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Pearce, Simeon Henry (1821–1886)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Simeon Henry Pearce (1821-1886), civil servant and land agent, was born on 27 January 1821 at Randwick, Gloucestershire, England, son of James Pearce and his wife Elizabeth. He and his cousin Samuel arrived as bounty immigrants in Sydney on Christmas Day 1841 in the Lady Clarke. Their partnership as butchers was dissolved in March 1844 and Simeon was financed by the innkeeper James Thompson, whose eldest daughter Alice Isabella he married in January 1848. His brother James married in 1849 Thompson's youngest daughter and on her majority in 1852 each brother received £1300.

In September 1847 Simeon bought four acres (1.6 ha) of market garden on the heights above Coogee Bay, named them Randwick and in 1848 built Blenheim House. After repeated petitions to Sir Thomas Mitchell to preserve vegetation along the sandhills, he was appointed bailiff in August 1849 and in 1851-56 commissioner of crown lands in Sydney, when he warned of the danger to 'rising generations' of draining sewage into the harbour. By 1854 with James he had bought 200 acres (81 ha) of land at both Manly and French's Forest, and over 200 acres (81 ha) in parcels around Randwick and St George which were subdivided and sold profitably after the promotion of Randwick as a fashionable residential area. In 1853 he had petitioned for a road from the city to Coogee, later surveyed it and became a commissioner of its trust; in March 1855 Isaac Nathan publicly denigrated his work.

Pearce campaigned strongly for Randwick's incorporation which was gazetted in February 1859 despite protests from Coogee residents. Nathan and other defeated candidates calumniated Pearce's election as inaugural mayor, and in April Bell's Life in Sydney published 'The Book of Simeon', a damaging exposé. He was again mayor in 1866-68 and 1882, and a magistrate from 1861. Pearce's chief opponent in the council's perpetual disputes over the allocation of funds was Charles Moore. To curtail development at Coogee Pearce failed in 1860 to divide the borough into wards each raising its funds internally but in 1867 stopped Coogee residents from seceding. In 1884 he resigned from the council after a paralytic stroke.

The first Anglican services were held in Pearce's house and in November 1857 he became a trustee of the first St Jude's Church. In 1856 Frederick Jones had bequeathed £3000 for an Anglican church at 'Big Coogee'; Pearce persuaded a trustee of the estate, Canon Allwood, that since the drafting of the will Randwick had replaced Coogee as the area's name; in May 1861 Allwood laid the foundation stone of St Jude's, originally designed as a replica of the parish church at Randwick, Gloucestershire. Within a month Moore brought a restraining action in the Supreme Court; at first nonsuited on a technicality, he lost his appeal in July 1862 but court costs halved the bequest. As trustee of St Jude's cemetery Pearce was in 1864 involved in litigation over its drainage. He sat on Sydney Diocesan Synod in 1866-76. In 1868 he was appointed managing trustee of the Church of England portion and in 1871 secretary of the general Rookwood cemetery.

Pearce supported the building in 1856 of the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children (Prince of Wales Hospital) and was a founding director and sometime president of its board but thought the children were too well treated. He was also a director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary. In 1857 Pearce visited his birthplace and again in 1881. He died on 18 January 1886 after a second stroke, leaving an estate of £28,320 to his wife, two sons and four daughters. The west end windows of St Jude's Church were erected in 1889 as his memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Cooper, History of Randwick (Syd, 1909)
  • W. B. Lynch and F. A. Larcombe, Randwick, 1859-1959 (Syd, 1959)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Mar 1855, 19 Jan 1886
  • Bell's Life in Sydney, 9 Apr 1859
  • Pearce papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • newspaper catalogue under Pearce (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Pearce, Simeon Henry (1821–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearce-simeon-henry-4380/text7129, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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