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JAMES THOMAS WALKER, MEMBER of FIRST AUSTRALIAN SENATE 1901

The cover was addressed to James T. Walker, care of Bank of New South Wales, Toowoomba and the blue TWO PENCE stamp of Queensland was postmarked BRISBANE/ 2/ JU 7/ 73 QUEENSLAND.  The reverse was backstamped TOOWOOMBA/ A/ JU 7/ 1873/ QUEENSLAND (Figure 1).

The pink 1d Victoria stamp was postmarked with MELBOURNE/ PM/ 6 45/ 27 5 01/ 6, and the cover had a large T 2D in an oval tax mark with a pair of the green N.S.W. Postage Dues applied with a red crayon cancel. It was addressed to Senator J. T. Walker, Rosemont, Woollahra, N.S. Wales (Figure 1).

James Thomas Walker was born on 20 March 1841 in Edinburgh, Scotland the fifth son of John William Walker, wine merchant and his wife Elizabeth. John ran a station in Boorowa N.S.W. in 1845-49, but sold it to Hamilton Hume and returned to Scotland with his family. James received his education in Edinburgh and London and joined the London branch of the Bank of New South Wales, of which his cousin was a director. James sailed for Queensland in 1866 to manage the bank’s Townsville and later its Toowoomba branch, and was appointed the assistant inspector of Queensland branches in 1879. In 1868 he had married Janette Palmer of Toowoomba, and from 1885-87 he was the general manager of the Royal Bank of Queensland.

James was deeply interested in the constitutional aspects of Federation and was a member of the People’s Federation Convention in Bathurst N.S.W. in 1896 and in 1897-98 he was a delegate to the Australasian Federal Conventions in Sydney and Melbourne. He was dismissed by the future Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin as ‘a mere commercial man’ for his views on proposed Federal finance and was ignored by the Adelaide finance committee. His Sydney admirers feared that he was ‘one crying in the wilderness’, but he persisted and published his speeches delivered at the Sydney Convention as Draft Commonwealth Bill (1897). To the great satisfaction of the Liberty his proposals were adopted at the Melbourne sittings ‘in preference to the ideas set forward by the politicians which were found to be quite impractical’. He was returned at the head of the New South Wales Senate poll in 1901, and sat as a Liberal and Free Trader in four Federal parliaments before retiring in June 1913.

Walker had resigned his presidency (1897) of the Bank of New South Wales before entering parliament , but retained his directorship from 1895-1921. He owned an estate in Queensland, was a long-term director of leading companies such as Burns Philp & Co. Ltd and the Australian Mutual Provident Society. He was described as keen, composed and exuding rectitude, with classic features enhanced by elegant whiskers; warm hearted but capable of fiery responses (Figure 2).

He was involved in many charities and was chairman of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, a director of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the Burnside Presbyterian Orphan Homes, as well as serving as a councillor of Women’s and St. Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney. He was prominently identified with the Bankers Institute of New South Wales. He was survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, when he died on 18 January 1923 at his home in Woollahra, Sydney and was buried at South Head cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate in N.S.W. at £27,697.

I am indebted for his entry on the in-line edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


 
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