Philanthropists and Philanthropy

Home » Anglican » William Henry Simpson (1834-1922), Saddler, Mason, Local Government – a governance philanthropist

William Henry Simpson (1834-1922), Saddler, Mason, Local Government – a governance philanthropist

On the death of William Henry Simpson in 1922 it was said that ‘Sydney has lost a good, useful citizen’.[1] Who was this good citizen and how had he been useful? Of his wife Ann, it was said that she ‘was well known in charitable and church work in Waverley, and was highly esteemed by all who knew her’[2]. In what way had these good citizens contributed to the nation of which they were a part?

William Henry Simpson (DDBI Annual Report)

Background and Business Life

William Henry Simpson was born at Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1834 to Ebenezer (1795-1855) and Sarah Simpson (1796-1878)[3] and arrived with his parents in Australia in 1838 aboard the ship Parland.[4] At Newry in Ireland, Ebenezer had been a master tanner and so when he arrived in Australia with his family, settling first at Windsor then at Richmond, he worked for Wright’s tannery in Parramatta.[5] In 1843, he commenced a tannery business at Camden, NSW.[6] While William’s brothers, Ebenezer (Jnr) and Alexander, were to become tanners and join the family business,[7] William was apprenticed as a saddle and harness maker to William S Mitchell of Camden[8] for the period from around 1848 until 1855.[9] Emerging from his indentures in 1855, it is said that William entered into a partnership in a saddle making business with Thomas Davis. Davis died in July 1855[10] and the partnership in the name of Simpson and Davis first saw the light in June 1856.[11]

It appears that William initially worked with Davis but on his death, which took place soon after William joined the saddlery, he entered a business partnership with Thomas’ widow. The saddlery was situated in various Pitt Street North addresses, but from January 1859[12] William had no partner. In 1861, he entered a partnership with James David Jones at 325 George Street[13]  with the business name of Jones and Simpson. This partnership continued until 1863[14] when Simpson assumed sole ownership of the business which became W H Simpson, Saddler.[15] In 1887, his son William Walker Simpson joined him as a partner and the business was designated, W H Simpson and Son.[16] Simpson carried on in business until 1910 when he retired and the business was sold.[17] He had conducted a successful and prosperous business as he sold a commodity, equipment for horses which was central to personal and commercial transport, and which was in demand. At his retirement in 1910, however, he remarked:

Yes, I suppose the saddlery business generally it has made great strides, but in some respects it has fallen off. The coming of the motor car has, for instance, meant the making – taking into account the increase of population – of far fewer sets of carriage harness. Where nowadays you see a long row of motor cars lined up opposite the big shops in Pitt street, you used to see as many carriages. Everyone who was at all well off used to have his carriage and pair, and very smart most of them were. On the other hand the growth of the farming industry has made, a wonderful difference in the amount of harness made for farm-work. In fact, it is almost impossible to keep pace with the orders that come in.[18] 

Marriage and Family

In July 1857, at St John’s Anglican Church Camden, William married Ann Taylor Walker (1835-1912)[19] the daughter of a local doctor, Josiah Wesley Walker, and his wife Anne Taylor Pretty.[20] They were to have six children: William Walker (1858-1932), Evangeline (1860-1942), Ann Sarah (1862-1862),[21] Annie Mabel (1868 -1884),[22] Elizabeth (1870-1952)[23] and Edward Sydney (1875-1939)[24] who was to become a significant figure in the discipline of mineralogy in Western Australia.[25]

Ann Taylor Simpson nee Walker ( Simpson Family)

After their marriage, the Simpsons lived variously at Darling Street, Balmain 1857-1861;[26] Pitt Street Redfern 1862-1866; 385 George Street 1868-1871; Athos Cottage, Piper Street, Woollahra 1872-1876;[27] and Lough Foyle  Victoria Street, Waverley 1877-1882.[28] All these homes had been rented accommodation, but while living in Victoria Street the Simpsons decided to build their own house.[29] The result was Abbotsford, 100 Leichhardt Street, Waverley, where the family lived from 1883 until 1922.[30] Around 1890-1892, William built a stone cottage in North Springwood on the Hawkesbury Road on 46 acres as a retreat for himself and his family. He involved himself in the community at Springwood, joining the Springwood Progress Association in 1893 and representing Christ Church at the Anglican synod in 1895. He was also a trustee for the ‘Hawkesbury View’ Recreation Ground from 1895 until 1913.[31] By 1902 he was seeking to sell the property.[32]

Deaf Dumb and Blind Institute

Simpson, who had been a financial supporter of the Death Dumb and Blind Institute (DDBI) as early as 1873,[33] was appointed to the management board of DDBI in 1886.[34] He became a life director in 1904,[35] vice president in 1909[36] and, on the death of Colonel John Goodlet, became president in 1914 and maintained that position until his death in 1922.  Mrs Simpson, following her husband’s appointment to the management board, became a member of the Ladies Visiting Committee in 1888 and remained a member until her death in 1912.

