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Crookes, John (1805–1870)

by K. R. Von Stieglitz

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Crookes (1805-1870), merchant, churchman and politician, was born at Ballygawley, County Tyrone, Ireland, and educated by a pious mother whose own mother had been admitted to the Wesleyan Society by John Wesley. He came to Australia about 1832, intending to settle in New South Wales, but the ship called at Hobart Town and he liked the place so well that he decided to stay. He attended the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Melville Street. In 1835 he offered himself for the ministry, and after three months' trial as a local preacher was accredited and recommended to the district meeting as an assistant missionary. In May 1836 he was 'called out' to 'supply' in New South Wales. Finding commercial pursuits attractive, he withdrew his application for admission to the ministry but continued as a local preacher. He returned to Van Diemen's Land in 1837 and accepted a position with the commercial house of Reed & Donald in Launceston. When Henry Reed moved premises, Donald accepted £20,000 for his share. Crookes succeeded to the business when Reed went to England, and in 1864 took G. P. Hudson as his partner. The firm became Crookes & Hudson, one of the largest importing and exporting houses in the colony.

An active and generous advocate of the abolition of transportation, Crookes was chairman of the tradesmen's meeting in 1848 and secretary of the Launceston Association in 1850. He was a strong member of the London Agency for promoting emigration. Coming thus under public notice, he was elected to the new Launceston Municipal Council and retained his seat as an alderman for five years. In 1855 he became a justice of the peace, and served as treasurer of the Ladies' Patriotic Committee when Launceston sent £1684 for the sick and wounded in hospitals abroad. He was the first elected member for Launceston in the House of Assembly in 1857. In the 1860s he was a manager of the Launceston Bank for Savings and a director of the Launceston and Western Railway and of the Launceston Steam Navigation Co. All philanthropic and civic movements interested him. He was on the management committee of the Horticultural Society, chairman of the Launceston General Hospital Board, and associated with the Mechanics' Institute, Bible Society, the Wesleyan Sunday School Penny Bank, and many other organizations.

Although a prominent public man with many calls upon his time and purse, Crookes was always devoted to his church. With William Hebblewaite he recommended the formation of an Australian Wesleyan Conference, and when the district committee was set up in 1855 he became one of its first lay representatives. He was a trustee of the Wesleyan Church in Paterson Street, and when a new building was planned he gave £1000 towards its cost. He laid its foundation stone in September 1866 and at its opening in February 1868 gave another £100 to clear the building of debt.

On 17 September 1868 at Horton College, Ross, Crookes was married by Rev. W. A. Quick, principal of the college and father of the bride, to Charlotte Elizabeth Margaret. They made their home at Mount Pleasant, a stately mansion Crookes had built some years earlier near Launceston. Two years later, while speaking at a public meeting, he collapsed; he rallied for three days but died on 26 September 1870. Publicly mourned, he left an estate of nearly £10,000 to his young widow and infant son.

An obituary notice described him as 'a principled British merchant, a Christian gentleman, a staunch friend, a public spirited good citizen, a liberal minded, liberal handed man, patron of all progressive institutions, a kind employer and emphatically an honest man'. A portrait is at Parliament House, Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • C. C. Dugan, The Story of the Paterson Street Methodist Church, Launceston (Launceston, 1932)
  • Examiner (Launceston), Sept to Oct 1870
  • Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 28 Sept 1870
  • Methodist Circuit, minutes, 1835-36 (Wesley Church, Hobart).

Citation details

K. R. Von Stieglitz, 'Crookes, John (1805–1870)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crookes-john-1936/text2313, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 16 December 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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