Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crick, William Patrick (Paddy) (1862–1908)

by Martha Rutledge and Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

William Patrick (Paddy) Crick (1862-1908), solicitor and politician, was born on 10 February 1862 at Truro, South Australia, son of English-born William Crick, labourer later farmer, and his Irish wife Margaret, née Mungovern. About 1868 the family moved into western New South Wales, finally settling at Spicer's Creek near Wellington. Crick went to school at St Stanislaus College, Bathurst. Articled to R. J. Ryan in Dubbo in 1881, he continued in Sydney with Thomas Slattery and Louis Heydon in 1884 and next year with J. A. Cahill. In 1886 he was with H. Dawson and was admitted as a solicitor on 13 November. On 30 June 1890 at St Francis Catholic Church, Paddington, he married Mary Catherine Kelly. They separated in 1892 and had no children.

Paddy Crick grew into a stocky man with dark curly hair; he looked and moved like a middle-weight boxer and was handy with his fists, easily provoked. He belonged to the group of country Irish-Catholics who, sometimes with reason, saw themselves as even more deprived than the rest of the rural poor—though the Cricks became well off selectors. Crick's vision of himself as a grudgeful champion of his tribe was sharpened from the mid-1880s by his addiction to whisky. Sober, he spoke cogently and convincingly but without delicacy of language or grace of expression; drunk, he bellowed—either way he dominated the Police Courts, where he developed a lucrative practice. His outstanding intellectual gifts enabled him to perceive the law as more than a source of income, and to master the rules and procedures of parliament and comprehend their relationship to the constitution. But his talents did not modify his judgment that society was antagonistic to 'his people' and needed reform.

Colonial politics reflected the forms of social and economic power generated by free trade. Crick recognized the potential for change through parliament; he failed in election bids in 1887. In 1885 with another outsider, more tolerant, Edward O'Sullivan, he founded the Land and Industrial Alliance, aiming to combine, through protection, country selectors and city workers in political action; their hopes proved vain. In February 1889 he won the seat of West Macquarie as an independent protectionist; that year he made no headway as a legal reform legislator, but began to make his mark as a pugnacious parliamentarian. On 4 October he was found 'guilty of a contempt of this House' for having called certain members 'bloody Orange hounds and thieves'. On 12 November 1890 the sergeant-at-arms needed help to overcome Crick's violent resistance to removal, 'causing great disorder and scandal'. He was expelled, but was returned at the by-election on 6 December. His radicalism prompted his interest in the new Labor Party in 1891, but his independence prevented his acceptance of its discipline.

As early as 1890 Crick's perception of his role as vindicator was being befuddled by alcohol, but his spells of sobriety remained constructive, and he was usually prepared to admit his errors. His involvement with William Willis in the ownership of Truth that year, instead of providing a newspaper forum for progress, led in 1892-95 to convulsive arguments and protracted legal action with John Norton and to the exit of Crick. In parliament in 1890-93 he failed in attempts to improve legislation affecting juvenile crime; but his first offenders' probation bill, 1894, became law. His high professional reputation was enhanced in 1892 when he saved an innocent man, E. Buttner, from execution after he had been found guilty of rape. The same year he formed a partnership with his boyhood friend, Richard Meagher, and for a while he seemed likely to turn over a new leaf, but by 1894 he could not abide his partner's pretentious precocity. Next year Meagher was implicated in the George Dean case and, while under the influence, Crick made a wild speech in parliament against Sir Julian Salomons who was also involved; Crick was charged with conspiracy but was cleared.

He continued to bring down improving legislation but none of his bills, in 1894-97, were enacted. His attempt in 1896 to tighten control over the registration of stallions and racehorses suggested his great interest in the turf. By the mid-1890s he was reputed to be one of the biggest punters in Australia; he owned several horses, but only Collarit, in 1906, seems to have been profitable. As the number of his friends dwindled in the late 1890s he gravitated more and more to the racing fraternity and roistered with them in hotels in Randwick, where he lived, near the racecourse. Even in 1895 he could say that he had 'not been in a private home in Sydney or its suburbs for four or five years'. His honesty, truculence and mastery of procedure made him both respected and feared in parliament—even (Sir) George Reid, premier in 1894-99, could not curb him when he was in full flight. He had become a senior and leading member of the Protectionists and played an important part in the defeat of the Free Trade government in 1899, becoming postmaster-general in (Sir) William Lyne's ministry.

