Lawry, Walter
1793-1859; e.m. 1817

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WM missionary to Australia and New Zealand, born at Rutheren, near Bodmin on 3 August 1793. Appointed to New South Wales in 1817 as colleague to Samuel Leigh, he sailed on a convict ship, preaching to the prisoners. Relations with Leigh became strained and he moved to Tonga in 1822, largely financing his own transfer, together with that of two artisan helpers and a translator, to establish the first WM work in the Pacific. In 1823, with no successor appointed and no measurable progress made, he was ordered to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania), but chose to return home. After an interval in English circuits, in 1843 he was appointed 'General Superintendent for New Zealand and Visitor of the Missions in the Friendly Islands and Fiji' in succession to John Waterhouse. Based in Auckland, he travelled throughout New Zealand and revisited in Tonga a work that had been successfully established despite his own apparent failure. In 1844, with a government land grant, he established an institution in Auckland to train young Maoris as potential missionary 'assistants'; and in 1850 he had a major hand in establishing the Wesleyan College and Seminary in Auckland to provide education for missionary children and others. Relationships with his colleagues gradually worsened, due partly to his undefined powers, and he had to defend himself against complaints to the Missionary Committee in London. A deputation sent to New Zealand eventually exonerated him, but he retired in 1854 to Sydney. As an evangelist rather than a missionary, he lacked the ability to relate to indigenous people, and he was primarily an administrator. He died at Parramatta on 30 March 1859.

Lawry's eldest son, Henry Hassall Lawry (1821-1906; e.m. 1845) was born in Sydney, but educated in England. When his father went to New Zealand as General Superintendent in 1844, he followed him. He served as a missionary in Auckland, Manakau, Kaipara and Hokianga, and retired in 1864 after two years as Governor of Three Kings College for Maori students. On 1 May 1845 he married Hephzibah Forsaith at Auckland. His son (Walter Lawry's grandson), Albert Charles Lawry (1862-1940) also had a notable ministry and was President of the New Zealand Conference in 1916.

  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921-1924), vol. 3 passim
  • E.W. Hames, Walter Lawry and the Wesleyan Mission in the South Seas (Auckland, 1967)
  • Lucy C. Marshall, Walter Lawry (Cornish Methodist Historical Association, 1967)
  • A.H. Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church vol. 1 (Melbourne, 1975) pp.19-25
  • Dictionary of Australian Biography
  • Encyclopedia of World Methodism (Nashville, 1974)