Letter from Dr Stephen Simpson

  • Donor
    Mr Thomas Bradley QC
  • Object date
    November 25th, 1841
  • Donation date
    November 1st, 2012
Page two of the letter
Click here to download a transcript, or here to view catalogue record.


This two-page letter is dated 25 November 1841 and was penned by one of Queensland's first legal officers.  It was donated to the Library by Mr Thomas Bradley QC.  The letter, written by Dr Stephen Simpson to his sister-in-law in England, describes life in the new Moreton Bay colony and offers a fascinating and unique insight into early Queensland history.

Bradley, a Brisbane barrister and avid collector of rare stamps, came across the letter in a London auction catalogue of rare coins, stamps and postmarks.  Realising its historical significance, Bradley bought the letter and returned it to Brisbane.  In November 2012, Bradley formally handed the letter to The Hon Paul de Jersey, Chief Justice of Queensland. The letter is one of many rare legal heritage items that have been donated to the Centre. 

The letter provides a rare insight into life at the colony in the early 1840s.  Dr Simpson writes of the tragic passing of his wife and infant daughter shortly after their emigration to Sydney, and how, as acting Colonial Surgeon, he planned to erect a private hospital and medical store in Brisbane – a plan which came to fruition in 1848.  Dr Simpson describes life in the colony as “toiling like slaves and living like savages” and insists that he has been “living the whole time in a way that you in England can form no idea.”  He also talks about having to go about armed with "a brace of pistols and broadsword for the Natives have been very troublesome of late".

Though never a lawyer, in 1842 Dr Simpson was appointed the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Acting Police Magistrate for the Moreton Bay District when it first opened for free settlement, making him one of Queensland’s first legal officers.  Dr Simpson's appointment as Police Magistrate was temporary pending the arrival of Lt John Clement Wickham, who took up his post in January 1843.

Dr Simpson held a number of government positions over the next decade, including being appointed a returning officer in the 1851 elections and a Police Magistrate for the Moreton district in 1853.  He retired in 1855 and was appointed a life member of the first Legislative Council in May 1860.

The historical Queensland landmark Wolston House at Wacol was built for Dr Stephen Simpson in 1852 when he was appointed Moreton Bay's first Commissioner for Crown Lands.


Dr Stephen Simpson (1793 – 1869)

  • Dr Simpson qualified as a medical doctor in the 1810s and travelled Europe as the personal physician for a Russian noble family.
  • His “A Practical View of Homeopathy: Being an Address to British Practitioners” published in 1836, was one of the earliest English books on the subject of homeopathy.  However, it was not received well in England.
  • In 1838, Dr Simpson married Sophia Anne Simpson, a relation to whom he had been engaged for twenty years.
  • Four months after arriving in Sydney in 1840 on the Wilmot, Dr Simpson’s daughter died in infancy and his wife died a week later.
  • Dr Simpson then relocated to the Moreton Bay colony in July 1840, where he was appointed Acting Colonial Surgeon in the absence of Dr David Ballow in May 1981.
  • It is possible that Dr Simpson wrote the letter in his cottage on the Brisbane River bank behind what is now Customs House.
  • When the Moreton Bay District was declared an open settlement in 1842, Dr Simpson was appointed the first Commissioner of Crown Lands and Acting Police Magistrate (pending the arrival of Lt Wickham).
  • Retiring from public life in 1855, Dr Simpson was then appointed the Police Magistrate for Ipswich.
  • Dr Simpson returned to England in December 1860, and remained there until his death in 1869.