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Newland, Simpson (Sim) (1835–1925)

from Advertiser (Adelaide)

The early adventures of Mr. Simpson Newland have long been enshrined in South Australian history, and his death will cause a widespread and personal sense of regret throughout the Commonwealth.

With the death of Mr. Simpson Newland, C.M.G., which occurred at Rua Rua Hospital on Saturday evening, one of the most notable personalities of South Australian history has passed away. He recently underwent an operation, and though this was successful, pneumonia subsequently developed, with fatal results. Mr Newland was more fortunate than many public men, for he lived to see his name enshrined as one that will always live in the annals of the State which he loved so well and for which he did so much.

It was one of his great griefs, however, that he had not lived to see two of the greatest things of all for which he had long striven and to which he had literally devoted his life, come to pass. The one was the building of the North-South railway, and the other was his long cherished dream of the opening of the great Murray port. Whenever these projects eventutate, as they must some day, the tardiness and ineptitude of politicians notwithstanding, they must inevitably be associated with the name of Mr. Simpson Newland.

"Sim" Newland, as he was affectionately known along the Murray and in the Victor Harbor district, was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, on November 2, 1835, and came to South Australia with his father, the Rev. Ridgeway W. Newland, in 1839. Much of the indomitable courage and pertinacity typical of Mr. Newland must have been inherited from his father, for that gentleman, who was a Congregational minister, with many ties in England and good pecuniary prospects, preferred to sacrifice everything for freedon rather than pay the tithes to the Church of England, as he was bound to do, and so with his own family and a party of some 30 immigrants as determined as himself, set sail for South Australia in the ship Sir Charles Forbes, from which they landed at Holdfast Bay on June 7, 1839.

The Rev. Ridgeway Newland was armed with letters of introduction to the Government officials of the day, but realising that there was little prospect for the intrepid band of immigrants to work out their destiny as they desired at the headquarters of the State, he secured passages for them in the little coasting brig, Lord of Hobart, and proceeded to Encounter Bay. Till the end of his long life, Mr. Simpson Newland’s remembrance of the landing at Police Point, where Victor Harbour now stands, was as clear as if it had happened a week before, though he was barely five years old at the time.

It is not surprising that he remembered it, however, for with the other children and the women of the party he was sent on by bullock waggon to the settlement at Encounter Bay, and any who have travelled the road to the Bluff in these days with the comfort of a modern motor car can hardly dream what such a journey must have been under the conditions which prevailed then. Small wonder that the driver contrived to smash a wheel of his clumsy conveyance, and small wonder, too, considering the temptation, that he had got tipsy with the sailors before he started, so that the best he could do was wander off in search of help, and more rum, leaving the terrified women and children alone in the new strange land, where the barking of the mangy dogs about the blacks' camp and the distant shouting and chanting from the same source only coveyed to them some horrible ideas of gruesome cannibal rites in which they imagined themselves and their helpless children as the next victims. The little Simpson Newland himself crept in amid the boughs of a fallen sheoak tree and there cried himself to sleep from utter weariness.

Morning brought relief, however, and the little band of colonists was undismayed by the roughness of their new surroundings, rather thanking God at the instance of their pastor for the promise of fertility, which was visible in the rolling beauty of the rich soil in every direction, save where sheer to the southward stretched the sea, full of rich plunder for the hardy steel-thewed whalers, whose lookout men kept watch unceasingly on old Rosetta Head, the grim Bluff which had stood sentinel there through the ages four-square to the sweeping blasts of the Antartic.

It was among the whalers that Mr. Newland first glimpsed the romance of the life which he afterwards wove into the story of Paving the Way, the delightful history of the early days of Encounter Bay, which he presented in the fascinating form of a novel. There were no schools in those days, and the greater part of his young education was obtained by the young colonist at his mother’s knee. A sound education it was, and one of the high ideals, which remained with him through his long career, and which he never sacrificed for pecuniary gain.

It was to the whalers, however, and the Aborigines of the Encounter Bay tribe that he was indebted for his store of knowledge concerning the early days of settlement, and many a wild yarn he listened to as he watched the Aboriginals tending the fires of the great drying out pots, or heard the story of the giant harpooner’s fight with a bull whale which threatened to drag his boat and all in it to destruction as it churned the water to a smoke of spray and foam with its huge flukes.

