William Simpson (1823-1899)
William Simpson was born in Glasgow in 1823. He had very little formal education, but served an apprenticeship as a lithographer with the engraver David MacFarlane in an architect's office. Two years later he entered a further seven year apprenticeship with the lithographic printers and engravers, Allan & Ferguson. David Allan encouraged his artistic abilities and assigned him to sketch many of Glasgow's old buildings for Robert Stuart's Views and Notices of Glasgow in Former Times (1848).
He attended the Glasgow School of Design from 1845 and sold his first watercolour in 1850. In 1851 he moved to London and worked for the lithographers Day & Son, the leading lithographers of the time. When the Crimean War began in 1854 he was sent to produce on-the-spot sketches for a large illustrated work projected by the publishers Colnaghi & Son.
He arrived at Balaclava in November 1854, and remained with the British Army until the fall of Sebastopol in September 1855. The Seat of War in the East was published in 1855-56, and remains a masterpiece of lithography. These war sketches made Simpson's name, and started him on a long and much-travelled career as artist/correspondent, mainly for the Illustrated London News. For the next 30 years he reported from all over Europe, Asia and America, sketching the great events and personages of the world. Simpson retired in 1885 and devoted the rest of his life to perfecting a collection of sketches of Glasgow, published posthumously as Glasgow in the Forties (1899).
The Mitchell Library holds over 600 of Simpson’s manuscripts, scrapbooks, drawings, sketches and watercolours.
Other notable events that he covered include:
The Magdala Expedition, 1868
The Opening of Suez Canal, 1869
The Marriage and Coronation of Tsar Alexander III of Russia, 1866 and 1881 respectively
The Franco-Prussian War, 1870 - 1871
Schliemann’s excavations of Troy, 1877
Some of his watercolours of Glasgow can be viewed online as part of the SCRAN project. These can be accessed from any Mitchell Library PC, using ‘Crimea Simpson’ as a search term. Please ask library staff for information on how to access SCRAN online.