WALKER, Thomas (1804-1886)


WALKER, Thomas (1804-1886)
public benefactor
was born at Leith, Scotland, in 1804, and came to Sydney as a young man. About the year 1822 he joined the firm of W. Walker and Company, general merchants, the senior partner of which was his uncle. Some years later he acquired this business in partnership with a cousin, and carried it on successfully. He was made a magistrate in 1835, in 1837 visited Port Phillip, and in 1838 published anonymously an account of his experiences under the title, A Month in the Bush of Australia. In 1843 he was elected one of the representatives of Port Phillip in the first elected New South Wales legislative council, and in January 1845 he was one of the six members of the council who signed a petition praying that Port Phillip should be made into a separate colony. Walker, however, gave up taking an active part in politics, though he kept his interest in them and published some pamphlets on the land question. His financial affairs prospered, and he invested widely. His special interest was the Bank of New South Wales, of which he was president for many years before his death. The statement that he was one of the original founders of the bank is not correct, but his uncle was one of the early shareholders. He died on 2 September 1886 leaving a large fortune. He was survived by a daughter.
Walker was a conscientious, benevolent man who went about doing good. He took a personal interest in his benefactions, and at one period employed an agent, searching out and relieving cases of distress. In 1882, just before taking a trip to Europe, he distributed £10,000 among benevolent institutions, and under his will £100,000 was set aside to found the Thomas Walker convalescent hospital. In its first 20 years nearly 18,000 convalescent patients, all non-paying, received the benefit of this hospital, and the work still goes on. After the death of his daughter, Eadith Campbell Walker, 51 years later, two-thirds of the income from £300,000 of his estate was set aside for the upkeep of this hospital, £100,000 was used to found the Dame Eadith Walker convalescent home for men, and one-third of the income from another sum of £300,000 was set aside for its maintenance. The remaining two-thirds of the income was appropriated for the upkeep of the Thomas Walker convalescent hospital and the Yaralla cottages built by his daughter, Dame Eadith Campbell Walker (c. 1865-1937), who devoted her life to philanthropy, making the poor and distressed her special concern. She supplemented her father's endowment of his hospital, gave liberally to other hospitals, and worked on many committees. When the 1914-18 war came she took a special interest in returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis, and had 32 of them at "The Camp" in her grounds at Yaralla from 1917 to 1920. From April 1917 to December 1922 she lent another home at Leura for the same purpose, and paid the entire cost of maintenance. It was afterwards made a children's home. She built cottages for elderly men at Yaralla, and provided an endowment fund for their upkeep. She died on 8 October 1937, leaving an estate of £265,000. After providing for many legacies to relations, friends and employees, one-third of the residue of the estate went to the Returned Soldiers' and Sailors' Imperial League of Australia, and the real estate to the Red Cross Society. Miss Walker was created C.B.E. in 1917 and D.B.E. in 1928.
The Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XVII, XXIII, XXIV; The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1886, 9, 15 and 20 October, 26 November 1937, 30 November 1938; G. Forbes, History of Sydney, p. 183; Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, September 1886.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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