Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Silas Pearse (1838–1908)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published:

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,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 22 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

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

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

State Library of Western Australia, 007047D

Life Summary [details]


21 May, 1838
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia


30 December, 1908 (aged 70)
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.