Walker, George Washington (DNB00)


WALKER, GEORGE WASHINGTON (1800–1859), missionary, was born in London on 19 March 1800. His mother dying early and his father removing to Paris, he was brought up by a grandmother at Newcastle-on-Tyne as a unitarian. He was confirmed by a bishop, and placed at a Wesleyan school at Barnard Castle. Apprenticed to a quaker draper of Newcastle, he attended Friends' meetings, and in 1827 joined the society. An attachment to his master's daughter, who soon after became blind and died on 3 Nov. 1828, much influenced his character at this time. In 1831, in obedience to a ‘call,’ he accompanied James Backhouse, a minister of York, on a missionary visit to the Southern Hemisphere. They landed at Hobart Town (now Hobart) on 8 Feb. 1832, after a five months' voyage; Van Diemen's Land, as it was then called, was a dependency of New South Wales, and chiefly known in England for its penal settlements. The governor, Sir George Arthur [q. v.], afforded the Friends every opportunity of visiting the convicts, and at his request they furnished him with reports on penal discipline. They also visited the aborigines on Flinders Island.

In Launceston they gathered a body of quakers who held their first yearly meeting in 1834, and who have since founded an excellent college in Hobart Town for the instruction of their young. By that first yearly meeting Walker was acknowledged a minister.

After three years in Tasmania they passed to Sydney, where they made the acquaintance of Samuel Marsden [q. v.], the oldest colonial chaplain, to whose labours they pay a high tribute in their journals. On returning to Hobart they were solicited by the new governor, Sir John Franklin [q. v.], to give information to his secretary, Captain Maconochie, for the report he was preparing for the House of Commons (Parl. Accounts and Papers, 1837–8, xlii. 21, note g). In 1838, having visited all the Australian colonies and having founded numerous temperance societies (for the drinking of spirits they considered the greatest evil of the land), Backhouse and Walker set sail for Cape Town, calling at Mauritius on the way. They visited all the mission stations (numbering eighty) in South Africa, of whatever denomination, wrote addresses and had them translated into Dutch, and travelled over six thousand miles in a wagon or on horseback. They parted in September 1840, after nine years' united labours; Walker returned to Hobart and set up business as a draper, but, having established a savings bank and a depôt of the Bible Society, both in his shop, he soon became engaged entirely in these and other philanthropic works. He was a member of the board of education and on the council of the high school.

Walker died at Hobart Town on 1 Feb. 1859, and was buried on the 4th. On 15 Dec. 1840 he married at Hobart Sarah Benson Mather, a quaker minister.

In conjunction with Backhouse, Walker wrote several treatises of a religious character addressed to the inhabitants of the countries he visited and to the convicts of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.

[Backhouse and Tylor's Life and Labours of Walker, 1862, 8vo; Backhouse's Visit to Austral. Colonies, 1838–41, 8vo, Visit to Mauritius, &c. 1844, and Extracts from Letters, 1838, 3rd edit.; Smith's Catalogue; Friends' Biogr. Cat. p. 681.]

C. F. S.