Today marks the 160th birthday of one of the oldest legal firms in the country, A W Simpson & Co of Armidale.
A W Simpson was started by Albert Whitby Simpson in Armidale on Monday 23rd November, 1863. As the story goes, he came to Armidale by horse-drawn coach in 1863 on his way north. In those days a coach didn’t travel much over twenty miles per day, and so Simpson stayed overnight in an Armidale hotel. He was approached by a miner from Hillgrove to represent him in the Mining Court the next morning. He agreed to represent the man for a fee of 100 sovereigns (200 sovereigns if he won). He won the case and was asked by the townsfolk to stay and practise, because they did not have a solicitor.
Simpson returned to Armidale to set up practice on Monday 23 November 1863. The newly admitted solicitor was aged 23, and relocated from Maitland to establish his new office (pictured), advertised as being opposite the Wellington Hotel (which may have been the Wellington Inn, now known as Tattersall’s, but it is not known for certain). The current offices in Faulkner Street were believed to have been constructed around a decade later, originally sharing the front office with a Hillgrove Hotel. A significant expansion in 1970 created the current offices.
He was the son of British emigrant Wakefield Simpson, who came from Meadowfield. Albert called his houses “Wakefield” and “Meadowfield” in honour of his father, and those houses remain in Armidale today as part of The Armidale School campus.
He practised in Armidale for 47 years until his death on 14th July 1910, aged 71. Although he did not marry until he was 32, he and his wife, Emily Susannah Simpson (nee Bedwell, the niece of a solicitor in Tamworth) had 11 children: six sons and five daughters.
After A W Simpson died in 1910, his eldest son Arthur Wakefield (Jack) Simpson carried on the practice, joined by their seventh child Eustace Simpson (1884-1953) after Word War 1, In which they both served. Amongst other things, Eustace Simpson was active in founding The University of New England and there is a conference room in his memory at the Dixson Library at the University. Neither Jack nor Eustace Simpson married.
A school friend of Eustace, John Lorimer Gibson Johnstone was admitted as a Solicitor on 21st November, 1919 after service in World War I as a Captain. He later became a Brigadier and was known as “JLG”. He became a partner in the firm and served for 43 years before retiring in 1962.
The firm was then carried on by the nephew and son of JLG Johnstone. Nephew Tom began working in the firm as a clerk in 1925, while son Paul joined in 1939. Both were admitted as solicitors in the mid 1940’s after serving in World War II, and retired in the 80’s. Paul was actively involved in TAS and NERAM in particular, and it is said there are many iconic buildings as well as Legacy House, Autumn Lodge Retirement Village, and the New England Regional Art Museum, that would not exist without his efforts.
Tom Johnstone’s son Ian was the next generation to join the firm in 1963, retiring in 2003. Judith Housego was the first female partner of the firm in 1985.
All seven Simpson and Johnstone partners practiced at the firm for more than 35 years. Current Principal, David White, joined the firm in 1987 and became a partner the following year, and marked his own 35 years of service milestone on 1 July this year.
Congratulations to all the staff and alumni of A W Simpson and Co, may you continue serving the people of the New England area for many years to come.