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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]  (more…)

Frederick and Ellis Robinson

Frederick Ropier Robinson (1815-1899) Ironmonger and for 38 years a member of Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution

and

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson (1839-1905) for 41 years Secretary of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution

Frederick and Ellis Robinson were both devoted members of the governing committee of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Institution for nearly forty years from its founding and into the twentieth century. Their tireless work helped provide invaluable assistance in the commencement, maintenance and growth of an organisation that was to become the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC).[1] The story of the Robinson family in Australia begins with Thomas Leathwick Robinson, Frederick’s father and Elllis’ grandfather. It is his life and his descendants’ success in business that forms the backdrop that enabled Frederick and Ellis to contribute philanthropically to the RIDBC.

Frederick Ropier Robinson

Frederick Ropier Robinson

According to the narrative supplied to the author of the 1888 article on FR Robinson in Australian Men of Mark, Robinson arrived in the colony of NSW in the early part 1829 with his parents who were  ‘determined to come to Australia in order to enable them to better their fortunes in that distant and little known land’.[2]  This account of his arrival was less than candid and was aimed more at protecting the respectability that the Robison family had attained rather than giving an accurate account of his origins in NSW. The arrival of the Robinson family in NSW was in fact, as with so many, due to a conviction at the Old Bailey. Thomas Leathwick Robinson was convicted of selling four silver bottle labels with forged and counterfeit hall-marks. He had, as a silversmith, also forged these silver hallmarks but because he provided information that was helpful to His Majesty’s Stamp Office this second charge was dropped.[3] He was 40 years of age and was sentenced to fourteen years transportation arriving in Hobart on board the Competitor on August 2, 1823.[4]  He must have been an educated man as he was employed, in 1824, as a school master using the Madras system[5] at the Public School, Campbelltown NSW.[6] He gained his ticket of leave for the Airds area south of Sydney on December 29, 1829[7] and his certificate of freedom in 1836.[8] Thomas was followed to NSW five years after his transportation by his wife Mary Jane and their three children, Susannah, Lucy and Frederick who arrived in Sydney in December, 1828 on the Borneo.[9] The family lived together at Campbelltown and Mrs Robinson from 1829, as was common for the master’s wife,[10] assisted in the teaching of needlework.[11] For this work Thomas was paid £40pa and Mary £10pa. After 1838 he acquired leases in the Maneroo area adjacent to the Snowy River and ran stock on these pastures,[12] eventually taking up residence in the Eden Monaro area where he died in 1864 at the age of 85.

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson

Ellis Frederick Leathwick Robinson

Thomas’ son Frederick Ropier Robinson did not go on the land with his father but after spending two years on the dairy farm of a relative went to Sydney where he ‘acquired a full and complete knowledge of working in metals’.[13] Aged 23 in 1838 he married Caroline Jemima Phillips (1814-1891) and went into business in Sydney in October of that year as a Tin–Plate worker producing dish covers and various articles.[14] The business did well and diversified from its simple beginnings and within nine years was offering to the public, though manufacture or importation, brass lamps, bell and flat weights, pumps, chemical and scientific apparatus, shower baths, wine warmers, binnacles for ships and various other items of manufactured ironmongery.[15] After ten years in business Robinson reminded customers that the business could manufacture every article in the various branches of Tin, Iron, Brass and Japan Ware[16] which indicated that Robinson, in order to remain profitable, had expanded into the manufacture and distribution of a wide range of products to meet the increasing aspirations of colony of NSW. He also advertised his business as licensed plumbers and gas fitters which was an essential service required by customers of their manufactured products.[17] From 1884 to 1895 he was the Marine Board’s Inspector of Lights which required him to periodically visit light houses up and down the NSW coast to check and repair lighthouses and pilot lights.[18]

Ellis was made a partner in 1876 and the firm’s name changed to FR Robinson and Son. The business closed its’ shop front to concentrate on importation and manufacturing and while they produced a wide range of goods they began to concentrate on the production and importation of stoves, both domestic and commercial, cooking and heating, gas or coal or wood. Around this time the firm was employing some 24 hands and as a manufacturer and importer Robinson was very interested in the current issue of free trade vs protectionism. Frederick was a free trader and was confident that his business could compete without the benefit of tariff protection saying of protectionism that ‘it is the gain of the few by the robbery of the many’.[19] By 1879[20] the other sons were admitted as partners,[21] though Frederick no doubt maintained effective control,[22] and the business became FR Robinson and Sons. In 1885 due to the increased prosperity of the business, land was purchased and new and larger premises were constructed in Castlereagh Street which then became the centre of the business.[23] (more…)

Thomas Pattison (1805-1899)

Thomas Pattison (1805-1899) Coach Painter and Founder of the Deaf and Dumb Institute, Sydney

While others discussed the need for a school for the education of deaf children in NSW[1] it was Thomas Pattison who took the initiative and opened in Sydney on October 22, 1860 what was to become a successful organisation.[2] Apart from his brief time founding and teaching for 6 years at what was initially called the Deaf and Dumb Institution (DDI) and was later to become the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC)[3] little is known about his life. This paper seeks to fill out some background and detail of Thomas Pattison’s life.

Pattison’s background and schooling

Pattison was born in Edinburgh on January 5, 1805 the second son and the fourth child of Thomas Pattison, a weaver and Elisabeth Lorn.  As an adult, Pattison was reported as being 5’ 6” tall and deaf, either from birth [4] or from early childhood.[5] He went to school at the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Institution (EDDI) spending time there under the instruction of Robert Kinniburgh with class mates such as Alexander Drysdale[6] and Joseph Turner[7]  who were later to have significant roles in the development of the education of the deaf in Scotland.

Thomas Pattison

Thomas Pattison

The amount of experience as a teacher that Pattison had before he came to NSW is unclear. A report at the end of the first year of operation of the DDI, said that Pattison ‘was an experienced teacher, who passed twenty three years of his life in the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb school, as an assistant teacher’.[8] Another secondary source says that he had been educated at the Edinburgh Institution for the Deaf and that ‘he seems to have been a pupil for five years and then a “monitor” for two more years, leaving in 1820’.[9] As Pattison was fifteen in 1820 this would give a commencement date of his schooling as 1813 when he was 8 years of age. This view is supported by Walter who says that he was dismissed (i.e. finished his schooling)

in 1818, but he was still listed in the printed Annual Reports as a ‘Pupil under Tuition’ until 1820. Pupils were sometimes retained for monitorial duties, and Pattison carried out such duties between 1818 and 1820.[10]

Pattison himself, in his advertisements to set up his school in Sydney described himself only as ‘late Secretary and Treasurer of the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society’ (EDDBS)[11] and gives no indication as to any service as a teacher of the deaf. The only claim he ever made, apart from that of having been ‘founder and for six years Head Master of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Pitt-street, Sydney’[12]  is his association with the EDDBS.

The EDDBS was a benevolent organisation formed on November 16, 1835 and existed ‘for relieving deaf and dumb persons when in distress; and supporting such indigent individuals among them as are, from age or infirmity, unable to earn a livelihood.’[13] Pattison was on the Committee of the EDDBS and its Secretary/ Treasurer for twenty three years from 1835 until 1858.[14] When in NSW, Pattison produced a booklet of his references and the only significant comment on his (more…)

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