Sunday, 4 June 2017

Edward Simpson 1809 - 1877 : Reflections on an Emigrant and Colonist

Edward & Lucy Simpson,
Nicholas Brothers Photo, Otago, NZ
(Possibly taken in Dec 1872 when the
Nicholas Brothers visited Riverton)
[From my own collection]

On the 29th August 1861 no less than ten adult members of the Simpson family from Stowmarket in Suffolk England, led by Edward Simpson Snr, the patriarch of the family and his wife Lucy née Hopson, embarked 'en masse' on the sailing vessel 'Chile' from London Docks bound for Port Chalmers Otago in the South Island of New Zealand.

This blog attempts to tell not only something of the story of Edward Simpson Snr., my Gt. Gt. Grandfather, his early life, his story of emigration, and of his building a new life in Riverton on the southern coast of New Zealand but also something of his views on his life in New Zealand, colonial matters, and on colonization. These have been gleaned from a quite unique collection of surviving correspondence and show Edward to be an insightful man but also very much 'to the point' and not afraid of voicing his opinions.

But firstly, who was Edward Simpson? We know a little of his early life. We note his birth on the 31st May 1809 at Stowmarket in Suffolk, England, being the son of Edward Simpson Snr., an Innkeeper of Stowmarket, and Susan Bridgman. His father is noted as having been declared bankrupt on the 26th December 1795 so the family were probably never well off.

His obituary is the only record that in his early days he had been a cabin boy, working under the auspices of his Uncle, the Captain of an East-Indiaman, who appears to have taken the young Edward under his wing. Of this Uncle or of the voyages made I, as yet, know nothing. The East India Company were, at this time, trading around India and the Far East and this would have opened up the young Edward's eyes to the world as well as giving him an early and very practical education. Cabin boys were typically engaged when aged 14 to 16 years and would slowly learn the ways of seafaring life, many advancing on to becoming qualified seafarers.

But by 1831, and at age 22, Edward had returned to Stowmarket in Suffolk, evidently keen to settle down. Here, on the 10th July 1831, he married Lucy Pleasance Hopson, also of Stowmarket. Having, with his wife fourteen children, it would appear that Edward was very much a family man and this may have influenced his desire to leave the nomadic seafaring life and settle down with a wife and bring up a family. Lucy's Father John Hopson was a stonemason and Edward may have learnt his trade under him as I note the two were in business together for some years. But Edward would also enter the stonemasonry trade in his own right, setting up a stonemasons business around 1833.

The picturesque Simpson Family Home adjoining the
Stonemason's business at 5 Ipswich Road, Stowmarket.
Note the yard with an array of carved tombstones.
[Source : Humphries Family, England]

Edward and Lucy resided at 5 Ipswich Road in Stowmarket, the business adjoining their home. The photo above shows the house and yard stacked with gravestones after the turn of the 20th century when it was being run by a grandson, George Simpson. Three of Edward's sons (including my Gt. Grandfather) also became stonemasons, presumably being apprenticed to their father in the business.

By 1861 Edward, along with his wife, five sons, two daughters, and a daughter in law, had made the momentous decision to emigrate half way around the world to New Zealand.

Edward Simpson giving notice that he is handing over
his business to his son John Simpson, an advertisement
"The Ipswich Journal" of 5th Oct 1861.

The family stonemasons business in Stowmarket would continue under Edward's son John. With the future of the business secure, we can only surmise that Edward's family saw, as many emigrants of their time did, that greater opportunities for advancement lay elsewhere, in this case half way around the world in New Zealand.

Edward himself was then 52 years of age and now joined his family as they sought out a new life in the colonies. Adventure and the world that lay beyond England was already nothing new to Edward. No doubt feeling that he was not yet too old to start a new adventure in life and, along with his wife, desirous of accompanying so many of their family abroad and seeing them settled, it would appear that Edward willingly left the comfortable life that he knew. This meant leaving behind family and friends but they would not be forgotten for Edward was a prodigious letter writer, remaining in regular contact with his adult children and grandchildren back home and giving them a less than gentle reprimand when they did not respond in a like manner.

