Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Pearson (1849–1939)

by J. Fitzpatrick

This article was published:

Joseph Pearson (1849-1939), draper, cyclist and map publisher, was born on 15 July 1849 in Sydney, son of Manchester-born parents Frederick Pearson, cabinetmaker, and his wife Charlotte, née Tongue. After attending Miss O'Connor's school and Fort Street Model School, he worked for George Chisholm & Co., drapers, in 1862-65. Returning to Sydney after employment in Bathurst, he competed in pedestrian events and learned to ride a velocipede or 'bone-shaker' bicycle. On 8 December 1870 he married Eliza Dingwall with Wesleyan forms. In the 1880s he worked as a draper at St Leonards; by 1889 he had opened a men's clothing store in Sydney Arcade, George Street.

In 1882 Pearson visited England and Europe. He had become intensely interested in cycling, and that year joined the Wanderers', a Sydney bicycle club noted for its extensive touring. He won a Sydney-Parramatta road race on an imported penny-farthing and in 1887 rode a solid-tyred model to Melbourne, covering as many as 70 miles (113 km) a day. He began to tally mileages with an odometer, and noted road conditions and accommodation facilities. In six years he covered about 12,000 miles (19,312 km) on penny-farthings. He then had a Speedwell 'safety' bicycle made, and fitted it with pneumatic tyres.

When Pearson toured Britain and the Continent in 1893, he rode some 3500 miles (5633 km). He bought road maps and, inspired by them, vowed to persuade his fellow cyclists 'to take an occasional tour in the country … to get into our wide spaces'. In 1896 he published the Cyclists' Touring Guide of New South Wales, which contained many practical hints. He agitated for the erection of road signs and that year helped to found the New South Wales Cyclists' Touring Union, serving on the executive board.

His early road and touring material provided the basis for the union's two-volume Handbook, and Guide to the Roads of New South Wales (Sydney, 1898), the most detailed guide ever published in Australia. Pearson then compiled and published a series of road maps and guides (mostly with H. E. C. Robinson) which became standard and catered increasingly for the motorist.

A keen hill-climber, he was one of the first cyclists to reach the top of Mount Kosciusko. He was enthusiastic about the State's scenery and advised the government when a tourist bureau was formed in 1905. Although he took up motoring, he continued to cycle until he was 73; he estimated he had ridden 162,000 miles (260,713 km). After retiring from his store, he published Reminiscences Including Cycling Experiences in 1925, and revised it in 1933. He was a keen swimmer and an opera enthusiast. Survived by his wife, two daughters and three sons, Pearson died at his Hunters Hill home on 30 September 1939, and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fitzpatrick, The Bicycle and the Bush (Melb, 1980)
  • Australian Map Curators' Circle, Globe, 13, 1980, p 13
  • Referee (Sydney), 30 Mar 1898, 29 Apr 1903
  • Arrow (Sydney), 16 Jan 1909.

Citation details

J. Fitzpatrick, 'Pearson, Joseph (1849–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 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

Life Summary [details]


15 July, 1849
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 September, 1939 (aged 90)
Hunters Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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