Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simpson, George

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

SIMPSON, Sir GEORGE (1792–1860), colonist, born at Ross in 1792, was the only son of George Simpson of Lochbroom, Ross-shire. In 1809 he was brought to London, and, after completing his education, entered a merchant's office. In 1820 he emigrated to New York and thence to Montreal, where he entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. To the interests of the company he devoted his whole energy. He passed the winter of 1820 at Athabasca, suffering great privations, but keeping up an active competition with the North-West Company. In 1821 the two rival companies coalesced, and Simpson was made governor of the northern department, later known as Rupert's Land. He was entrusted with the full control of the reorganised Hudson's Bay Company's affairs in Canada, and showed remarkable tact in abating personal jealousies, reconciling conflicting interests, and applying a firm control. In 1827, and again in 1829–30 and 1833–4, he came to England to confer with the directors.

Travelling and exploring in a vast unopened country became part of his ordinary life. Of one of these journeys a good account has been preserved. Starting on 12 July 1828, he traversed the breadth of the continent, running the risks of Indian hostility and facing the dangers of unknown rapids, passed the Rocky Mountains by cañons previously untried, and arrived at Fort Langley on 10 Oct. after a journey of 3,260 miles. He was ‘ever the fastest of travellers in the north’ (MacDonald, Peace River. A Canoe Voyage from Hudson's Bay to Pacific by ... Sir G. Simpson, Ottawa, 1872). He equally encouraged his subordinates in the exploration of the company's great territory; the first results of importance were obtained by the expedition which he organised under Peter Warren Dease and his nephew Thomas Simpson (1808–1840) [q. v.] in 1837, which determined the lie of the arctic coast from the Mackenzie River westward to Point Barrow. He is accused by Thomas Simpson's biographer, Alexander Simpson, of unfairness to his nephew and of throwing difficulties in the way of the later efforts of this expedition (Memoir of Thomas Simpson, pp. 350, 396); but this account must be received with caution. In 1841 he was knighted.

On 3 March 1841 Simpson left Liverpool with a secretary and some officials of the Hudson's Bay Company on an ‘overland’ journey round the world. By way of Halifax and Boston he proceeded to Canada, crossed the Dominion by canoe, and then, after a call at the Sandwich Islands, went across to Siberia and traversed it from east to west, and so through Russia back to England, which he reached after an absence of nineteen months and twenty-six days. He published an account of his travels as ‘A Narrative of a Journey round the World during the Years 1841 and 1842,’ London, 1847, 8vo, 2 vols. A portrait is prefixed.

Simpson gave much assistance to the arctic expeditions of John Rae [q. v.] in 1845 and 1853, and of Anderson and Stewart in 1855.

As administrator of the Hudson's Bay Company he chiefly resided at Lachine, on Lake Saint Louis, and was closely connected with the municipal interests of Montreal as director of the Bank of British North America, and later of the Bank of Montreal. He received the Prince of Wales at Lachine in July 1860. He died there on 7 Sept. following, and was buried at Montreal.

Simpson's work as administrator of the Hudson's Bay Company's territories began when British Columbia was scarcely settled, and was coincident with a growth and progress which entitles him to be considered one of the architects of the present Canadian dominion. He took great interest in the Red River settlement; his experiments in agriculture and farming were original and extensive if not always wise (Ross, Red River Settlement, p. 115 et passim).

Simpson's Falls, on the Peace River, and Cape George Simpson are named after him.

Simpson married, in 1827, Frances Ramsay Simpson (d. 1853), second daughter of Geddes Mackenzie Simpson of Tower Hill and Stamford Hill, London, and left one son and two daughters.

[Morgan's Sketches of Celebrated Canadians; Gent. Mag. 1860, ii. 445; Simpson's Memoir of Thomas Simpson, pp. 78 sqq.; Bryce's Short History of the Canadian People, p. 333.]

C. A. H.