The lengthy 1818 entire is headed Sydney, New South Wales, May 1818, it is signed Walter Lawry and was addressed to the Methodist Missionary Committee, City Road, London and is postmarked with an undated SYDNEY/ NEW.SOUTH.WALES handstamp. It has a boxed SHIP LETTER/ DOVER handstamp and the reverse has red sealing wax (Figures 1 – 3).
The undated Sydney postmark is an example of a postmark introduced by Isaac Nichols who was appointed officially in 1810 as postmaster, and is known to have been used from 1813 and 1819. This postmark is designated as S1 and it is shown in a listing as item #8 of 17 known copies on p. 41 of The Postal History of New South Wales 1788-1901 edited by John S. White.
Walter Lawry was born on 3 August 1793 in Rutheren, near Bodmin, Cornwall. He was ordained by the Methodist Conference in 1817 and became chaplain on the convict ship, Lady Castlereagh, which arrived in Sydney on 1 May 1818. He was a colleague of Rev Samuel Leigh and worked at Parramatta, where he conducted services in the homes of Rowland Hassall and William Shelley.
Walter Lawry went to Bathurst, N.S.W. in 1820 with his brother-in-law, Samuel Otoo Hassall, who had already taken up land there. Lawry was very impressed with the countryside and wrote with admiration of the beauty of the scenery and the thickly wooded areas. As he conducted the first Methodist service held in the district – held in the Bathurst Court House – Lawry was pleased with an attentive audience. Two years later he returned to the district and visited William Lawson’s property and preached there on 24 January 1822. Lawry was held in high regard by members of the Methodist community in the colony. Rev Ralph Mansfield, wrote in the Christian Advocate that Lawry should be considered to be the father of Methodism in Parramatta because he had organised its first Society, founded its first Sunday school, built the first Chapel and put the new group into financial connection with the Wesleyan Missionary Society.
The first Methodist Church was built in Macquarie St, Parramatta at Lawry’s expense at a cost of £300 and opened in April 1821, when three services were conducted by the Reverends Mansfield, Lawry and Benjamin Carvosso. There Lawry set up a Sunday School and ran into opposition from the Anglicans for doing so. Although financially embarrassed from building the church, he was helped by receiving a grant of 600 acres in 1821 which he immediately sold. In the same year he received instructions from the Methodist Conference in England to proceed to the Friendly Islands (Tonga). Lawry had previously applied to go to Tonga, but was still surprised when he was selected. However, he was unhappy when Leigh returned from a trip to England with new instructions that Lawry was to go instead to New Zealand before going to Tonga. A local committee eventually countermanded this instruction and Lawry was posted directly to Tonga.
To get to Tonga he, in partnership with Jonathan Hassall and the captain, Captain Beveredge, bought a ship, the St Michael, for £1100 and went there via New Zealand, taking his wife, Mary, and his son with him. Although they were enchanted with the beauty of the islands, they felt a deep sense of homesickness, especially when Mary suffered a miscarriage. They remained at Tonga working with little success as his efforts were undermined by the influence of one Morgan, a runaway convict from Botany Bay. When the St Michael returned, bringing mail, Lawry received letters of censure from the Wesleyan Missionary Society’s London committee and was ordered to report to Van Diemen’s Land.
The family left Tonga in October 1823 and returned to Sydney. However, instead of going to Van Diemen’s Land, Lawry set off with his family on the Midas in 1824 for England and interviewed the missionary committee, which cleared him, declaring “that the Committee cherish very warm sentiments of esteem for Mr Lawry with a high sense of his valuable services abroad“.
Lawry took his wife and children to Tregarton near Mevagissey in Cornwall in January 1825 to meet his family – his parents and his sisters. He also introduced his wife and children to his extended family and the relatives of other Cornish missionaries who had travelled to Australia.
On Christmas Day 1825, Mary Lawry died after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Australia. When news of her death was received in Sydney, an obituary was printed in the Sydney Gazette and a special service was held in the Parramatta Chapel built by her husband where the service was conducted by Rev Samuel Leigh. Rev Samuel Marsden held her in such esteem that he also preached a sermon there, despite his opposition to her husband. Marsden said of Mary Lawry that he had known her “from her infancy; and that when the Parramatta Sunday School was established, she was indefatigable in attempting to promote the best interests of the children“.
Four years after Mary’s death, Lawry married an English widow, Eliza White, and she brought up his children. He remained carrying out his ministry in England until 1843 when he was appointed superintendent of Wesleyan missions in New Zealand. In 1854 Walter retired because of ill health and returned to Parramatta. He died on 30 March 1859 and was buried in the Wesleyan Cemetery in Parramatta. The Walter Lawry Methodist Memorial Park is named in his honour. A picture of Walter Lawry is shown in Figure 4.