Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Karl Reginald Cramp (1878–1956)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

Karl Reginald Cramp (1878-1956), public school inspector and historian, was born on 21 January 1878 at Reigate, Surrey, England, son of William Cramp, builder's foreman, and his wife Mary, née Christmas. In November 1887 he arrived in Sydney with his parents who settled at Newcastle. He was educated at Hamilton Public School and in September 1895 became a pupil-teacher with the Department of Public Instruction. In 1900 he entered Fort Street Training School and won a scholarship to the University of Sydney (B.A., 1904, with the Frazer scholarship in history; M.A., 1906). He was appointed a lecturer at the Teachers' College in February 1906, an examiner in the chief inspector's branch of the Department of Public Instruction in May 1912 and chief examiner in 1922; he was a secondary schools inspector from 1923 to 1943 when he retired. He was an exacting inspector, feared by teachers.

With J. G. Bartholomew, Cramp published the Australasian School Atlas (Oxford, 1915); his textbooks indoctrinated generations of schoolchildren in hero-worship, the Whig interpretation of English history and a jingoistic view of Australia bonded to Britain by a 'crimson thread of kinship … sealed by the blood of [her] bravest men'. In 1909-54 he examined in history at the university public examinations and in 1915-22 lectured for the University Extension Board (he was first vice-president of the Workers' Educational Association), and was sometime president and vice-president of the Teachers' Guild of New South Wales.

Cramp had joined the (Royal) Australian Historical Society in July 1910. An original fellow in 1916 and a life member in 1918, he was honorary secretary in 1915-20, 1922-27, 1930-36, 1943-44; president in 1921, 1928-29, 1937-39, 1953; and vice-president in 1941-42, 1945-52, and 1955. He augmented the society's membership, helped it to acquire its own premises and contributed extensively to its Journal and Proceedings. He published much Australian history including The State and Federal Constitutions of Australia (1913), William Charles Wentworth (1918), Australian Winners of the Victoria Cross (1919), Great Australian Explorers (1926) and The Roar Material of History: Schoolboy Howlers (1946). His style was florid, his tone chauvinistic and moralizing.

Cramp was also a member of the Captain Cook's Landing Place and the La Pérouse monuments trusts, a section president at the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science conference of 1937 at Auckland, a member of Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations Council (1936-38) and convener of its historical exhibition, first vice-president (1947) and president (1949) of the New South Wales branch of the National Trust of Australia, and a director and vice-president of the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1933.

Initiated into Lodge University of Sydney in January 1925, he was its worshipful master in 1934-35; with George Mackaness he published A History of the United Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of New South Wales (1938) and another volume in 1949. Invested a past deputy grand master in 1948, he equated his craft with the 'moral solidarity of a country'.

At Newcastle on 24 December 1901 Cramp had married Ethel May Neill. Survived by two sons and a daughter, he died on 19 July 1956 at his home at Bellevue Hill, and was buried in the Methodist section of Woronora cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £26,357. Though never modest about his scholarship, he did much to promote the study of Australian history.

Select Bibliography

  • JRAHS, 42 (1956), pt 5
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Feb 1921, 21 July 1956
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 24 July 1956
  • Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations Council, files and papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Cramp, Karl Reginald (1878–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 January, 1878
Reigate, Surrey, England


19 July, 1956 (aged 78)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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