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Crummer, James Henry (1792–1867)

by E. J. Lea-Scarlett

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

James Henry Crummer (1792-1867), soldier and magistrate, was born on 31 October 1792 at Athlone, Ireland, the son of Samuel Crummer, of Birr. Gazetted an ensign in the 28th Regiment in July 1805, he first saw action at Copenhagen in 1807, and in July was promoted lieutenant. He served in Portugal, Spain and France from 1809 to 1816, taking part in seventeen battles. At Albuera on 16 May 1811 he received a severe gunshot wound in the left leg; a further wound in the same leg, received at the Pass of Maya in the Pyrenees on 25 July 1813, resulted in permanent lameness. He took part in the forming of the squares at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and wrote a first-hand account of the battle. He was with the British troops who occupied Paris after the abdication of Napoleon, and was promoted captain in July 1815.

He entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1818 and passed out in 1821. In the Greek war of independence his regiment was ordered to the Ionian Islands, where from 1821 to 1828 he was commandant of Calamos. Here on 17 February 1827 he married Katerina Georgia Plessos (1809-1907), niece of a friend of Lord Byron. In 1829 he returned to Ireland on active service. In 1832 he applied for a pension because of his old wounds, which were causing pain, but was refused on account of the lapse of time.

In October 1835 he and his family arrived in Sydney with the 28th Regiment; he was at once appointed a justice of the peace, assistant police magistrate, and commander of the Iron Gang at Newcastle. Disabilities arising from his wounds and financial troubles aggravated by failure to obtain possession of a family estate in Wales persuaded him to remain in New South Wales as a settler, and when he received a majority on the unattached list in March 1839 he sold his commission, and ceased military service in January 1840.

At Newcastle his humane qualities won him popularity. In 1844 when the government abolished a number of police magistracies, including that of Newcastle, he continued to perform all his previous duties without pay. His sole income came from a small farm in the Newcastle district, and with a large family to support he was soon reduced to serious poverty. A severe loss over a sheep deal in 1846 caused him to complain: 'I am destined to be unfortunate in all my dealings in this Colony'. In 1849 Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass secured his appointment as paid police magistrate at Maitland, in succession to Edward Day.

The integrity, impartiality and urbanity which had inspired great affection in Newcastle were not sufficient to overcome the problems which he encountered in his large district of East and West Maitland and Morpeth. Inhibited by increasing age and the effects of his old injuries he had difficulty in fulfilling his duties. When he declined to support agitation for the creation of independent benches of magistrates in his district, a local clique of inhabitants persuaded the colonial secretary to remove him, and he was informed early in 1858 that he was to exchange appointments with Day, now police magistrate at Port Macquarie. Crummer's pleas and protests were ignored, and 'with grief and sorrow at its unexpectancy', he accepted the change. A medical opinion at this time was that he looked 'old and shaky as well as ill'. He thought of returning to Britain, but took up duty at Port Macquarie late in 1858, and there spent his remaining years quietly. He resigned in 1864 and died at Port Macquarie on 29 December 1867. His request for a burial with military honours was observed by six warders of the local gaol, all old soldiers, who fired a volley over his grave.

Described in youth as 'a lively, kind-hearted Irishman', Crummer failed to achieve eminence in either the army or the public service because he was unable to relate his ideals of compassion and conciliation to real situations. His letters during the Napoleonic wars reflect admiration for the good qualities of the enemy. In Ireland in 1830 he earned the disapproval of his superiors for remitting a punishment of 300 lashes imposed on a young deserter; in New South Wales he acquired a reputation for fair dealing, even among the habitual offenders in Newcastle. Of his eleven children a daughter, Augusta Louisa, married Eccleston Du Faur (1832-1915), and the youngest son, Henry Samuel Walker, a surveyor, became an authority on early New South Wales pastoral holdings and was first librarian of the Sydney Philharmonic Society in 1885.

Select Bibliography

  • Crummer family papers (State Records New South Wales)
  • WO 25/790/4.

Citation details

E. J. Lea-Scarlett, 'Crummer, James Henry (1792–1867)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crummer-james-henry-1940/text2321, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 August 2018.

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

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