Crick was far from pious, but he remained attached to the Catholic Church, although he had courted its disfavour in 1889-92 by supporting Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce reform legislation. He saw it as an Irish institution, a bulwark against social privilege and affectation derived from England, which in a way could justify his defiant boorishness if not his excessive drinking. He had not been able to do much for it, but he seized the opportunity to help it in 1900-01 when the administrator of St Mary's Cathedral, Denis O'Haran, was cited as co-respondent in the Arthur Coningham divorce case. With the aid of his runner, Daniel Green, Crick led the Catholics against the Protestants (under William Dill Macky) in an uproarious contest to see justice done. He did not use his ministerial office to anything like the extent that has been alleged, but he did contribute much to the vindication of O'Haran. He had hoped to lift up many more.

Minister without portfolio from 1 March to 10 April 1901, Crick was minister for lands from 11 April 1901 to 14 June 1904, when the See government resigned. He expected to become premier, but instead became chairman of committees—until 27 June 1905. He was an alderman of the Sydney Municipal Council in 1904.

He was thoroughly versed in the State's complex land laws and had always held radical views on agricultural settlement. A very severe and lengthy drought still prevailed in 1901 and Crick responded benevolently, legislating to help lessees in the western division, and even effecting some procedural reforms in the labyrinthine department. But his liberal policy miscarried in the granting of some improvement leases, based on Carruthers' 1895 Land Act, to pastoralists whose leases expired in 1901-04. Judge (Sir) William Owen acted as a royal commissioner in 1905-06 to inquire into the administration of the Lands Department; he reported that Crick had overruled adverse official reports while approving improvement leases in thirty-five applications; of these Willis was agent in twenty-one, and P. C. Close, a rural consultant, was associated with nine. Large fees were paid to some agents for minor work that was unnecessary in terms of the minister's policy; the commissioner suspected bribery, and decided that Crick had received half of Close's fees of nearly £16,000. But his affairs, including substantial betting for cash, were contorted; Close's firm had financed Crick and, when the latter faced criminal charges it was impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he had acted corruptly. He resigned his seat on 6 December 1906, but some old scores were paid off when parliament formally expelled him on 11 December; likewise, on 23 August next year he was struck off the rolls. Now alienated from the country, he ran for the city seat of Surry Hills in 1907, but lost.

Although Crick had been reported in 1903 as about to give up smoking and drinking, from 1905 he suffered increasingly from cirrhosis of the liver. After a day at Rosehill races, in the night he had a severe attack of haematemesis and died, intestate, on 23 August 1908. He was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. His wife inherited £5200 from him and his father £4700.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of the Royal Commission on … Lands Department (Syd, 1906)
  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement (Syd, 1942)
  • C. Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney (Lond, 1958)
  • B. E. Mansfield, Australian Democrat (Syd, 1965)
  • B. Nairn, Civilising Capitalism (Canb, 1973)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1889, 1, 103, 1890, 1, 430, 525, 1901, 2, 852
  • Catholic Press (Sydney), 27 Apr 1901
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 June 1904
  • Australian Worker, 27 Aug, 3 Sept 1908
  • Sydney Mail, 26 Aug 1908
  • M. Rutledge, Sir Alfred Stephen and Divorce Law Reform in New South Wales, 1886-1892 (M.A. thesis, Australian National University, 1966)
  • Attorney-General and Justice Dept, special bundle, 1895, 5/4702 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge and Bede Nairn, 'Crick, William Patrick (Paddy) (1862–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crick-william-patrick-paddy-5821/text9883, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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