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Simpson (Sim) Newland (1835–1925)

by G. K. Jenkin

This article was published:

Simpson Newland (1835-1925), pastoralist, author and politician, was born on 2 November 1835 at Hanley, Staffordshire, England, son of Rev. Ridgway Newland and his second wife Martha, née Keeling, linguist and classical scholar. The family, part of a group of over thirty Congregationalists led by Ridgway Newland, migrated in 1839 to Encounter Bay, South Australia, where the Aborigines, whalers, and the country itself influenced Simpson deeply. His mother taught him and his seven siblings, and Simpson grew up with all the hallmarks of an educated man. Although he was frail and delicate, his upbringing encouraged resilience and endurance, and he became a competent stockrider and bushman.

He joined his brother-in-law Henry Field in a partnership which acquired Marra and Warlo stations on the upper Darling River, New South Wales, and, later, Talyealye on the Paroo River, near the Queensland border. Newland was overseer, then manager, for about fifteen years and used Marra as his headquarters. On 12 September 1872 at Buckanbee, New South Wales, he married Jane Isabella Layton. In 1876, with three sons, they moved to Adelaide and bought a mansion at Burnside which they called Undelcarra; Newland managed the stations from Adelaide.

In 1881-87 he sat in the House of Assembly as a member for Encounter Bay; he was treasurer in the Downer ministry from June 1885 to June 1886. From the start he battled for two traditional South Australian objectives and continued to do so for nearly forty years: settlement of the Northern Territory, especially by means of a transcontinental railway, and control of the commerce of the Murray River. In 1887 he chaired a commission of enquiry investigating extension of the railway from Pine Creek south of Darwin to Marree north of Adelaide. Newland visited the Territory, recommended building the railway on the land-grant system, and interested British capitalists in the project. At his instigation, the Jenkins government passed the Transcontinental Railway Act in 1902. In 1906 Newland again went to Europe where he floated a company to build the line, but in 1907, to his dismay, the Price government legislated to transfer the Territory to the Commonwealth government, which did not build the line. Newland also worked tirelessly for the cause of building a ship canal linking the Murray at Goolwa with the sea at Victor Harbor; he wrote articles and letters and lectured, claiming that the waterway was being wasted because of interstate rivalries. He was a foundation member and, from 1904, president of the River Murray League. A River Murray port was never achieved but Newland helped to formulate and implement the system of locks and barrages regulating the Murray's flow.

In 1895-1900 and again in 1920-22 he was president of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, and in 1906-23 president of the South Australian Zoological and Acclimatization Society. He was chairman of the Wyatt Benevolent Fund for twenty-three years and was prominent in the Northern Territory League.

Newland remains best known as an author. He published a novel, Paving the Way (London, 1893), which is a major document of colonial history; it was republished seven times by 1962. Although its plot is romantic, with many coincidences, it rises above standard romance; he was writing from his own rich experience. Paul Depasquale describes it as 'the South Australian novel of pioneering life: its scope is vast, its range of characters wide and representative, its narrative dimensions epic, its basic honesty impressive'. He also concedes that Newland was 'no novelist' but that he was at his best in set pieces and humanitarian accounts of Aboriginal legends. Newland's second novel, Blood Tracks of the Bush (1900), was less successful, partly because inferior, but also because he courageously and accurately portrayed horrific mass-murders of Aborigines by police and pastoralists. The public was not ready for such honesty.

Newland valued the education he had acquired as a child from the Ramindjeri people of Encounter Bay and he dealt with the River Darling Aborigines, the Parkingees, whose vocabulary he collected, kindly and sensitively. He was also what today would be called a conservationist. He deplored the European destruction of the environment and proposed that the Coorong area should be reserved for Aborigines and the land reafforested. In 1922 he was appointed C.M.G.

Newland was both highly cultivated and a tough bushman, able to fend for himself anywhere—swimming cattle across flooded rivers, or handling armed maniacs. His Memoirs (1926) were published posthumously. He signed the manuscript on 6 June 1925 and on 27 June died, at North Adelaide, survived by his wife and three of their five sons including (Sir) Henry Simpson. His ashes were taken to his spiritual home, Victor Harbor, for burial.

Victor Marra (1876-1953), third son of Simpson and Jane Newland, was born on 18 August 1876 at Marra station. He attended Queen's School, North Adelaide, and the Collegiate School of St Peter; he then joined the South Australian Mounted Rifles to fight in the South African War, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct and Queen's medals. In 1903 in Nairobi, British East Africa (Kenya), he ran a land and stock agency. Two years later he formed Newland, Tarlton & Co. Ltd, safari outfitters. Newland was a president of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and a member of the colony's Legislative Council. In 1909 he married Elsie Margaret Porter.

In World War I he joined the King's African Rifles and, in a campaign where 'one lived like a pig and died like a dog', attained the rank of major, was twice mentioned in dispatches, and was awarded the Military Cross and O.B.E. Newland returned to Adelaide in 1919, formed the firm V. M. Newland & Hunter, and joined the Stock Exchange in 1923.

In 1933-38 he represented North Adelaide for the Liberal and Country League in the House of Assembly. Survived by two daughters, Newland died in Adelaide on 12 January 1953.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1907)
  • Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1927)
  • Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, The Centenary History of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • P. Depasquale, A Critical History of South Australian Literature 1836-1930 (Adel, 1978)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1887 (34, 34a)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia: South Australian Branch, 26 (1924-25)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 24 Apr 1919, 29 June 1925, 17 May 1935, 6 Feb 1952, 14 Jan 1953
  • Newland family papers (State Library of South Australia).

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. K. Jenkin, 'Newland, Simpson (Sim) (1835–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Simpson Newland, c1885

Simpson Newland, c1885

State Library of South Australia, B 9587

Life Summary [details]


2 November, 1835
Hanley, Staffordshire, England


27 June, 1925 (aged 89)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death


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