Tuesday, January 30, 2007



The Little Emperor

By George Siamandas

George Simpson the HBC's most distinguished Governor was appointed Gov of all of the HBC's North America operations in June 13, 1839. He was born out of wedlock in 1786 or 1787 in Scotland and was brought up by his aunt. In 1800 he went to London and worked for his uncle whose business brought him into contact with the Hudson Bay Co.

He came to North America in 1820 and first worked in New York and later in Montreal where the HBC was based. Simpson is thought to have been very effective in producing economies and dealing with difficult people. He had strong personalities to deal with after the 1821 merger. A quick study he learned quickly about trade and promoted people based entirely on merit. The men at the bottom however did not fare very well as Simpson's economy measures made the fur trading posts profitable.

George Simpson had very strong observational powers and an interest in proving his physical prowess. Simpson loved travelling though the country and he liked to do so at breakneck speed. For example in 1824 he travelled from Hudson Bay to the Pacific in 84 days, 20 days less than the previous speed record.

In 1830, in his forties, Simpson went back to England to find a bride. He chose his 18-year-old cousin Frances Ramsey Simpson. But he had not been without female companionship in the preceding years. He had taken on many Indian women ("his bit of brown") whom saw only as sexual objects, and which he passed off to other HBC men once he had tired of them. He also fathered numerous illegitimate children both in England and North America, most of whom he ignored.

Between 1830 and 1833 the newly married Simpsons took up residence at Red River. They would have no half-breed women in their house. Frances Simpson had no friends and lived a very lonely life at Fort Garry. In 1832, their first child died and Frances developed a serious disease from which she did not recover. In 1834 they returned to England and Mrs Simpson would never come back.

Simpson had a profound influence not only on the fur trade but also in international relations. He pushed out the Americans in the Pacific and negotiated with the Russians in Alaska. He served the HBC with great ability and with consummate devotion and stands as one of the great business leaders of his day.

In 1841, Simpson despite failing eyesight would literally travel the world in part to check the state of the HBC's operations across North America. Some days they rode 11 hours a day. The trip included the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). In his forty years with the HBC he made a major journey every year often by canoe into the northern wilderness.

Many accounts paint a very negative picture of Simpson as the "Little Emperor." He was a controversial figure, who was sometimes ruthless and sometimes unscrupulous. He left a "Character Book" in which he criticized everyone he came into contact with.

By the time he died in 1860, Simpson was a wealthy man. He left an estate of over 100,000 pounds sterling. His four surviving legitimate children received the bulk of his estate, while his other children got nothing.

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