But why emigrate to New Zealand? The Otago Provincial Government were at this time proactively seeking skilled immigrants and offered a paid passage and indentured employment by means of a "Promissory Note", the cost of the passage to be repaid from their employment with the Government. This would provide settlers with some measure of surety. And in any case, few could afford the fourteen pound per person fare. That the Simpson family were still not particularly well off is confirmed by their availing themselves of this arrangement, even if this meant travelling by "no frills" steerage class on the three month voyage out.

The Simpson Family with Edward and Lucy in front
centre, taken in Stowmarket, Suffolk, England, 1861
[Source : Humphries Family, England]

On the 29th August 1861 the Simpson family departed London docks on the sailing vessel "Chile" bound for Port Chalmers New Zealand, arriving safely on the 10th December 1861. While Edward kept a diary of the voyage out he makes no mournful entries upon their departure from English shores, appears to be attentive to all goings on, and despite the tedium is in good spirits. In a letter dated 1876 Edward writes that sea travel was not so bad, in fact more comfortable than a tiring railway journey.

As it would turn out, only Edward was able to repay some of his debt to the Provincial Government with his children repaying none of theirs. This was, apparently, not an unusual occurrence as the Provincial Government were not always able to provide suitable work or to pay wages that were equivalent to that which could be derived from private employment.

So what employment did the Provincial Government provide? The obituary for his son Edward confirms that, along with his father, both remained in Dunedin for a year, being engaged in surveying land at St. Kilda, purportedly naming streets after places in Suffolk. This would be from their arrival in December 1861. But curiously, we find in December 1862 a reference to "[stone] Blocks from Waikava, by Mr E. Simpson" mentioned in a report to the planning committee for the Industrial Exhibition to be held at Dunedin. It is known that his son Charles, also a stonemason, had been at Waikava [now known as Waikawa], where his first wife Emma died in July 1862 [Link Here]. So, Charles must have gone on first, to be joined later by his father, perhaps after Emma's death.

But by the end of 1862 the Simpson family, including Edward Snr. and his wife, had taken a coastal sailing vessel down to Riverton in Southland, being a trading and fishing port, and former whaling station. It was no doubt Edward's daughter Ellen marrying and settling in Riverton in September 1862 that enticed the family to settle here. The first published reference to Edward being resident here is in April 1863.

Simpson family research indicates that Edward did not own land until 1869 when he is listed as freehold owner of a section but is yet to build on it. In June 1871 he writes disparagingly that, “I feel there is no longer hope for a house for me and nine in New Zealand I have for a long period been writing and leading my family and connections to expect something.”

Cliff Cottage, Riverton,
The Home of Edward Simpson Snr.
[From my own collection]

But his luck would soon turn and it would not be long before he would finally build his own home, "Cliff Cottage" on Brook street at South Riverton overlooking Jacobs [now Aparima] River with a good view of the ferry operated by his son Charles across to the main township of Riverton. This would be around 1872 -73 when his name appears in the Burgess Roll. The house survives above the bowling green but has been much altered.

On the 28th June 1871 a proclamation was issued creating the township of Riverton and South Riverton as a municipality. This now created the necessity of compiling a citizens list with Edward Simpson Snr. being asked to look after the revision of the list, his role being to "hear and determine the claims of the Citizens thereof to be inserted in such List and the objections of such citizens to any other Citizen having his name retained thereon."

Edward's abilities and desire to serve his community were obviously noted. In March 1872 his appointment as Clerk to the Resident Magistrate in Riverton was confirmed; "It is notified in the New Zealand Gazette of the 14th inst. That Mr Edward Simpson has been appointed by His Excellency the Governor to be the Clerk of the Resident Magistrate’s Court at Riverton." From September 1874 to July 1875 he was also the Town Surveyor for Riverton, only giving this up due to ill health.

