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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crews, John Branscombe (1815–1905)

by Deirdre Exell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Branscombe Crews (1815-1905), by unknown photographer, 1863-4

John Branscombe Crews (1815-1905), by unknown photographer, 1863-4

Stonnington Library and Information Service, 6201

John Branscombe Crews (1815-1905), politician and businessman, was born at St John's, Newfoundland, the second son of Charles Crews and his wife Mary, née Branscombe. At 3 he went with his family to Newton Abbot, Devon. From his father he learnt the printing trade, a skill he later employed in the Chartist cause. He migrated to Victoria in 1852. After a year with the government printer he became a baker and confectioner for five years and then set up as an auctioneer and estate agent. He took a prominent part in the Land Convention of 1857. Early in 1858 he was returned to the Legislative Assembly at a by-election in St Kilda and soon became a leading spokesman for the democratic 'Convention' group of members. He was defeated at the 1859 election and several times later, but represented St Kilda and South Bourke in 1864-65 and 1868-77. For most of this time he was a follower of (Sir) James McCulloch.

'King' Crews sat on the Prahran Council in 1856-60, 1862-69, 1873-76 and 1884-87; he was the first mayor in 1863 and was said to have had as many retirements as a prima donna. The building of Prahran Town Hall and the division of the city into wards were largely the result of his efforts. He was also captain of the Prahran Fire Brigade and active for twenty years on the Central Board of Health. As president of the Victorian Permanent Building Society in 1866-84 he lost over £4500, although he managed to keep the society from bankruptcy. He was a magistrate, an active Orangeman and a member of the Independent Order of Rechabites and of the Independent Order of Oddfellows; in 1875 he was appointed to the royal commission on friendly societies. He was a prominent Wesleyan and his support of total abstinence was reflected in his interest in several suburban 'coffee-houses' in the 1880s.

Crews married Sarah Weatherdon at Newton Abbot in 1839; they had one daughter. After his wife's death in 1890 he married in 1891 a widow, Sarah Stone of Melbourne. Although reputed to have been charitable and generous he was criticized at times for combining private and public business too keenly. He died at his home in Prahran on 29 September 1905, aged 89, and was buried at St Kilda.

His portrait is at the Prahran Town Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt and W. D. Lilburn (eds), The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne, vol 1 (Melb, 1888)
  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and Its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. B. Cooper, The History of Prahran (Melb, 1913)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1856-59, 1864-65, 1868-77
  • Table Talk, 22 May 1896
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Oct 1905
  • L. C. Duly, Land Selection Acts in Victoria 1859-69 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1959)
  • A. Mitchell, Temperance and the Liquor Question in Late 19th Century Victoria (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1966).

Citation details

Deirdre Exell, 'Crews, John Branscombe (1815–1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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