Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Simpson, Edward Percy (1858–1931)

by Andrew Moore and Caroline Simpson

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

Edward Percy Simpson (1858-1931), solicitor and company director, was born on 17 May 1858 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, eldest child of Robert Percy Simpson, grazier and later stock and station agent, and his wife Alice, daughter of Randolph John Want, both born in Sydney. He was a nephew of (Sir) George Simpson and John Henry Want. Educated at William Stephens's New School, he displayed all-round athletic prowess and in 1876 was articled to R. C. Want of Want, Johnson & Want, solicitors. On 24 September 1881 he was admitted to practice and joined the family firm (Minter, Simpson & Co. from 1899). At Wynella, Goulburn, on 7 April 1886 Simpson married with Roman Catholic rites Anna Maria Alexandra Guerry de Lauret, daughter of a French marquis who had migrated in 1830 and settled near Goulburn.

Simpson's career as a commercial lawyer was distinguished. His clients included large pastoral firms, banks, colliery owners, the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd and mining and industrial enterprises, so that he helped to smooth the transition from a pastoral-based economy towards industrialization. His involvement with the heights of the economy is illustrated by the part he played as legal adviser in the formation of the British-Australasian Tobacco Co. Ltd in 1903 and in the land sales preceding the development of Port Kembla. A personal friend of many business leaders, he was a director of Mort's Dock & Engineering Co. Ltd, the Austral Malay Rubber Co. Ltd and Sun Newspaper Ltd, and chairman of Richardson & Wrench Ltd and the Woolselling Brokers' Association. He also had considerable interest in coal and acted for large northern colliery owners.

Highly conservative, in the 1910s Simpson was involved in the finances of the Liberal Party and organized 'anti-socialist leagues' whose main purpose was electioneering, but whose officials 'might undertake certain duties … when occasion arose'. In World War I he served as a Citizens' War Chest Fund commissioner and was convinced that 'we are just on the eve of unadulterated anarchy'. Now vehemently anti-Catholic, he despaired of the 'Irish blight' and allied himself with Empire-loyalist projects initiated by Herbert Brookes, probably including a secret counter-revolutionary organization of influential citizens.

From its formation in 1917 Simpson was involved with the National Party in New South Wales as chairman of its consultative council. However, rapidly tiring of the government's 'many acts of maladministration', he wrote to the Daily Telegraph (29 January 1918) accusing the Nationalist premier William Holman of having secretly negotiated a coal contract with the Victorian government for John Brown. Simpson also acted for members of the State Wheat Board during the royal commissions conducted by Robert Pring into George Georgeson's wheat contract and the State Wheat Office. Widely known to have considerable influence over the Sun's editorial policy, Simpson was believed by Holman to be behind the Sun's campaign against the government. Although in August 1919 the principal members of the Nationalist organization, including Simpson, resigned, in 1921 it was claimed that Simpson could determine the composition of the State cabinet. In the 1920s Simpson remained the confidant of conservative political leaders. He was prominently associated with The King and Empire Alliance and the New South Wales Constitutional Association. Minter, Simpson & Co. was apparently the means by which C.S.R. channelled funds into anti-Labor causes.

Handsome, but an austere and intimidating figure, by 1910 Simpson had been deserted by his wife, who refused to divorce him; for many years 'E.P.' lived in a de facto relationship, which restricted his social life. He immersed himself in club and sporting affairs, becoming billiards champion of the Union Club. Tall and well-built, he had been a notable athlete and oarsman, winning the 1880 New South Wales 200 yards championship, playing Rugby for the Wallaroo club and rowing for New South Wales in the intercolonial eights. Later he raced his yacht Mistral II and became vice-commodore of Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (1920-28). Amateur State golf champion in 1903 and 1907, and captain (1899-1930) and president (1920-30) of Royal Sydney Golf Club, he persuaded its committee to purchase land at Rose Bay; in recognition of this act of almost incalculable perspicacity, the club has established a 'Simpson Room' and holds a Longstaff portrait of him.

At North Sydney Simpson married Constance Earle on 23 March 1931 but died on 28 June; he was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He was survived by his wife and three children of his first marriage, Vera (wife of A. A. Rankin), Edward Telford Simpson, later chairman of the National Consultative Council (1936-41), and Helen. His estate was valued for probate at £87,592.

'Owing to his hatred of anything savoring of self-advertisement', Simpson remained a shadowy figure. The Bulletin recorded that as 'a negotiator and diplomat he was unrivalled. Not only was he phenomenally shrewd and the possessor of the most winning manner, but everybody trusted him'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader (Syd, 1940)
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • C. Hazlehurst (ed), Australian Conservatism (Canb, 1979)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 1931
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 29 June 1931
  • Bulletin, 1 July 1931
  • A. Moore, ‘Send Lawyers, Guns and Money!’ A Study of Conservative Para-Military Organisations in New South Wales 1930-1932, Background and Sequel 1917-1952 (Ph.D. thesis, La Trobe University, 1982)
  • B. Burgmann, The Industrialization of Wollongong with Special Reference to Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd (Ph.D. thesis, Macquarie University, 1986)
  • B. Burgmann, Big Government, Big Business (manuscript, 1987, privately held)
  • Minter, Simpson & Co., letter books (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrew Moore and Caroline Simpson, 'Simpson, Edward Percy (1858–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simpson-edward-percy-8431/text14817, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 September 2014.

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

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