Edward Simpson, a self portrait
 [Source : Humphries Family, England]

So, what thoughts did Edward have on his new life in New Zealand? Surprisingly, some of Edward's correspondence has survived, both in New Zealand and with family descendants in England. Edward often corresponded with Theophilus Daniel, a prominent Riverton settler (and later Mayor of Riverton), member of the Southland Provincial Council and Wallace Member for the House of Representatives when the latter was away on council business. These letters are very useful as they relate not only to events happening in Riverton but also show how Edward, an educated and wordly man, could freely express and discuss opinions and ideas that he might not have so readily expressed to family members. Latterly, Edward also made known his opinions in the local press, writing under the non-de-plume "Excelsior".

In 1866 Edward makes mention of how he had, at one time, desired to return home, the local economic situation obviously being a factor; "I seemed to have a strong desire to return at one time, I dreamed that my wish was accomplished and I was in England, what with change of circumstances and faces, I felt anxious to get back to New Zealand again – and felt when I awoke as tho’ I was thankful that I was not out of it. I looked upon it as a warning from providence and it seemed to satisfy me that my duty was to wait “His time” and not be uneasy. I was surprised at the change in myself and feelings, there may be changes here that may benefit us a little, it is evident that people are not satisfied with things as they are and if a change come it may come quickly; Colonial changes generally do." [To his Daughter Lucy, 19th Nov 1866]

In 1869, Edward still appears somewhat unsettled; "I should like very well to look round and see you all – but cannot see how at present but strange things happen sometimes and we cannot tell how we may be led by providence now where we may be called to end our days. I do not feel settled here but I believe that people would be as much surprised to see me move from here as they were at home to see me leave England." [To his Daughter Lucy, 29th August 1869]

In the same letter Edward does however allude to his active support of political matters. In 1861 Southland had separated from Otago to form a self-governing Province in its own right and he holds the firm belief that, economically, this had been a mistake;  

"I am not quite certain that I should have stopped here so contented as I have, had I now been taking an active part in endeavouring to bring about a change, and I seem to hope that there is now a fair prospect of our being reunited with Otago. A separation took place the April previous to our landing in New Zealand. Certainly no province ever had a fairer chance or better prospects and prosperity brought extravagance and its consequences are ruin and depression. We have drove the parties from power. What may be the result hereafter I cannot say and it cannot well be worse than it has been. We certainly anticipate improvement in this district and hope we may not be disappointed. It is hard when you have expended money hard earned to see your little property through mis government reduced to one third of its cost in value or less than that even – but such have been our case – we think sometimes we were wrong in coming here but cannot tell – seem to have had a call to do all that I can in aiding the change – believe that my labours have told and acknowledged as useful. I trust that what I have wrote or spoken have been in humble dependence and that if it was right he will add his blessing to my labours."  [To his Daughter Lucy, 29th August 1869]

Construction of the Jacob's River Bridge in 1874 which joined
South Riverton to the main township. Edward Simpson Snr.
lived at Cliff Cottage which appears left centre up the hill
[Source : Records of Early Riverton and District]

Here Edward spells out his dislike of corruption and dishonesty, being prompted by discrepancies in entries in the Electoral Rolls within the Jacob's River District and elsewhere whereby deceased persons were being retained on the roll in an attempt to gain greater importance and representation;

"I wish to be known as a foe to corruption and abuse in every form (if known at all) and that wherever it shall be found it may always count on me as its enemy. I hope yet to see the time when a purer and better system shall prevail, equitable laws justly carried out; and men that enforce them shall in their own persons and acts set an example of obedience." [Letter to "The Southland Times", 15th Feb 1869]     

Edward's blunt opinions and desire to effect change clearly comes through in letters to his friend Theophilus Daniel, this being a good example; 

"...I felt annoyed and vexed afterwards to find that there had been no enquiry and that George Cassels had the petition title, I was able to go for it. I am truly sorry to see so much indifference it argues bad for our cause, what men are made of I cannot tell - but indifference to their own interests (except the pocket) seem to prevail to an almost incredible extent and as to the future, it must provide for itselfMr P told me this morning he had ‘withdrawn from all night meetings and committees and found the less he did the better he was respected’ – will it always be so??" [To Theophilus Daniel, 7th May 1875] 

