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Davidson, Walter Stevenson (1785–1869)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Walter Stevenson Davidson (1785-1869), landowner, merchant and banker, was baptized on 24 November 1785, the youngest child of Rev. Patrick Davidson of the parish of Rayne, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and his wife Martha, née Farquhar. His uncle, Sir Walter Farquhar (1738-1819), was physician to the Prince of Wales and a patron of John Macarthur with whom Davidson was an intimate confidant and a constant correspondent. Davidson arrived in Sydney with Macarthur in the Argo in June 1805. Governor Philip Gidley King saw him as 'a valuable Acquisition and Advantage to the Interests of this Colony', appointed him a lieutenant in the Parramatta Loyal Association and, as instructed from London, granted him 2000 acres (809 ha) adjacent to Macarthur on the Cowpastures, despite some reluctance to dispose of this area of crown land. In October 1807 Davidson sailed for China, went to India, and there assembled a cargo for Macarthur, Robert Campbell and Garnham Blaxcell; next year he returned to Sydney, visited Port Dalrymple to see Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson, apparently on behalf of Macarthur, and in November was reappointed to the Civil Court. In March 1809 he sailed for London in the Admiral Gambier with the rebel leaders, although the deposed Governor William Bligh had included his name in the proclamation forbidding their departure, an action which 'touched Sir Walter [Farquhar] to the quick'.

Davidson never returned to Australia, but remained connected with it all his life. In 1811 he sailed from England for Canton where as a naturalized Portuguese citizen he was outside the East India Co.'s control, and became an agent for Baring & Co. He also shared in trade between Canton and Sydney, helping Alexander Riley and Robert Campbell by arranging to have cargoes carried in American ships. By 1816 he was sole proprietor of Davidson & Co., importing opium and cotton and exporting tea and silver. In 1822 he withdrew from Canton, returned to England and married his cousin, the granddaughter of Sir William Farquhar.

During these years Davidson allowed John Macarthur 'to make use of' his property, Belmont, but negotiations for an exchange fell through, somewhat to the old man's irritation, and he did not sell the property until 1851. Meanwhile after 1824 Davidson bought Saxon merino sheep for the colony in partnership with Richard Jones, who became his agent and who managed the 5000-acre (2024 ha) property Collaroi, on the River Krui near Cassilis, which he had been given as a further grant in 1829, in response to his request for 20,000 acres (8094 ha). In 1836 he entrusted its management to his nephew, Patrick Leslie, whose activities aroused Davidson's criticism and resulted in his selling the property to his relations, E. W. T. Hamilton and George Clive, in 1840 and in a prolonged dispute over Leslie's bills which involved W. S. Donaldson and the Leslies in Scotland and in Canton.

Long before 1838 when Davidson sold his Inchmarlo estate in Kincardineshire he had become a partner in the bank of Herries, Farquhar & Co. in London and a large investor in and director of the Australian Agricultural Co. In 1832 he had been nominated to the committee formed to select migrants in London; in 1834 he was appointed an executor of Alexander Riley's will; in 1836 and in 1839 he was on the deputations carrying petitions from the 'exclusive' party of the colonists to the House of Commons. As director of the Australian Agricultural Co., he supported the appointment of Phillip Parker King as its superintendent, and introduced the young Hamilton to him. When Hamilton returned to England in 1856 Davidson encouraged his election as a director of the company. Since Hamilton was well acquainted with its Warrah property, this helped to establish a more efficient and prosperous 'new order', in which Davidson and Hamilton were the only directors to retain their seats on the board.

Davidson never lost interest in New South Wales or in the Macarthur family, whose members constantly visited him on their frequent trips to England, and for whom he frequently acted as agent. His son, Gilbert, owned Canning Downs. He had three daughters. He died in London on 15 July 1869.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 5-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 5, 7, 9, 15, 16
  • Parliamentary Papers (House of Lords, Great Britain), 1830 (646)
  • manuscript catalogue under W. Davidson (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

'Davidson, Walter Stevenson (1785–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/davidson-walter-stevenson-1960/text2361, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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