Frederick Walker (native police commandant)

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Frederick Walker
Frederick Walker (Commandant of Native Police).jpg
Frederick Walker, circa 1860.
Nationality English
Occupation Station manager, police officer, and explorer.
Title Commandant of the New South Wales Native Police Force (1848-1854)

Frederick Walker (14 April 1820 – 19 November 1866) public servant, property manager, Commandant of the Native Police, squatter and Australian explorer.

Frederick Walker is today best known as the first Commandant of the Native Police Force that operated in New South Wales and Queensland. He was appointed commandant of this force by the NSW government in 1848 and was dismissed in 1854. During this time period the Native Police were active from the Murrumbidgee/Murray River areas through the Darling River districts and into what is now the far North Coast of NSW and southern and central Queensland.[1] Despite this large area, most operations under Walker's command occurred on the northern side of the Macintyre River (i.e., Queensland). Detachments of up to 12 troopers worked on the Clarence and Macleay Rivers in NSW until the early 1860s and patrols still extended as far south as Bourke until at least 1868.[2] After his dismissal from the Native Police, Walker became involved in the pastoral industry as a squatter, as well as organising a private native police force and leading a number of expeditions into Northern Queensland.

Early years[edit]

Walker was born in Hampshire, England in 1820 to a relatively illustrious family. His father, John Walker, an officer in the British Army, lived until 1837 and was a landholder at Purbrook Park.[3] His mother, the French-born Maria Teresa Henrietta Swinburne, was a daughter of the aristocratic travel writer Henry Swinburne and granddaughter to Sir John Swinburne 3rd Baronet.[4] Frederick's sister, Harriet Walker, was married to Reginald Yorke, a rear-admiral in the Royal Navy. One of Frederick's brothers, Robert George Walker, also became a Native Police officer, achieving the rank of first lieutenant in 1861.[5] Two other siblings of Frederick were apparently handicapped.[6]

He emigrated to Australia by the Ceylon in 1844 and was shortly after employed on William Charles Wentworth's Murrumbidgee River station Tala (south eastern New South Wales) where he ultimately served as superintendent. He was appointed Clerk of Petty Sessions in Tumut on 5 January 1847 and he functioned in this position at Wagga Wagga in April same year.[7] On 18 August 1848 he was appointed "Magistrate of the Territories and its Dependencies" and Commandant of newly established Native Police Force[8] on the recommendation of his former employers William Charles Wentworth (1790–1872) and Augustus Morris (1820?-1895), both members of the New South Wales Legislative Council.[9]

Native Police[edit]

Walker had attracted attention, it was later stated, by his capacity to engage local Aborigines, understand their culture, speak their language and use this to secure peaceful coexistence between them and the white settlers. The Native Police Force was formed in August 1848 in the Deniliquin area on the Edward River and commenced training later that year. Fourteen 15- to 25-year-old Aboriginal troopers were picked from four different Murrumbidgee tribes, by all accounts a well drilled and highly disciplined band greatly committed and attached to their Commandant who remained exceedingly proud and protective of his men.[10] Subsequently, Walker travelled with his force up the Darling River, arriving at the Macintyre River (at the present-day southeastern border of Queensland) on 10 May 1849. Once arriving on the Macintyre River on 10 May 1849, the force aggressively pacified the local aboriginals resulting in "some lives lost". They were then deployed to the Condamine River where the "Fitzroy Downs blacks" were routed and another group were "compelled to fly" from the area.

Walker found most of the squatters and magistrates in the region thought the Native Police were there to shoot down the natives so they wouldn't have to. Walker encouraged the squatters to admit the local aboriginals onto their runs so that they could be easily observed and controlled. This was done and Walker's measure of success was the resulting increase in land values. These first actions of the Native Police reduced to great effect Aboriginal attacks and resistance against squatters in the Macintyre and Condamine regions. Walker was successful in ending the attacks of the Bigambul people in the Macintyre district. His stated aim was their annihilation, and by 1854 only 100 of the Bigambul people were left alive.[11]

Walker expanded this force over the next five years into the Wide Bay-Burnett, Maranoa, Clarence River, Macleay River and Darling Downs regions. His method of forcing aboriginals to be retained on the properties went against many powerful squatters who wanted the aboriginals to be cleared off the land. In 1854, he presented drunk at an inquiry into the Native Police and was dismissed from the force as a result.

