Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crisp, Christopher (1844–1915)

by J. H. Rundle

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

Christopher Crisp (1844-1915), editor and newspaper proprietor, was born on 20 May 1844 at Prospect Place, Islington, London, the second son of Hiram Crisp (1812-1847), bootmaker and freeman of the city, and his wife Harriet, née Christian (b.1816). After a move to Chelsea in 1846 and his father's death he worked from 1854 as a reading boy in the parliamentary papers office of Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, until he left for Melbourne with his mother and family as assisted migrants in November 1856 in the Herald of the Morning.

In 1859 Crisp was apprenticed to F. B. Franklyn of the Melbourne Herald. A diligent and studious young man, he boarded in Pelham Street, Carlton, in 1864-66, enjoyed the Theatre Royal, joined the Hotham (North Melbourne) Mechanics' Institute and read essays in a circle valued for 'its mental power, love of reading and shrewdness of thought'. In July 1866 he moved to Bacchus Marsh, thirty miles (48 km) from Melbourne, as a compositor employed by the Bacchus Marsh Express Printing Co. With George Lane, the printer, he relieved the exhausted company in October and fulfilled a 'youthful ambition' as editor for the new proprietors, Crisp & Lane. He published separate editions of the Express in 1895, the Werribee Express in 1896 and the Melton Express in 1905.

In local affairs Crisp promoted water storages and the Mechanics' Institute, revived the Agricultural and Pastoral Society in 1883 and acted as secretary in 1885-90, and skilfully negotiated the completion of the Ballarat-Melbourne rail link via Bacchus Marsh in 1889 after fifteen years of protracted effort. At Bacchus Marsh in 1891 he published Railway Guide Book and Time Table for Melbourne, Ballarat, Adelaide and all Intermediate Stations. Supporters of two public testimonials applauded 'the most unostentatious though vigorous force in town'; critics suspected 'surreptitious means'. He successfully co-ordinated local efforts with the influence of public men and civil servants in Melbourne who became Express subscribers through his deliberate search for a wider audience, 'fit though few'. From the 1870s he argued the extension of government responsibilities as the practical basis for social and political progress. In Melbourne James Service and Alfred Deakin acknowledged 'ideas and hints' from Express comments on their legislative endeavours in the 1880s. He published detailed studies of the drafting stages of the federal constitution in 1895-98. Several convention delegates encouraged his arguments to sharpen their own; 'your discussion [of schemes to overcome deadlocks] is helping to clear our minds on the question', Deakin wrote in May 1897. Crisp issued a Federation supplement in the same month, lectured on the clauses of the Commonwealth bill in March 1898, ably defended it in public debate against Henry Bournes Higgins in May, and later declined for business reasons a private invitation to stand for the Federal Senate.

Crisp strove to educate opinion on public issues from protection and industrial legislation to Federation and Australia's imperial role. He related them to an 'all embracing but gradually applied State Socialism', the millennial prospects of which he outlined in Wanted: A Cosmology (Bacchus Marsh, 1895), a privately published contribution to the political and religious controversies of the time, as was 'Seed Thoughts', published anonymously in the Victorian Review, September 1883. He died at Bacchus Marsh on 25 December 1915. In 1873 he had married his partner's daughter, Grace Lane (d.1931); they had two daughters and three sons. Christopher (d.1963), the youngest son, succeeded him. A grandson, F. C. M. Crisp, became the managing editor of the Express after his uncle retired in 1932.

Select Bibliography

  • T. L. Work, ‘The early printers of Melbourne, 1838-1858’, Australasian Typographical Journal, 28 (1898)
  • Bacchus Marsh Express, 13 Aug 1881, 7 Dec 1889, 8 May 1897, 4 June, 23 July 1898, 5 Nov 1963, 7 July 1966
  • Crisp papers (National Library of Australia and State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

J. H. Rundle, 'Crisp, Christopher (1844–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crisp-christopher-3290/text4999, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 April 2017.

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

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