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Simson, Robert (1819–1896)

by J. Ann Hone

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Robert Simson (1819-1896), pastoralist, was born on 4 October 1819 at Coalfarm, Fife, Scotland, son of Robert Simson, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Carstairs. With his cousin Philip Russell of Kincraig, he sailed to Van Diemen's Land; they arrived in November 1842 with £1800 between them. Three months later they crossed to Port Phillip and in April 1843 purchased Carngham station in the Western District, where they fared well; Simson earned a reputation as a horseman. He revisited England in 1847 and returned to Carngham in 1850 with his brother John and cousin Thomas Russell. In April 1851 he married Catherine, sister of C. M. Officer and a forceful personality who, after a month of marriage, wrote to a friend, 'I have taken Simson completely under my care; reduced him to a state of subordination and content'. The marriage was childless.

In April 1853 Russell and Simson dissolved their partnership; in July Simson purchased Langi Kal Kal near Beaufort, and in time acquired the freehold. He devoted himself to the breeding of high-class merino sheep, experimenting in the 1860s with Rambouillet rams which he had sent from England, and with imported rams from the Steiger stud flock. Dissatisfied with the results, he founded a Lincoln sheep stud and with both Lincolns and merinos had great success at the Skipton, Ballarat and Melbourne shows. In 1865 he moved to Melbourne where he bought Leura in Toorak and in 1873 built a new mansion on the site. Langi Kal Kal was run by a manager and Simson continued to win prizes at shows until the late 1880s when he turned mainly to cattle-breeding.

Simson was a member of the Legislative Council for the Western Province in 1868-78. A staunch free-trade conservative, he opposed payment of members. Although not without critics, he was returned unopposed in June 1880 but in November 1882 he retired on medical advice. Simson was an active committee-man and sometime president of associations including the National Agricultural Society, the Sheepbreeders' Association, the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society and the Royal Horticultural Society of Victoria. He was on the committee of the Victorian Coursing Club, president of the Melbourne Club in 1889 and a trustee of the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind. He was a director of the British and Australasian Trust and Loan Co. and of the Land Mortgage Bank of Victoria. In Melbourne he was a prominent member of the Scots Church congregation and a trustee of Scotch College and other church property. In 1880 he became a councillor of Ormond College and gave £500 to its fund; he also gave staunch continuing support to the Beaufort Presbyterian Church. With a lively manner and good looks, he was sometimes nicknamed 'Sir Robert' and he left a 'host of friends and acquaintances' when he died on 3 November 1896, predeceased by his wife. His estate in Victoria was valued for probate at £182,957.

Simson's family connexions spread a wide net over western Victoria and beyond. Besides his cousins, the Russells, two of his brothers became well-known pastoralists. John (1822-1896) held Trawalla near Beaufort in 1853-73 and then made his home in Melbourne, but in 1880-81 took up Gurley station near Moree, New South Wales, and Carella in Queensland. He died on 29 March 1896 at his Toorak mansion, Trawalla, survived by his wife Margaret, née Luke, of Fife, whom he had married in 1856, and by a son and four daughters. Colin William (1828-1905) reached Victoria late in 1851, failed at the gold diggings and then worked with Robert until experienced enough to take a share in and manage the Mount Ross section of Langi Kal Kal. In January 1858 he bought York Plains station near Warracknabeal. He married Marguerite Madeleine Smith in 1862 at St Peter's Church, Melbourne, reputedly with eighteen bridesmaids in attendance; that year he took up Mungadal near Hay, New South Wales. In 1877-80 he represented Balranald in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. He acquired Trinkey station on the Liverpool Plains in 1888 but for many years lived at his Melbourne mansion, Carmyle. He died of pneumonia on 23 February 1905 at Geelong while staying at the home of his son-in-law, Thomas Fairbairn, predeceased by his wife and a son, and survived by three sons and five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt (ed), Australian Representative Men (Melb, 1887)
  • P. L. Brown (ed), Clyde Company Papers, vols 3, 5 (Lond, 1958, 1963)
  • Warrnambool Standard, 22 May, 3 June 1880
  • Australasian, 4 Apr 1896
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Feb 1905
  • Alexander Adam, Autobiography (State Library of Victoria).

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. Ann Hone, 'Simson, Robert (1819–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simson-robert-913/text7527, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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