Convocation of UWA Graduates

First UWA Graduate

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Over the period 2011 to 2013, UWA had a number of opportunities to celebrate the centenary of its establishment. During 2011, we were able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the University’s legal creation exactly 100 years after the University of Western Australia Act received the Governor’s assent on 16 February 1911.

The centenary of the appointment of the first members of the Senate occurred on 13 February 2012, and the centenary of the first meeting of the Senate was reached on 13 March 2012.

On the 4th March 2013, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of Convocation and on 31st March 2013, we commemorated the centenary of the commencement of the first student classes at UWA.

While many believe the festivities were then over, 2014 marked the centenary of another very significant event – the graduation of the first ever UWA student - Edward Sydney Simpson.

Simpson, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology (for which he attained First Class Honours) was awarded his degree in a ceremony conducted in the Ballroom of Government House on 29th July 1914.

Edward Simpson 2

For a mineral-rich State, he is the “first graduate from central casting” given that during his career he was the Chief Chemist to the WA Mines Department and later Government Mineralogist and Analyst. As well as making a substantial contribution to the scientific literature, including the ground-breaking “Minerals of Western Australia”, he took on an extensive number of voluntary leadership roles, including an appointment as a member of the UWA Senate, and he was a key player in the development of many of WA’s scientific institutions.

Based on the excellent research undertaken by Jenny Bevan from UWA’s School of Earth and Environment, we now know far more about Edward Simpson and his studies at UWA. He was born in Woollahra, a suburb of Sydney, on 11th March 1875 into a reasonably well-to-do household. An outstanding student at the Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, he won numerous prizes and scholarships, and graduated in 1895 with a Bachelor of Engineering (with Honours) in mining and metallurgy.

His first appointment was as a research chemist at the Russell Silver Mine in New South Wales and then as an Assayer at the Mt Morgan Gold Mine in Queensland.

In 1897, when only 22 years of age, he was offered the position of Mineralogist and Assayer and Chief Chemist in the WA Mines Department, at a salary of £350 per annum. After seven years in these roles, during 1904 Simpson departed on a world tour during which he married Muriel Griffiths in London, and together they returned to reside in Perth in January 1905. Over the years, they had a daughter and two sons and subsequently a number of grandchildren.

By 1913, Simpson had been working in responsible positions for almost 18 years and because of his obvious potential, he was encouraged by his colleagues to undertaken a BSc Geology degree at the new University. At nearly 38 years of age, Simpson would have been amongst the oldest of the 184 new students in 1913.

Because of the credits he obtained for the geological units he had completed in his Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Sydney, Edward Simpson was able to complete his Bachelor of Science in geology with First Class Honours in 1914. In doing so, he became the first ever student to obtain a degree from UWA. In 1917, he applied for admission to the degree of Doctor of Science and was awarded his DSc in 1919 for his geological thesis “The Minerals of Western Australia”. Again, he was the first student to earn a Doctorate of Science at UWA.

In 1922, the Geological Survey Laboratory was amalgamated with the Government Chemical Laboratory and Simpson, now in his late forties, was promoted to Government Mineralogist and Analyst in charge of the combined health, mineral and agricultural laboratories.

During this period, he and his family lived on the foreshore in South Perth and he travelled to work by ferry each day. Sadly, in 1934, his wife Muriel died (aged only 59) and in the September of 1936 he married his second wife, Ruth Alcock.

Over his lifetime, he devoted himself to the service of the State and the Commonwealth, specialising in mineralogy and geochemistry (but including positions such as director of the State's 18-pounder Shell Factory during World War I). He described and named a number of minerals new to science and wrote over a hundred learned papers and monographs as well as reference books like his 1932 “A Key to Mineral Groups, Species and Varieties” and “Minerals of Western Australia” (published posthumously). To honour him for his researches into minerals, a new mineral first discovered in the Pilbara was named after him (Simpsonite).

Prior to his death (of a heart attack) on 30th August 1939, at the age of 64, he was accorded many honours. His legacy includes his invaluable three-volume “Minerals of Western Australia”, still the main source of information on minerals in our State; the Edward Sydney Simpson Prize, awarded annually to the best third year student in mineralogy at UWA; and the Simpson Collection of 5,500 geological samples he collected during his lifetime, still available for reference at the WA Museum.