Mr Newland’s father combined agricultural and pastoral pursuits with the oversight of the religious needs of the little community, and it was to his friendly interest that much of the good conduct of the blacks of the district may be ascribed. Even the whalers, the majority of whom frankly averred that they cared neither for God nor the devil, respected this good man, and it is sad, indeed, that there should be neither stick nor stone as relic of the little chapel under the desk of which his bones were laid to rest before the general decay of the old structure made it imperative that they should be removed to Victor Harbour for interment.

Simpson Newland was a small lad, with a physique verging on frailty, but in those hardy days it was a case of "kill or cure" for weaklings, and young Newland survived, and his small frame took on an almost unbelievable wiriness and endurance under the rough open-air conditions of the new life. It was these qualities which afterwards accounted in a large measure for his success in life, and those who have read Paving the Way or Blood Tracks in the Bush know well that many of the incidents depicted were those in which he himself was concerned.

As a pioneer squatter none knew better than Simpson Newland of the difficulties of settlement in those wild days, when the danger from bushrangers was scarcely less than that from marauding blacks, and when the traveller literally carried his life in his hands.

When barely out of his teens Mr Newland joined forces with his brother-in-law, Mr Henry Field, and with him went to Sydney. Near Goulbourn they purchased some cattle, and proceeded to drive them overland to Adelaide themselves, a hazardous venture, in which they earned every penny of the handsome profit which their enterprise eventually netted them. Inured to long days in the saddle, and to nights of watchfulness when every gleam in the darkness might mean danger, every crackling twig perhaps denote a naked enemy with his spear poised ready for throwing, or, worse still, the approach of one of those cut-throat gangs of escaped convicts brutalised by the fearful penal system from which they had fled, and ready to wreak vengeance on all better off than themselves, he learned his bush lore as few men have done since.

It was to him, a South Australian, that the first sheep farms on the Darling River owe their existence, for he bought the sheep himself in the New South Wales markets, and, doing his own droving, landed them safe and sound at their destination at Wentworth, where they formed the nucleus of the great Darling stations of today. It may have been that Star, the beautiful and gallant horse of Paving the Way, was the very animal on which Mr Newland himself rode in the 'fifties, when he made his famous trip from Encounter Bay to his station on the Upper Darling, through virgin bush all the way.

He was part owner of the Warloo and Marra stations among others on the Darling and his pastoral interests extended even farther than this, for he was one of the plucky owners who opened up Talyealye, on the Paroo, near the Queensland border. It would be impossible to compute the thousands of miles covered by him in his journeyings across Australia, but his adventures en route were as startling as they were varied.

He often related a tragic story of an incident that happened when he was travelling between Adelaide and Wilcannia. At a stopping place near Pooncarie the horses of a coach bolted, and there was nothing for it but that he and a friend who was with him should jump for their lives. He picked up his injured friend and took him to the hotel. The scene there had remained forever in his memory. There was drinking and foul language, and altogether abominable behaviour in the hotel which made the place like Bedlam. He had never seem anything so vile and low in all his life, and amid all that noise and carousal his friend died.

On another occasion, on his return to his Mount McPherson station, on the Darling, in which two members of the well known New South Wales family of the Chisholms were his partners, he found the river in flood. The country miles back from the Darling was inundated. He was blocked by the water, and he was ten miles from the head station and rations were short, he was compelled to improvise with the body of a spring-dray and some barrels a primitive raft, in which in a day and a half he crossed the flood to the head station.

One of his earliest experiences on the Darling was swimming a small mob of cattle over a billabong from the frontage to the back country. It was a formidable business, as it was necessary to carry the clothes on the head. He managed to get across all right, but Mr Chisholm, after making a start, threw off his clothes and cried out, I cannot make it. Mr Newland shouted to his Aboriginal attendant to save Mr Chisholm. The Aboriginal dived, in, travelled under the water looking like a brown streak, came up under Mr. Chisholm, and helped him ashore. In the same splendid manner he also secured the clothes.

It was the knowledge gained through such an adventurous life which enabled Mr Newland to speak with such certainty and sympathy on behalf of the outback settlers. A man who personally detested the trammels of official life, he offered his services in the House of Assembly for Encounter Bay in 1881 from a sense of public duty, and no man ever served his constituents more faithfully than did Mr. Newland during the three sessions of Parliament in which he held the seat.

He served as Treasurer in the Downer Ministry, 1885-1886, and as chairman of the Select Committee on the Northern Territory did his country signal service. In that capacity he travelled over much of the hitherto unexplored country of the MacDonnell Ranges, and from the first hand knowledge thus gained arose his impassioned advocacy of the North-South railway. He never deviated from his first opinion on this subject, which was that the direct route was the only feasible one.

