterwards began business as a manufacturer of earthenware, but was not successful and removed to Hull where he obtained a situation in 1824. He was received into the Society of Friends in 1827 and did much work for temperance. In September 1831 he sailed on a missionary journey to Tasmania with James Backhouse and arrived at Hobart on 8 February 1832. For six years Walker laboured with Backhouse throughout the settled districts of Australia, including a visit to Norfolk Island, journeying much of his time on foot, and preaching whenever a congregation could be got together. Every opportunity was taken of speaking to the convicts, who realized the sincerity of the speakers and more than once sent them letters of thanks. In February 1838 ship was taken to Mauritius, and afterwards a missionary journey was made through South Africa. Accounts of these tours were published by Backhouse in 1843 and 1844. In September 1840 Walker parted from his companion, sailed for Tasmania, and set up in business as a draper at Hobart. About the end of 1844 he organized the establishment of a savings bank, which he managed in conjunction with his shop. The business of the bank grew steadily and he found it necessary to give more and more time to it. He also interested himself in the establishment of a high school at Hobart, and worked hard for total abstinence, and for the Society of Friends. In June 1858 he was hoping to give up the retail side of his business, but shortly afterwards his health, never robust, began to decline, and he died on 1 February 1859. He married on 15 December 1840 Sarah Benson Mather and there was a large family.
Walker's eldest son, James Backhouse Walker (1841-1899), was educated at the high school, Hobart, and the Friends' school, York, England. On returning to Hobart he at first worked in a merchant's office and then in the savings bank. He studied law, was admitted as a solicitor in 1876, and practised with success. Like his father he was a practical philanthropist, was much interested in higher education, and took an important part in the founding of the university of Tasmania. He became its vice-chancellor from July 1898 to November 1899. From 1888 he was a member of the council of the Royal Society of Tasmania, contributed many papers to its journal, and became the recognized authority on the early history of Tasmania. His papers on that subject were collected and published in 1902 under the title Early Tasmania, Papers Read Before the Royal Society of Tasmania. A second edition appeared in 1914. A prize in his memory at the university of Tasmania was founded by public subscription.
J. Backhouse and C. Tylor, The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker; The Mercury, Hobart, 6 November 1899; Rev. George Clarke, Memoir prefixed to Early Tasmania; J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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