Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pearson, Thomas Edwin (1867–1962)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Thomas Edwin Pearson (1867-1962), sandsoap manufacturer, was born on 6 January 1867 at Hamilton, New Zealand, youngest son of Edward John Pearson, carpenter and soldier, and his wife Elizabeth, née Webber. Edward Pearson had enlisted in Sydney in the 4th Waikato Regiment on 16 February 1864 and consequently had received a land grant in the military settlement at Hamilton. Thomas was educated at the Hamilton East school, became a blacksmith and was later a railway construction worker in opening up the King country. He was a member of the Hamilton Volunteers and an excellent rifle shot in his youth. On 22 April 1888 he married Rose Winter at Hamilton.

In 1885 Edward Pearson, after reading a magazine article claiming that soap mixed with sand cleaned hands better, had begun to manufacture sandsoap, using local pumice in lieu of sand. The product was remarkably successful and Thomas Edwin and an elder brother William James began operations in Sydney in 1892: Thomas at Mary Street, Leichhardt, and William in George Street west. They were joined by their father and after his death on 29 July 1896 they set up as Pearson Bros, 'carbolic and sand soap manufacturers', on the corner of Henry and Augustus streets, Leichhardt. On 12 December 1902 the Pearson Soap Co. Ltd was formed with an authorized capital of £30,000: W. J. Pearson was managing director and there were twelve shareholders.

Pearson's sandsoap was advertised regularly in the Worker, the official organ of the trades unions and labour organizations, and in 1908 was awarded a gold medal at the Franco-British Exhibition in London. After World War I Thomas became managing director and in 1922 a branch factory was opened in England. The factory moved to Robert Street, Rozelle, in the late 1920s, and in the 1940s reverted to a private company. Pearson's sandsoap, notwithstanding many imitations, was famous throughout Australasia, being widely used by tradesmen, factory workers and especially domestics for scrubbing table-tops and floors. The soap received no fewer than ten first prizes at the Royal Agricultural Society's Easter show in Sydney, and testimonials to its efficacy in cleaning a vast array of objects ranging from ships' decking to false teeth!

Thomas Pearson, who lived at Balgowlah, Sydney, regularly visited his birthplace where he organized the Waikato Early Settlers' Association and annual picnics for the descendants of Hamilton's pioneers. He was a lifelong adherent of the Church of Christ, Claudelands. Predeceased by his wife and son, he died on 19 October 1962 at Wahroonga, Sydney, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of French's Forest cemetery. His two daughters survived him. His estate was valued for probate at £21,090.

Select Bibliography

  • L. L. Barton, Australians in the Waikato War, 1863-1864 (Syd, 1979)
  • Worker (Sydney), 12 Oct 1905
  • Waikato Times, 24 Jan, 22 Oct 1962
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Oct 1962.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Pearson, Thomas Edwin (1867–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearson-thomas-edwin-8004/text13947, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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