Masonic Membership

For ‘upwards of 60 years’ William was a Mason,[37] having joined in 1856.[38] Before the creation of the NSW Grand Lodge, he was associated with Lodge of Australia No. 548, under the English constitution, and was by 1859 a Junior Warden.[39] He was to be three times its Master and was District Grand Treasurer from at least 1870-1877. [40] William presided at the meeting in the Great Hall of Sydney University when the United Grand Lodge of NSW was established and he became an officer, being the first Treasurer and then Deputy Grand Master,[41] and was the Grand Master who installed Lord Carrington as Grand Master of the Lodge in August 1888.[42]

Lord Carrington installed by WH Simpson as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of NSW

William was heavily involved with the formation of the Freemason’s Orphan and Destitute Society of the Grand Lodge which had been formed in 1854.[43] This was an area of significant service for William and while the information is patchy, he was Treasurer[44] in 1868, 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1873,[45] and President[46] and Trustee in 1904.  This Society was

founded upon the expansive principles of masonic charity, for the purpose of receiving under its fostering care the children or orphans of indigent or deceased brethren, to provide them with decent clothing, to afford them an education adapted to the situation in life which they are most likely to fill, and finally to apprentice them to suitable trades; thus to rescue them from the dangers of vice and immorality, to which the condition of poor and neglected children is peculiarly incident, and carefully to train them to respectability and self-reliance, that they may ultimately become useful members of society, and creditable recipients of the country to which they will have to owe their protection and advancement.[47]

He was also a Director of the Australian Freemason’s Hall Company[48] and a Trustee of the Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution.[49]

Local Government and community involvement

William was elected to the Waverley Council serving in 1879, 1881-86, 1888, 1890-1900, 1902-1904. During that period he was Mayor 1883-1885, 1891-1892,[50] and for 26 years he was the Treasurer of the local government association.[51] He was also a member of the local public school board for Waverley and was its initial Chairman; he held this position for his entire period of service from 1890 to at least 1915.[52]


William joined the volunteers around the time, he said,  ‘of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny’. The date of his joining is probably not as early as he remembered as the Indian Mutiny was in 1857 and the Crimean War in 1853-1856, and the Number 1 Battery Volunteer Artiliary was not formed until October 1860.[53] Simpson also recalled that he was a sentry at the commissariat stores when the troops went to deal with the riots at Lambing Flat which would have been in 1861. He was later to be an officer in Number 1 Battery;[54] promoted from Gunner to Third Lieutenant in December 1871;[55] promoted from Third Lieutenant to Second Lieutenant in March 1873,[56] and promoted from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant in June 1873.[57] As the First Lieutenant, he was, to Captain Francis Fahey, second in command of the Battery and he retired from the Volunteers in July 1879.[58]

In 1885, as Mayor of Waverley, he received an approach from concerned citizens of Waverley who requested ‘that in view of the present disturbed condition of national feeling and the probability of foreign invasion …’ to convene a public meeting for the purpose of ‘… forming a local Volunteer Corps and a Battery of Volunteer Artillery.’[59] On this occasion, William made a speech and the report of it gives an insight into his attitudes to military service and to the Colony’s growing significance and status as being part of the British nation.

He had the honour himself, for many years, of being in the Volunteer force, and he felt great sympathy with those young men who were willing to come forward and take their stand in defence of their homes and of the country. He did not know of anything which was more a man’s duty than to defend his home and country from invasion, and that of course was really the duty of a Volunteer force. He had no doubt that the young men who would as the result of that movement, be enrolled would not be lacking in loyalty and patriotism, and that they would reflect honour, not on Waverley only, but on the colony generally. (Hear, hear.) He mentioned the names of William Tell, William Wallace, and George Washington as patriots respectively of Switzerland, Scotland, and the United States of America; and said he did not see why this country should not have in its history names quite as bright as any of those he had given. We had passed through nearly a hundred years of peace and quietness, and during that time had been too insignificant to excite the rapacity of any bellicose foreign Powers; but the colony had grown and our circumstances had changed, so that it was now necessary that we should show that we were prepared to defend our homes against foreign invasion. Troublous times had recently been passed through, and although war might be postponed for the present there could be no doubt that wars of great magnitude were lying in the not far distant future. He did not think that anyone could have carefully studied the history of that colossal empire, Russia, without having arrived at the conclusion that there must eventually be a great struggle between that Power and the mother country. It was the duty of colonists to fight, not only for their own land, but for the honour and welfare and support of the British nation. (Loud cheers)[60]