1861 Burke and Wills recovery expedition[edit]

In 1861 Walker led a party, ostensibly in search of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, but his focus was more upon hunting for new pastoral runs. His meticulous journal of the search is often transcribed from the abridged version published by the Royal Geographical Society,[12] but the full version is found in the correspondence of the Gulf of Carpentaria exploration expedition of Commander Norman.[13] On 25 August 1861, Walker set out from Rockhampton accompanied by ex-Native Police troopers Jingle, Rodney, Patrick, Coreen Jemmy and Jemmy Cargara. These aboriginal men had served Walker for many years and were vital in ascertaining the terrain and communicating with the local indigenous people. Walker acknowledged their importance by naming mountains and rivers after them. However, this mutual respect was not extended to some aboriginal groups met with along the way. On 30 October near the Stawell River, the party met with a group of locals who they deemed hostile. Walker writes that 'It was now for us to be doing...Now was shown the benefit of Terry's breech loaders, for such a continued steady fire was kept up.' Out of around 30 aboriginals armed with spears, 12 were killed and 'few if any escaped unwounded.' On 1 December near the Leichardt River, Walker's party charged another group of aboriginals resulting in 'a heavy loss.' Despite the obvious advantages in weaponry, Walker managed to find himself in a dangerous situation on 4 December. Walker and Jingle, being separated from the others and with only limited ammunition and one horse, were being surrounded and had to flee in panic for eighteen miles before considering themselves safe. This incident is an example that without the horse and the rifle, British colonisation of Australia would have been far more difficult. Three days later, the group, having reformed, achieved the rendezvous point with Captain Norman. They had failed to locate Burke and Wills and their party.

1866 Electric Telegraph Survey and Death[edit]

Walker was employed by the Superintendent of Electric Telegraph to survey a 500-mile route from Bowen to Burketown in a bid to compete against South Australia to have Burketown the end of the Trans-Oceanic link from Europe. Although Frederick Walker lost the race and Darwin became the terminus. He did survey the line. He arrived in Burketown with his party of four Europeans and four Aboriginal assistants at the height of the Gulf Fever – a typhoid which affected the Gulf after the arrival in Burketown of a vessel on which all the crew except the Captain died. Walker commenced his return journey but at Floraville he became ill and after several days he also died of the Gulf Fever on 19 November 1866. The entry in the expedition's logbook recorded the passing of a pioneer of the gulf: 'as soon as the horses were brought up and a couple saddled Perrier and Ewan were starting for the doctor of the Leichhardt search expedition which was camped about six miles off. But he (Walker) died before they mounted. He died at noon and was buried on the evening of the same day.

The administration of Walker's will was completed in London on 13 April 1867. His entire effects of £1160 14s 11d were left to his sister Harriet Yorke.[14]


Walkers Creek, located near Marathon Station in far north Queensland is named after Frederick Walker.[9]

Frederick Walker's grave is located 71 kilometres (44 mi) south of the township on Floraville Station, in far north Queensland. The inscription reads:[15]

On August 17 1848 Frederick Walker, aged 28, was appointed to the position of Commandant of the Corps of Native Police having emigrated from Australia from England. The Corps commenced with fourteen troopers recruited from four different New South Wales tribes. In 1850 Walker had three units and two lieutenants in the corps and by 1852 he increased the Corps with 48 additional Aboriginal troopers who were drilled and trained in the use of carbines, swords, saddles and bridles. On 12 October 1854 Walker was dismissed from the service for impropriety of conduct due to his heavy drinking. After his dismissal he continued to live on the frontier and briefly formed an illegal force of ten ex-troopers from the Native Police Corps to protect settlers in the Upper Dawson region. In August 1861 fears had grown for the safety of the Burke and Wills expedition and Walker was sent at the insistence of the Royal Society of Victoria to search for the ill-fated expedition.


  1. ^ "Report from the Select Committee on the Native Police". 1857. 
  2. ^ Hill, W.R.O. (1907). Forty Five Years Experiences in North Queensland. Brisbane: H.Pole & Co. 
  3. ^ White, William (1859). Directory of Hampshire and Isle of Wight. 
  4. ^ Ruvignyard Raineval, Marquis of (1911). The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royals: The Mortimer-Percy Volume. London: Melville & Co. p. 295. 
  5. ^ Richards, Jonathan (2008). The Secret War. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. p. 265. 
  6. ^ Denholm, David. "Walker, Frederick (1820–1866)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  7. ^ NSW Government Gazette. Tuesday, 5 January 1847. Petty Sessions; Moreton Bay Courier 15 May 1847, page 3.
  8. ^ Bell's Life in Sydney 12 August 1848, page 2; Maitland Mercury & Hunter River Advertiser, 23 August 1848, page 3
  9. ^ a b "Frederick Walker – An Australian Pioneer". Retrieved 28 March 2006. 
  10. ^ Ørsted-Jensen, R. The right to Live (unpublished manuscript). I. 
  11. ^ Copland, Mark (1999). "The Native Police at Callandoon – a blueprint for forced assimmilation?" (PDF). Retrieved 27 March 2006. 
  12. ^ Walker, Frederick. Choat, Colin, ed. "Journal of Expedition in search of Burke and Wills" (ebook). Project Gutenberg of Australia. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Norman, W.H. (1862). Exploration expedition: Letter from Commander Norman together with reports and correspondence. 
  14. ^ England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1966. 
  15. ^ "Burketown, Queensland". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 February 2004. Retrieved 28 March 2006. 

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