Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cropper, Charles William (1859–1932)

by John O'Hara

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

Charles William Cropper (1859-1932), public servant and racing administrator, was born on 12 July 1859 in Sydney, elder son of Charles Michael Walsh Cropper, grazier, and his wife Mary Ann, née Howe. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School and in 1876-94 worked as an inspector of conditional purchases in the Department of Lands but failed to achieve any spectacular success. By 1894 he had made no progress up the public service ladder but had watched his salary drop from £350 in 1876 to £290. However, in the late 1880s and early 1890s he was a successful tennis player and in 1886 and 1887 he was New South Wales champion and captain of the Sydney Lawn Tennis Club.

Cropper, frustrated by his lack of advancement, resigned in 1894 and moved to Western Australia where the influx of gold seekers promised the chance of more rapid promotion. For a decade from 1900, as secretary of the Kalgoorlie Racing Club, he impressed his associates with his administrative abilities and earned the admiration of a wider audience by transforming the barren racecourse into an attractive garden where horse-racing was conducted at a high standard. The reputation he achieved resulted in 1910 in his appointment as successor to T. S. Clibborn as secretary of Australia's premier racing body, the Australian Jockey Club in Sydney.

For twenty-two years Cropper supervised the administration of Randwick racecourse and the other affairs of the A.J.C., including the purchase of Warwick Farm racecourse in 1922. Cropper formed an admirable partnership with (Sir) Adrian Knox. Whilst Knox rewrote the rules of racing, Cropper reorganized the physical facilities: new tracks were designed and built, buildings relocated, grandstands extended, lawns and gardens were cultivated and the totalisater installed. These picturesque courses remain his monument.

During World War I Cropper was closely involved in the establishment and administration of Canonbury, Darling Point, bought by the A.J.C. as a convalescent home, at first for returned servicemen and later for children. This project provided an outlet for Cropper when further improvements to the Randwick course were prohibited by the War Precautions Act. In 1927 he was granted eight months leave to visit racing centres in Europe and North America, and was given £1000 by the A.J.C. committee and a valuable testimonial by bookmakers. During his last years, Cropper was plagued by ill health and gradually his administrative duties were assumed by his assistant George T. Rowe.

Cropper, a bachelor, was a member of the Union Club and the Presbyterian Church. He had a kindly and sympathetic, but somewhat private character—highly respected and conscientious but undemonstrative. He was well regarded by bookmakers, trainers and jockeys, who considered him to be more approachable and more considerate than the typical race club administrator.

Cropper died on 22 May 1932 at the Scottish Private Hospital, Paddington, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Waverley cemetery. His name has been perpetuated in the C. W. Cropper Plate, a weight-for-age race (later changed to the C. W. Cropper Handicap), held on the third day of the A.J.C.'s Easter meeting. His estate was valued for probate at £24,608; he left his books and furniture to his favourite sister Ada, wife of Sir Alexander MacCormick.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Austin et al (eds), Racehorses in Australia (Syd, 1922)
  • D. M. Barrie, Turf Cavalcade (Syd, 1960)
  • H. Norton, ‘Racing in Western Australia’, Leeuwin, 1 (1910-11), no 6
  • Town and Country Journal, 9 Feb 1889
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1924, 18, 19, 21 Jan, 28 May, 20, 23 Sept 1927, 23, 25 May 1932, 25 Feb 1933
  • Sydney Sportsman, 24 May 1932
  • Referee (Sydney), 25 May 1932
  • Australian Jockey Club, Annual Report, 1911-32 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John O'Hara, 'Cropper, Charles William (1859–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cropper-charles-william-5827/text9895, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 November 2018.

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

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