Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Simpson (1805–1891)

by Marjorie Findlay

This article was published:

Alfred Simpson (1805-1891), iron and tin manufacturer, was born on 29 August 1805 in London, son of John Simpson, gentleman, and his wife Anne, née Salter. Apprenticed in 1820 as a tin-plate worker he also found time to study science and chemistry. He was admitted to the Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers and in 1829 became a Freeman of the City of London. After joining his brother in a tailoring firm as traveller he set up as a hatter. On 21 June 1838 he married Sarah Neighbour.

The prosperity of Simpson's business was checked by a fire and the depression following the collapse of the railway boom, and he and his family were forced to migrate. They sailed in the John Woodhall for Melbourne but disembarked at Port Adelaide on 17 January 1849. After several unsuccessful business ventures and having twice visited the goldfields while Sarah gave piano lessons, in 1853 he turned to tinsmithing, making pots and pans and supplying cans for the Glen Ewin jam factory. In 1862 he leased premises in Gawler Place, Adelaide, which later were rebuilt.

Simpson was an innovator and introduced labour-saving machinery and new products such as fire-proof safes, bedsteads, japanned ware, colonial ovens and gas stoves. He was one of the first members of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures. Of a retiring disposition, he was esteemed for his commercial ability and consideration to employees. Survived by two of his three children, he died on 23 September 1891 and was buried in the West Terrace cemetery. A memorial window to him and his wife (d.1874) was installed in the Unitarian Church in Wakefield Street.

His son, Alfred Muller (1843-1917), was born on 4 April 1843 in London. Educated at Martin's Academy in Pirie Street, Adelaide, he learnt drawing at Mrs Hill's School of Arts in 1861 and in the same year joined the Volunteer Corps. Beginning his apprenticeship in 1857 in his father's firm, he became a partner in 1864. On 18 October 1871 he married Catherine Allen.

Simpson was an enterprising businessman with an eye for advanced mechanical techniques. At the 1878 Paris exhibition he bought from the American, E. W. Bliss, a double-action press. He was interested in the welfare of his employees and in 1872 was on a commission inquiring into legislation for the regulation of shops and factories and improvement of working conditions. Under him the firm continued to expand and prosper, in 1901 pioneering the manufacture of enamelware in Australia. Prominent in business and civic affairs, he was a promoter and director of the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway Co. from its formation in 1876 and was also associated with the Port Adelaide Dock, the Commercial Wharf and the South Australian Gas companies. He was a member of the State Board of Conciliation from 1895, president of the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia in 1898-99, and a trustee of the State Bank of South Australia from 1902. As a member of the Legislative Council for Central District in 1887-94, he was known for his forthright speeches in favour of tariff protection and against payment for members of the council. His own parliamentary salary went to provide a shooting prize for the defence forces, first awarded in 1890 and still contested.

Of wide interests, Simpson held a St John Ambulance certificate and sponsored chess exhibitions; he was a prominent Freemason and a strong supporter of the Unitarian Church. His private benefactions included support for Kalyra Consumption Sanatorium, and the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institute. He presented to the Adelaide City Council Chambers the stained glass windows commemorating the coronation of King Edward VII. After the death of his first wife in 1887, he married Violet Laura Sheridan on 23 August 1888. He died of cancer on 28 September 1917 survived by two sons and three daughters. His estate was sworn for probate in Adelaide at £207,000, in Victoria at £19,561 and in New South Wales at £3106.

Select Bibliography

  • Simpson & Son Ltd, ‘To-Day Not To-Morrow’: A Century of Progress (Adel, 1954)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1868-69, 3 (125)
  • Register (Adelaide), 24, 26 Sept 1891
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Sept 1891
  • letters received by A. M. Simpson, and papers of A. M. and A. Simpson, and Sarah Simpson diaries (State Records of South Australia)
  • newspaper cuttings relating to South Australian churches, vol 1 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Marjorie Findlay, 'Simpson, Alfred (1805–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 August, 1805
London, Middlesex, England


23 September, 1891 (aged 86)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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