Memorable Manitobans: Thomas Simpson (1808-1840)
Born at Dingwall, Scotland in 1808, he was educated at King’s College, Aberdeen University. A cousin of George Simpson, he came to Norway House in 1829 as George’s secretary. In 1836 he was appointed by the Hudson’s Bay Company as co-leader of an arctic expedition, with Peter Warren Dease. Over the winter of 1836-1837, he snowshoed from Fort Garry to Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca, a distance of 1,277 miles in 46 marching days. In 1837 the expedition explored the arctic coastline west of the Mackenzie River, then in 1838 journeyed down the Coppermine River.
In December 1839, Simpson set out for Red River from the Boothia Peninsula, making it back over the 1,800 miles in 61 days. He had demonstrated that he was very fit, but over the years of the expedition also that he was extremely conceited. In 1840, he hastened back to England to gain approval for further discoveries, not knowing that the authorization was already on its way. Unwilling to wait for a ship at Hudson Bay, he decided to travel overland by horse through the United States.
According to depositions by James Hargrave, James Bruce, James Flett, and Robert Logan deposited at the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Simpson became increasingly anxious and even deranged during the journey. He died on 15 June 1840, near the Turtle River in present-day North Dakota, with two of his travelling companions shot dead. It seemed to contemporaries a clear case of murder and suicide.
His book Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of America ... during the years 1836-9 was published posthumously by his brother.
Red River District miscellaneous records, B.235/z/3 fos. 549-556, 1M902, PDF pages 696 (Hargrave), 698-702 (Bruce), Flett (704-706), Logan (708-711), Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba.
We thank Cully Gause and Nathan Kramer for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 7 October 2022