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Church, Walter Marshall (1829–1901)

The claim that a man may have upon the name Australian, does not necessarily depend upon the fact of his being born in the colonies, but is founded upon the interest he shows in their welfare, and the part he takes in their life. This interest has been often shown by men who have not come to Australia until they are adults, and most markedly has it been manifested by those who, born in other lands, have, while still young, come here, and have become imbued with the spirit of the place and the tone of their surroundings. Mr. Walter Marshall Church is one of these latter, and though born an Englishman, he is an Australian in spirit and action, and his life deserves to be recorded among those whose work has helped New South Wales.

Walter Marshall Church is a native of England, being born in London, and is the third son of Captain John F. Church. His early youth was spent in his native town, where he received his elementary education, but at the age of ten years he came to Sydney, where he has since resided. His education was continued at the Sydney College, under that well-known and much-respected gentleman, Mr. W. T. Cape, whose school had the honour of turning out many of the leading men of New South Wales. Among the contemporaries of Mr. Church were the late Mr. S. C. Browne, the Right Hon. W. B. Dalley, Q.C., P.C., the Hon. John Lackey, Mr. Joseph Leary, and many other prominent and distinguished citizens. After spending some years at school, Mr. Church, in 1847, entered the office of the Hon. George Thornton, Customs and shipping agent, in whose employ he remained for some time. On the retirement of that gentleman from business, Mr. Church took over the work of the office, and carried it on for several years with the greatest success. Considering, however, that a more favourable opening showed itself in the wine and spirit trade, he closed his shipping office, and, in conjunction with his brother John, he began as a wine and spirit merchant. After a few years the latter retired from business, and Walter became the senior member of the firm of Church Brothers. All through his business life Mr. Church took a keen interest in politics, and was a close observer and a lively critic of all public matters. He had an earnest wish to see the country progressing, and on every occasion that offered, he gave what help he could to furthering its prosperity. His worth as a citizen was recognised, when, in 1863, he was appointed to the Commission of the Peace, and in the same year he was elected to the Mayoral chair of Balmain, which he occupied later on for the second time. Ambitious for political distinction, and conscious that he could do good work for his country, he, in 1869, contested successfully the electorate of the Western goldfields, and in the following year was again returned for the same constituency, defeating the Hon. Geoffrey Eagar by 421 votes. While in the Legislative Assembly he attended to the wants of his electorate, and more particularly devoted his attention to the development and right working of the goldfields. On 4th March 1870 he obtained the sanction of Parliament for a Royal Commission to inquire into the working of the Goldfields' Act, and the money for the cost of the same was voted on the 14th April 1870. Up to that time there had not been a proper directing head of that important part of the country's industry, and the result of the inquiry was the establishment of the Department of Mines under a responsible Minister. This good work being accomplished, he felt that as a private citizen he had done his share of the country's work for some time, and he soon after retired from an active part in politics, in order to devote his attention to his own private affairs.

In the year 1876 he was appointed Manager of the Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society, which had been established in 1872, which position he still holds. Under his able management it has developed into one of the largest offices in Sydney, and the praise given to it from outside the colony is significant of its worth. From the Melbourne Argus the following is taken:—"Perhaps there is no company in fire or other insurance, doing business in New South Wales, that exhibits such steady and great development as the Australian Mutual Fire Society. It was founded on a basis which met with very little sympathy from other societies working on the old plan. Its great working principle was simply combining security with honesty, and paying splendid returns on the union. The Australian Mutual Fire Society was established in 1872, and was the first Insurance Society in New South Wales on the purely mutual principle, giving policyholders back part of their premiums as a cash bonus out of the profits every year. This liberal principle drew sterling money to the company from all parts of the country, and careful management in the acceptance of risks was backed up by the promptest settlement of claims. The unusual promptitude shown by the company from the first, in this respect, was widely and favourably commented upon in the Press, and the result has been a daily increasing business. A noteworthy fact is that the company have never been sued in a court of law with regard to a policy. The society has regularly paid a 20 per cent. bonus since the second year of its formation, with a regular 8 per cent. interest to shareholders. The principles of the business are allowed liberal ones. Damage by lightning, and explosions by gas are paid. Policyholders participate in the profits, but are free by law from all liability. The capital of the company is £100,000, with power to increase to £1,000,000. The directory consists of the Hon. John Sutherland, M.P. (Chairman), and Messrs. W. Hezlet, John Wetherill, William Day, and James Green, and the Manager is Mr. Walter Church. The history of the society's success speaks of the energy and judgment of the whole management, which has not very materially changed from the formation of the society. The total Australian business done by the company exceeds that of any other society or company; and, in fact, such has been the growth in wealth of the company in the twelve years of its existence that it now owns as a head office certainly the handsomest edifice in all Australia. The company purchased a splendid block at the corner of Pitt and King streets, and the price being several thousands, it created quite a stir in the city. A magnificent edifice in the hard, rich, firm, carved stone of the Pyrmont quarries has now reared its head, a gigantic work of art, reflecting the highest credit on the architect, Mr. Morell, and on the society for its enterprise and public spirit."

Original Publication

  • Australian Men of Mark, vol 2, 1888, pp 329-31

Citation details

'Church, Walter Marshall (1829–1901)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/church-walter-marshall-28650/text36144, accessed 13 December 2019.

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