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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…)

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