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Peter Simonov (1883–1938)

by Eric Fried

This article was published:

Peter Simonov (1883?-1938?), Russian consul, has an uncertain history. In a statutory declaration in Adelaide in 1915 Petro Simenoff stated that he was born on 10 November 1879 at Selo Asenovo, Bulgaria, where he claimed to have left a wife and son. In 1918, however, he asserted in Brisbane that he was born at Novaya Yablonka (Yablonovka), Saratov, Russia, on 8 June 1883; other records give the Russian calendar date of 21 June 1883. Simonov claimed 'honest working class' origins, elementary schooling and six years of high-school studies at night after leaving home at 11 to work in labouring and clerical jobs. He also claimed to have organized a strike as a non-commissioned officer in the Baku Salianskiy regiment, working on a newspaper and being 'president' for a year of a clerks' and salesmen's union. He was apparently in Japan and politically active in China before coming to Australia. His status as a political exile was disputed by a compatriot who believed Simonov had come to Australia to avoid military service.

He possibly came to Australia in 1911. Simonov declared that he arrived by ship in Adelaide on 15 March 1912 and that he lived in turn at Port Lincoln, Port Augusta and Broken Hill, New South Wales. He appears to have worked seasonally on the Bundaberg and Mourilyan canefields, Queensland. In 1914 the Russian consul in Melbourne refused him 'free' passage to Russia because of his political views. Simonov was naturalized on 24 June 1916. A Bolshevik Maximalist, he spoke fluent if awkward English, worked in 1916-17 as a miner and trucker at Broken Hill and contributed 'thoughtful brightly written' articles to the Barrier Miner as Simens. He joined Labor's Volunteer Army for Home Defence, which opposed conscription, and attracted police attention for his activities with the Industrial Workers of the World.

In 1917 the Union of Russian Emigrants (Russian Association, Brisbane) elected him editor of Rabotchaya 'Jhizn (Workers' Life), a Russian-language newspaper. He later became secretary of the Russian Club in Brisbane and attended meetings of the One Big Union Propaganda League.

Confirmation came from London in February 1918 that Peter Simonov had been appointed consul-general to Australia by the Bolshevik government. The Commonwealth government ignored the appointment although de facto recognition became necessary when visa complications arose over Russians travelling to Vladivostok via Japan. While the Russian community in Australia was divided over the appointment, he had strong support from many Australian left-wing groups, though strongly disliked by some individuals.

By late 1918 Simonov was ignoring section 17 of the Aliens Restriction Order which prohibited addressing of public meetings. Arrested in Sydney under the War Precautions Act 1914-16, he served six months in gaol, having refused to leave the country. The recipient of apparently generous funds from unknown sources, Simonov in 1919 published What is Russia?, which was revised by Arthur Rae; it was banned but widely read. He also published Soviet Russia, 'the official organ of the Russian government', from his Sydney address.

Refusing to recognize the Australian Socialist Party as the counterpart of the Bolsheviks, Simonov with C. Jollie Smith and W. Earsman in September 1920 secretly established the central executive of the Communist Party of Australia, and probably helped to write its Manifesto. The C.P.A. was publicly launched on 31 October 1920 when the provisional executive of eleven members met in Simonov's Sydney office. He wrote for the Australian Communist as 'Peter Finn' and was active in the party until he left Australia for Russia on 28 June 1921. Apparently placed in charge of Comintern activities in British colonies Simonov, who had been closely associated with Trotsky, was arrested in 1938. He is presumed to have been shot.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics (Canb, 1965)
  • A. Davidson, The Communist Party in Australia (Stanford, California, 1969)
  • F. Cain, Political Surveillance in Australia (Syd, 1983)
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 65, part 3, Dec 1979, p 201
  • Herald (Melbourne), 28 Jan 1918
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 29 Jan, 9, 15 Feb 1918
  • E. Fried, Russians in Queensland, 1886-1925 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1980)
  • J. N. Rawling, Communism Comes to Australia (manuscript, no date, Australian National University Archives)
  • P. Simonoff file, in J. N. Rawling collection (Australian National University Archives)
  • naturalisation certificate no 21964, Simenoff file, A1 20/2935 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Eric Fried, 'Simonov, Peter (1883–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 June 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]

Alternative Names
  • Finn, Peter
  • Simenoff, Petro
  • Simens, Peter



1938 (aged ~ 55)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.