Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henry Timperley (1833–1909)

by Rica Erickson

This article was published:

William Henry Timperley (1833-1909), policeman and civil servant, was born on 22 May 1833 at Solihull, Warwickshire, England, son of William Thomas Timperley, who was ordained in the Church of England about 1842, and his wife Elizabeth, née Bradney. William was educated at Shrewsbury School, and when his father became British chaplain at Berne, Switzerland, he enrolled in the philosophical faculty of the Berner Hochschule in 1850.

Next year Timperley arrived in Western Australia with his brother, father and a Mrs Pennefather, whose presence caused scandal. In the 1850s he joined the police force, and on 2 November 1858 when sergeant at Bunbury he married Rebecca, daughter of Charles Properjohn, a butcher. He was promoted to sub-inspector in 1860 and inspector in 1870. During a tour of duty at Champion Bay in 1877 he became foundation master of the Geraldton Masonic Lodge (in 1903 he was a past senior grand warden of the Grand Lodge of Western Australia). After lengthy leave in England he returned to Western Australia in the Glengoil on 11 October 1884.

In August next year Timperley was appointed superintendent of the native prison on Rottnest Island and took up duty in July 1886. Life on the island was busy but isolated; visitors needed a pass. The only communication was a daily heliograph message and a weekly boat bringing mail, stores and passengers. The governor took his holidays on the island and Timperley supervised arrangements for viceregal shooting parties. Improving conditions for prisoners, who supported themselves by a farm, he planted an experimental grove of pines and directed construction of subterranean tanks to augment inadequate rain-water. In 1890-1905 he was resident magistrate and electoral registrar for the Wellington, Blackwood and Sussex districts. Until 1901 he was also sub-collector for customs and revenue at Bunbury. On retirement to South Perth in June 1905 he was awarded the Imperial Service Order.

Timperley was described by Lady Broome as a genial man of imposing appearance 'six feet (183 cm) high, broad-shouldered and straight as a life guardsman, blue-eyed … with white hair and a beard which looked almost ridiculous on such a young fresh merry face'. Fascinated by his stories, she persuaded him to write Harry Treverton …, virtually an autobiography which she edited. He enjoyed his prestige as an author and subsequently wrote Bush Luck. Both were serialized in the Boys' Own Paper from 1887 to 1890 and later were published in London (1889 and 1892) in book form. An accomplished violinist and singer, he often performed publicly; he was a prominent lay reader in the Church of England. He died of a stroke at South Perth on 11 August 1909 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery, survived by his wife and seven of their ten children. His estate was sworn for probate at £6763.

Select Bibliography

  • P. W. H. Thiel & Co., Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • N. R. Collins and H. C. Foster, Golden Jubilee History, 1900-1950: Grand Lodge of Western Australia (Perth, 1950)
  • West Australian, 12 Aug 1909
  • L. C. Timperley, Notes on Rottnest Island (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Synod reports 1902-04 (Perth Diocesan Registry)
  • CSO 1720/04 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Rica Erickson, 'Timperley, William Henry (1833–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 May 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]


22 May, 1833
Solihull, Warwickshire, England


11 August, 1909 (aged 76)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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