Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Sydney Simpson (1875–1939)

by Rex T. Prider

This article was published:

Edward Sydney Simpson (1875-1939), mineralogist and geochemist, was born on 11 March 1875 at Woollahra, Sydney, son of Irish-born William Henry Simpson, saddler and later merchant, and his wife Anne Taylor, née Walker, from London. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School, the University of Sydney (B.E. with honours, 1895) and the University of Western Australia (B.Sc. with honours, 1914; D.Sc., 1919). After completing his first degree, he investigated the chemistry of the Russell process at the Rivertree silver mill, New South Wales. In 1896 he worked for the Mount Morgan Gold-Mining Co., Queensland, as assayer, junior engineer and chemist. From 1897 he was mineralogist and assayer with the Geological Survey of Western Australia; in 1922 he became government mineralogist and analyst, controlling the combined health, agricultural and mines laboratories. In London on 26 October 1904 Simpson married Muriel Helen Griffiths, a violinist; they had a daughter and two sons.

Between 1899 and 1905 he helped to establish the Western Australian School of Mines and joined its advisory board (1902-15). During World War I he was a member of the Western Australian State Munitions Committee and a director of the State's 18-pounder Shell Factory (1914-19). In 1921-26 he was a member of the university senate and from 1927 was government representative on the Western Australian committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Simpson supported local societies promoting science, being a founder of the Natural History and Science Society of Western Australia, and of the Royal Society of Western Australia which grew out of it; he was a president of both, as well as of the Chemical Society of Western Australia and of the State branch of the Australian Chemical Institute. In 1929 the local Royal Society awarded him its Kelvin gold medal, and the Royal Society of New South Wales followed in 1934 with award of its (W. B.) Clarke memorial medal. Simpson's interests embraced art, music, archaeology, yachting and motoring. He enjoyed home carpentry and was a Freemason.

His earlier work in Western Australia had involved rocks carrying the chief gold deposits, the exploitation of which had boosted the State's development. Simpson's pioneering work on the highly metasomatized rocks of the Golden Mile and throughout the Eastern Goldfields was of the utmost scientific and industrial importance. Later his ceramic researches preceded the establishment of factories making drain pipes, roofing tiles and white ware.

Perhaps his best-known scientific contributions were in connexion with the rare radioactive minerals of the Pilbara and with the tantalum and beryllium-bearing minerals. Finding his work hampered by the lack of accurate methods for the determination of tantalum and niobium, he devised one which for many years was the standard commercial method. His work was not confined to rare minerals; he was continually adding to knowledge about Western Australian minerals and devoted his doctoral thesis to the broad topic. He published A Key to Mineral Groups, Species and Varieties (1932) and over a hundred learned papers, and he collected and arranged systematically every piece of fresh information on the State's mineralogy that came his way—both published and in the unpublished records of his laboratory.

Simpson intended to write another monograph; the arrangement of his notes was incomplete when he died of coronary thrombosis on 30 August 1939. His will expressed his wish that the manuscript be completed. This was done in 1942 under the supervision of H. Bowley and E. de C. Clarke, using data assembled by Simpson or available at his death, and was published as the three-volume Minerals of Western Australia (1948, 1951 and 1952). Simpson also directed that he be buried in his first wife's grave, in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery. On 15 September 1936 he had married again, to Ruth Blanche Alcock; she survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. S. Simpson, Minerals of Western Australia, preface to vol 1 (Perth, 1948)
  • Early Days (Western Australian Historical Society) , 15 (1929), p 17.

Citation details

Rex T. Prider, 'Simpson, Edward Sydney (1875–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 May 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]


11 March, 1875
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 August, 1939 (aged 64)

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