This speech shows that, for Simpson, it was a man’s duty to defend his home and country. More than that he believed that whereas once New South Wales was an insignificant colony now with its development and prosperity it was a potential for invasion. Such a danger would emanate from the inevitable struggle between Russia and Britain and that the men of the colony were bound to defend not just the colony but the honour and welfare of the British nation. It is clear that for Simpson the colony was part of greater Britain.

In addition to the above understanding, Simpson saw the personal benefit of military service. He said that

Apart from the purely military aspect of the movement, he could not conceive of anything that would prove beneficial to a young man than to become a Volunteer, as the training which he would receive would not only improve his carriage, but tend to establish his character, and to qualify him to act in concert with others who had undergone similar drill. (Applause.) [61]

So it was that the Waverley Volunteers of about 100 men were duly formed and accepted for service by the Government.[62]

Ann Taylor Simpson

It was said of Ann Taylor Simpson (Mrs WH Simpson) that she ‘was well known in charitable and church work in Waverley, and was highly esteemed by all who knew her.’[63] This description applied only to the latter half of her life for in the first 20 or so years of her married life she was engaged in the important role of bearing and mothering children. Married in 1857 when she was 22, Ann bore children in 1858, 1860, 1862, 1868, 1870 and 1875 and until the late 1880s, she was primarily concerned with her role as mother of six children.

Ann began to emerge from the private sphere in the late 1880s and adopted various causes and charities. She was a founding member of the Women’s Branch Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and an active member from 1887 until 1894.[64] She was also a member of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children from 1890, when she was part of a delegation to the government seeking legislative protections for children, until 1894.[65]  It was in connection with this society that she came into contact with the suite of efforts of the honorary director of the society, G E Ardill. (With Ardill’s activities it is often difficult to distinguish, which of the many organisations of which he was the moving force, was carrying them out.)

Mrs Simpson was associated with the Babies’ Home, Knox Street, off Newtown Road, of which Ardill said that there was a

necessity for the home, because of the number of young women who had to struggle with their offspring, without maintenance from the fathers. The institution, was also for the reception of the children of deserted wives and widows, who had to take situations to maintain themselves.[66]

Later, Ann was a member of the ladies’ committee of the Babies’ Home, Roslyn Hall, Cameron Street, Rockdale[67] and in 1902 until her death in 1912,[68] she became involved with Ardill’s Rescue Work Society. Its activities are best summed up by its 1911 annual report, the year prior to Ann’s death:

The South Sydney Women’s Hospital, not only married women of necessitous circumstances are received and cared for, but also betrayed and abandoned girls from city and country. The latter are dragged back from the brink of social destruction, are found honest employment, their children are cared for, and their betrayers are brought to book when possible. There is also a training school for midwifery nurses in connection with the hospital, and 12 nurses last year passed the prescribed trained nurses’ examination. The society, through its district midwifery nursing branch, attended 240 women in their own homes during the same period. The Bethseda [sic] Home, another branch of the society, provides accommodation for 20 women awaiting admission to the hospital, discharged therefrom, or awaiting situations. Then there is the Home of Hope, at Camperdown, where last year 30 women found refuge, and where 2,369 beds and 7,098 meals were provided. At the Bathurst-street Refuge last year 4,125 nights’ lodgings were given to women and children, 458 women were assisted, and 131 were sent to situations. In addition to all this, 23 babies were sheltered at the Rockdale babies’ home; 2,667 men, and 529 women were visited at the police stations, and provided with tea and bread and butter, and an active gospel campaign was carried on all the while.[69]

Church of England Involvement

On arrival in NSW, the Simpson family were listed as Church of England and William, who was musical, played the flute at the opening of St John’s Anglican Church in 1849.[70] William continued this attachment to the Anglican Church as he and Ann were members of St Mary’s Church of England, Waverley, and he was a member of the Waverley Auxiliary of the Church Society[71] 1880-1889 and President and Treasurer of the Waverley Branch of the Bible Society.[72] At various times he served as a warden (1886-1894)[73] and at the time of his death he was a Trustee, and a parochial nominator from at least 1895[74] until his death in 1922.[75] It is clear that William was a prominent member of the congregation as he chaired the retirement meeting for the Rev Robert McKeown who retired after 37 years of service.[76]


