Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pearse, William Silas (1838–1908)

by G. C. Bolton

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

William Silas Pearse (1838-1908), by unknown photographer, 1890s

William Silas Pearse (1838-1908), by unknown photographer, 1890s

State Library of Western Australia, 007047D

William Silas Pearse (1838-1908), merchant, was born on 21 May 1838 at Fremantle, eldest son of William Pearse and his wife Susannah, née Glyde. Educated at local private schools, he embarked on a business career which included butchering, shipowning, importing and the development of the Western Australian leather industry. Prospering steadily, he moved into the pastoral industry in 1874 by dispatching a small private expedition to the Murchison, where with his brother and a managing partner he founded a sheep station, Meka. From 1881 he was a shareholder in three West Kimberley properties, Meda, Oobagooma and Liveringa. As befitted a solid citizen he held most local offices. A justice of the peace, fifteen years a councillor on the Fremantle Town Council and chairman in 1868-71, trustee of the Congregational Church and founding president in 1875 of the Fremantle Building Society, he was an elected representative for the Fremantle District in the Legislative Council in 1872-80 and 1884-90. After responsible government he represented North Fremantle in the Legislative Assembly from December 1890 to May 1895 as a reliable back-bencher, notable only for the brevity of his speeches. An early advocate of responsible government and a vigilant watchdog of Fremantle's interests, he favoured low tariffs on foodstuffs and careful financial management by government officials. He was useful on select committees but never held office.

On 23 April 1863 Pearse married Johannah, daughter of John Hawkes of Warwick, England. She died in 1891 and their only daughter next year. In 1893 he married his cousin Alice, widow of Edward Higham, a fellow Congregationalist and political associate. His only unexpected action was resignation from parliament in 1895 when he disposed of his business interests to his brother and lifelong partner, George (1839-1914), and went to England with his wife. He died of cancer on 30 December 1908 at Clifton, Bristol.

Select Bibliography

  • J. K. Ewers, The Western Gateway (Fremantle, 1948)
  • WA Bulletin, 14 Apr 1888
  • D. H. Ford, The Pearse Family of Western Australia, HS/PR 1487 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Pearse, William Silas (1838–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearse-william-silas-4381/text7131, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 September 2017.

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

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