His published work The Land Grant Railway Across Central Australia to Adelaide to Port Darwin put his views on the matter very clearly. He paid a visit to England in furtherance of this project, which was approved by the Jenkin’s Government, and received the necessary backing, which would have made the railway an accomplished fact years ago, but the Price-Peake Government of the day, after much bitter controversy, turned the project down on his return. As a past president and active member of the Royal Geographical Society, he made many valuable contributions to the knowledge of the geography, not only of his State, but of the Commonwealth in general, and for a large number of years he held the position of president of the South Australian Zoological and Acclimatisation Society, to the literature of which he has contributed extensively. He was one of the few white men who had been able to verify the Aborigines’ assertion that the wild turkeys are in the habit of carrying the young birds on their backs until they are old enough to fend for themselves. On one occasion Mr Newland, while witnessing the hurried flight of a flock of these interesting birds on the Murray, distinctly saw a mother bird ascend in the air with a young turkey firmly ensconced on her back.

He had many trips to England, and on each occasion was the guest of numerous scientific societies which vied with one another in doing honour to the man whose sincere accounts of Australian life had done so much not only to bring his country into public notice abroad, but, also to to explain its difficulties and requirements.

Nor in his intensely practical life had Mr. Newland scorned claims of other arts than literature and at his beautiful home, "The Terrace", Medindie, when he retired on relinquishing his pastoral interests nearly 10 years ago, he possessed many notable examples of the work of Follen Bishop, the English artist, who spent some time in this State. Many of these depicted scenes at Encounter Bay, and the rugged spendour of Rosetta Head must have been a constant reminder to Mr. Newland of the adventurous days he spent there. Mr. Newland averred that in the whaling period Granite Island was covered with timber, sheoaks, and small gums, which were used by the whalers as fuel, and at that time the coast was white with the bones of the whales for several miles.

As an example of the fact that Mr. Newland never allowed his personal intersts to outweight those of his country it may be mentioned that despite his own pastoral interests he was one of the strongest opponents of the Bill which provided for Government payment for squatters’ improvements. Fearless and outspoken he cared little if his utterances made him friends or enemies so long as the cause for which he was working was advanced one iota. Only a few weeks ago, during a conversation in The Advertiser office he expressed his sorrowful conviction of the fact that he should not live to see his dream of a Murray port realised.

Despite his great age his faculties were not in the least impaired, and his alert brain worked as quickly as ever, as many an opponent in a technical argument has found. Although it was more than 50 years since Captain Randall launched his tiny river craft the Mary Ann and sailed her through snags and treacherous shallows to Maiden’s Punt 300 miles beyond Swan Hill in an endeavour to make a connection with the Snowy River Diggings, which were booming at the time, Mr. Newland’s eye kindled as he recounted the daring and initiative of the old river navigational pioneer who, knowing nothing of boat-building, yet carried out his enterprise with the rough logs cut out at Gumeracha and carted to Mannum.

At the meetings of the Northern Territory Association Mr. Newland was always an honored guest. His own retirement from public life was for no selfish personal reason. Rather did he rejoice in the opportunities his freedom gave to advance the claims of the State as a whole instead of those of a constituency. In the councils of the nation Mr. Simpson Newland was respected as the spokesman, not only of the gallant river pioneers, but also of the settlers who have carried the white man’s burden along those lonely tracks where:-

"Out past North of Sydney,
By distance grim with thirst
The white man’s tracks are beaten."

As president of the Northern Territory League he worked unceasingly on their behalf till a few days before his death, urging that the agreement between the Federal and State Government on the matter should be carried out. With Sir Langdon Bonython he was a vice-president of the South Australian branch of the Colonial Institute.

A Companionship of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George was conferred upon him by the King in 1923 in recognition of his unselfish work. He was once president of the Adelaide Hunt Club, and often entertained the members at their meets when he resided in Burnside. He took a great interest in the memorial to Matthew Flinders, and was a member of the finance committee of the fund.

Mr. Newland, who was married in 1872, leaves a widow, formerly Miss Isabella Layton, of Sydney, and three sons: Dr. Henry S. Newland, of Adelaide; Major V. M. Newland, Adelaide, and formerly of Kenya Colony; and Mr. Ralph D. Newland, mining engineer. The late "Phil" Newland, well known as an international cricketer and interstate football captain, and the late Dr. Clive Newland, of Morphett Vale, were sons.

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'Newland, Simpson (Sim) (1835–1925)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/newland-simpson-sim-7828/text25904, accessed 25 November 2017.

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