In his Will, from an estate for probate of £19,000, William made a bequest of £50 to the Royal Alexandria Hospital for Children, £50 to the Sydney City Mission, and £100 to the DDBI.[77]


William Henry Simpson was indeed a good and useful citizen. His business of saddle making was an important service in a developing and growing economy in nineteenth-century colonial New South Wales as horses, carriages and wagons were essential in both personal and commercial life. His civic service as a volunteer in the military contributed to the provision of peace of mind to a concerned community and his local government service helped give to the Waverley area stable municipal oversight. As a philanthropist, he gave his time to the governance of the DDBI and to the support of orphans through his involvement in Freemasonry’s social service activities.

Ann Taylor Simpson gave the first 20 years or so of her married life to the important but often overlooked and undervalued task of bearing and raising children who would be the next generation of contributors to the building of colonial society. Emerging from her primary mothering role she involved herself in the support of organisations with an interest in providing for disadvantaged children through the DDBI, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and in a number of the efforts of G E Ardill. Both Ann and William were involved in a significant manner in the Church of England and its various activities at a local level.

Dr Paul F Cooper

Research Fellow Christ College, Sydney

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. William Henry Simpson (1834-1922), Saddler, Mason, Local Government – a governance philanthropist Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History  Available at

[1] Truth (Sydney, NSW), 20 August 1922, 6.

[2] The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser (NSW), 13 December 1912, 4.

[3] SMH, 8 May 1878, 10.

[4] SMH, 11 August 1922, 10.

[5] Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 16 May 1903, 4; 1841 NSW Census; Cathy McHardy, ‘These Simpson’s did more than sit on the couch’, Hawkesbury Gazette, 16 September 2016 [accessed 12/7/2020].

[6] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 17 August 1910, 6; SMH, 31 May, 1903, 3.

[7] SMH, 29 November 1852, 3; 26 January 1855, 6.

[8] Mitchell was a Church Warden at St John’s Anglican so would have been of some social standing. Empire (Sydney, NSW), 1 April 1853, 4.

[9] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 17 August 1910, 6. Simpson recalled it was at the time of the discovery of gold at Sofala. A seven-year term was usual and in the better trades, such as cabinet makers, saddlers and silversmiths, apprenticeship usually started at the age of fourteen. if this pattern was followed, as it probably was as William in evidence on wages in 1903 suggested that ‘after serving five years to the trade he suggested that they should be employed for a term of two years as improvers’. SMH, 11 Mar 1903, 4. William would have begun 1848 or 1847 and concluded around 1854 or 1855. This all fits with the statement “Immediately he had served an apprenticeship Mr Simpson when to Sydney and entered a business carried on in Pitt Street… by a Mr Davis’ the date being 1855. Australasian Saddler and Harness Maker Volume 10, July 1910 – June 1911, 3.

[10] SMH, 2 July 1855, 8.

[11] SMH, 25 June 1856, 8.

[12] SMH, 2 December 1859, 1.

[13] Empire (Sydney, NSW), 5 October 1861, 1.

[14] Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW), 9 January 1864, 7.

[15] Sydney, January 1st, 1864.

[16] SMH, 1 January 1887, 12.

[17] SMH, 24 September 1910, 24; Truth (Sydney, NSW), 20 August 1922, 6.

[18]Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 17 August 1910, 6

[19] SMH, 18 December 1912, 14.

[20] SMH, 6 July 1857, 1.

[21] Empire (Sydney, NSW), 17 September 1862, 1.

[22] SMH, 8 June 1868, 1; 23 February 1884 p 1.

[23] SMH, 30 December 1870, 7.

[24] SMH, 21 June 1919, 13; Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 1919, 13.

[25] The Star (Sydney, NSW), 4 October 1909, 8.

[26] SMH, 14 September 1859, 8; Sands 1861, 218. Anne returned to Camden for the birth of their first child in 1858. SMH, 10 December 1858, 8. William’s sister Evangeline (Mrs Henry Perdriau) lived close. New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW), 20 October 1859 [Issue No.213 (SUPPLEMENT)], 2300; SMH, 25 August 1860, 1.