“I hardly supposed you would have shown my letters to his Honour but as such letters are simply the reflex of the mind they are at least honest and not studied to fit or please anyone.  If I think it I speak or write it and if I don’t I won’t.” [To Theophilus Daniel, 23rd May 1875] 

On the subject of immigration and new settlements we also have some very interesting insights; 

"There is some country not far from here well suited to shipbuilders – good timber – convenience and a demand for shipping of the right sort – there is an Ordnance just passed to establish two special Settlements on the west coast in the Province of Otago – one of them about sixty miles from here “Preservation Inlet” 100,000 acres of land has been voted and part to be given to first settlers and all the remainder sold for the special benefit of the Settlement as a start for the [?] If I was young and strong I would like such a beginning and would go – but I now begin to tumble about on rough ground and cannot see wet from dry after dark. I am little fitted for a new country but still would have a better idea how to proceed than any newcomer." [To his Daughter Lucy, 29th August 1869]

Edward expands on his belief in new colonial settlements and the best way this should be effected;

"How Shall We Increase Our Population? Immigration is the peg on which we hang all our hopes for the future, and the earliest pages of history point to that which has ever been the most successful mode of civilization, viz., by going forth in bands under and acknowledged leader, with some coherent bond or chain to keep them together; and what stronger tie than Christian love can bind man to man... Shall I remind you of the Pilgrim Fathers in Massachusetts, or the Catholics who settled in the more Southern States of America; the Mormons at Salt Lake, the Presbyterians in Otago; the English at Canterbury [N.Z.],... Why then should we not have here our Independent Congregational Societies, Baptist, Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, or even Temperance settlements...This, then, is the agency that would be most successful with us, holding together those of kindred spirit. You would in this way get the best kind of immigrant at the least possible expense - the most permanent settler, and a larger share of the middle class. Are the Government prepared to encourage this system?" [From an undated letter found among his papers after his death].

From these quite remarkable insights we can gain an impression of someone who believed his opinions to be useful and that he could bring about a measure of change where needed. He was, however, exceedingly loving and gentle in letters to his family. His strong religious beliefs also come though in both his letters to his family and his obituary which notes "the strict honour and probity [strong moral principles, honesty and decency] in which he trained his sons". As his own Father wrote in a poem addressed to him in 1814 [Also read his name downwards in the highlighted letters]:

Each father’s care by nature’s claim do bind,
Direct us to implant in their young mind;
While they are young, you may affect with ease,
Attune them, and direct which way you please.
Regard, dear boy, your father’s firm request,
Displease not God, but firmly on Him rest.
Such is my wish that you may be His care,
In every change may you His blessing share;
Mind well the steady path that leads to life,
Pass on in honest ease and shun all strife.
Sincere to all as you to manhood rise,
Observe you serve your God as your grand prize;
Neglecting prayer to God you’ll be despised.

In Memoriam Card for Edward Simpson Snr.
[From my own collection]

Edward Simpson Snr. died at "Cliff Cottage" Riverton on the 8th October 1877, being in his 69th year and leaving an estate of £575. [around NZD$98,000 in today's values]. He is buried, with other family members, in the Riverton Cemetery under a recumbent sandstone gravestone fittingly carved and sent out by his son in Stowmarket. 

Copyright : Unless otherwise stated, all images are from my own personal collection but may be freely copied for academic and non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged. Commercial reproduction is prohibited without my specific written approval.

Sources :

- Personal papers and photographs (held by the writer)
- Humphries family, England
- Papers Past [National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa]
- British Newspaper Archive
- Simpson Family History, compiled by Rebecca Amundsen, 2006
- "Records of Early Riverton and District", 1937 (1971 reprint) [From my own collection]


  1. Very interesting. Edward and Lucy Simpson were my three greats grandparents.

    1. Glad you found this of personal interest Ian.


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