[27] SMH, 25 July 1872, 12; Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 20 Mar 1875, 375. These dates are uncertain.

[28] Sands 1877, 243; SMH, 14 May 1878, 1; Sands 1879, 568.

[29] SMH, 4 February 1880, 8.

[30] Sands 1883, 487; The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 11 August 1922, 6. That it was 100 Leichhardt Street is to be found on the enlistment notice of Albert Victor Lindsay the Simpson’s grandson.

[31]> Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW) 1 June 1895, 4; Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW), 29 January 1913 [Issue No.13], 583.

[32] SMH, 6 December 1902, 15.

[33] Empire (Sydney, NSW), 6 October 1873, 4; SMH, 1 February 1881, 2.

[34] The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 16 October 1886, 7.

[35] The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 14 September 1904, 5.

[36] The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 19 October 1909, 9.

[37] The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 11 August 1922, 6.

[38] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 17 August 1910, 6.

[39] Empire (Sydney, NSW), 9 June 1859, 1.

[40] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 17 August 1910, 6. Freemason’s Magazine and Masonic Mirror, 4 February, 1871, 93; Freemason Chronicle, 9 February 1878, 98.

[41] SMH, 11 August 1922, 10.

[42] The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 11 August 1922, 6; SMH, 17 August 1888, 4.

[43] SMH, 5 December 1854, 5; The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 30 January 1904, 11; SMH, 14 August 1922, 7.

[44] The Illustrated Sydney News Almanac For 1868, 48; Sydney Mail (NSW), 10 July 1869, 4.

[45] Australian Almanac for 1873 (Sydney: John Ferguson Publisher, 1873), 129.

[46] SMH, 2 February 1904, 6.

[47] SMH, 5 December 1854, 5.

[48] SMH, 10 July 1878, 4.

[49] SMH, 25 May 1898, 9.

[50] [accessed 12/7/2020]

[51] SMH, 11 August 1922, 10.

[52] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 24 July 1890, 5; SMH, 16 August 1893, 8; 3 Mar 1894, 10; The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 7 February 1895, 4; Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 22 May 1896, 7; The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909) 14 May 1897, 7; SMH, 12 December 1904, 8; 25 May 1907, 14; Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 1 December 1912, 4; Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 25 May 1914, 7; The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW),  25 May 1915, 10.

[53] Empire (Sydney, NSW), 4 October 1860, 8; 27 February 1872, 2.

[54] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 17 August 1910, 6.

[55] New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW), 19 December 1871 [Issue No.304], 2846.

[56] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 29 March 1873, 408.

[57] New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW), 13 June 1873 [Issue No.153], 1659.

[58] The Sydney Daily Telegraph (NSW), 12 July 1879, 3.

[59]SMH, 21 April 1885, 2.

[60] SMH, 22 April 1885, 6.

[61] SMH, 22 April 1885, 6.

[62] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 22 May 1885, 4.

[63] The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser (NSW), 13 December 1912, 4.

[64] SMH, 23 April 1887 p 13;  30 November 1889, 8; 1 February 1890, 8; 27 September 1890, 7; 31 January 1891, 9; 20 December 1893, 8; The Australian Star (Sydney, NSW), 2 June 1894, 3.

[65] SMH, 17 July 1890, 3; 19 August 1891, 4; 1 July 1892, 6; 21 December 1893, 4; 19 December 1894, 8.

[66] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 14 September 1900, 8.

[67] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 12 January 1905, 5.

[68]The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930)  Sat 26 Jul 1902  Page 12

[69] Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 2 August 1911, page 7

[70]  Camden News (NSW), 11 June 1925, 1.

[71] SMH, 20 February 1880, 5; 15 February 1881, 5; 24 February 1888, 4; 2 February 1889, 8.

[72] SMH, 8 July 1890, 5.

[73] SMH, Friday 30 April 1886, 4; 19 April 1887, 9; 27 April 1889, 13;  2 April 1891, 9; 30 March 1894, 7.

[74] SMH, 5 February 1895, 6; 18 April 1899, 5; 11 May 1900, 6.

[75]The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 11 August 1922, 6.

[76] Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW), 24 October 1920, 5.

[77] Last Will and Testament William Henry Simpson NSW Will Books no 114737.

Follow Philanthropists and Philanthropy on

© Dr Paul F Cooper.

All articles are the
Copyright of Paul F Cooper.

Feel free to use them but please acknowledge their authorship.

Please use the citation which is displayed at the end of each article.

Follow Philanthropists and Philanthropy on
%d bloggers like this: