Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George John Crawford (1812–1852)

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George John Crawford (1812-1852), judge, was born in County Longford, Ireland, the third son of George Crawford, rector of Newtown Forbes and later vicar-general of the diocese of Armagh. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1833; LL.D., 1846). Called to the Irish Bar in 1840, he practised as an equity barrister. In 1849 the South Australian government requested the Colonial Office to nominate a second judge to assist the ailing chief justice, Charles Cooper, in the Supreme Court. Under the agreement to fill vacancies in turn from England and Ireland, Crawford was recommended by the lord lieutenant of Ireland and approved by Earl Grey at a salary of £800. In 1844 he had married his cousin, Alicia, née Goslin. They sailed with their children in the Midlothian and arrived in Adelaide on 27 June 1850. He was welcomed by the legal profession with a breakfast at the Freemasons' Hotel. Two days later, despite protests from the contractors, the new Supreme Court was forcibly entered to house the judicial papers which were then in a cart in Victoria Square.

In August Crawford presided at the first sittings in the new Court House and, despite a petition from Bishop Augustus Short and other leading men, he had to sentence to death a prisoner convicted of murder. Cooper found him 'a treasure and a comfort' for taking the lion's share of work. In October the judges' salaries were raised, Crawford's to £1200. Where Cooper had been casual and lax, Crawford brought dignity and authority to the Supreme Court. He was the first to wear a judicial wig in the colony and would stand no nonsense from sleepy jurymen or from unpunctual officials and barristers; once he had the cause list read and because eleven untried cases were not ready, calmly ordered them to be struck out, discharged the jury and closed the sittings. He also dealt very heavily with irregular legal practices and advocated an association of members of the profession. A committee was formed but progress was delayed by arguments over the admission of undesirable characters. The association began in June 1851 when thirty-two members met by invitation. To start its library Crawford promised a set of modern reports. Among his other reforms he questioned the value of such 'out-of-date, cumbrous and useless machinery' as the Grand Jury and successfully petitioned the Legislative Council for its abolition. In August when cases in the lower courts piled up, the judges were asked to help and a bill to that effect was passed in the council. Both judges protested, although Crawford relented and offered to act as commissioner of the Insolvency Court.

At the sittings in June 1852 Crawford was noticeably ill. His last official act was on 4 September when he sent to the Executive Council his notes on the trial of three Aboriginals who had been sentenced to death for the murder of another in a tribal fight; Crawford recommended a commutation of sentence. He died on the 29th from a disease of bladder and kidneys, and was given a state funeral.

His estate was valued at less than £1000. In February 1853 his family left for England in the Adelaide, which caught fire about 500 miles (805 km) from Mauritius. For four days the passengers were towed in lifeboats. The fire was then controlled but all the passengers' luggage was destroyed. Crawford's widow appealed to the Colonial Office claiming that her husband had lost heavily by moving to South Australia; a pension was refused. With a grant of only £250, she took her four young children to live with her brother-in-law at Gibraltar.

Select Bibliography

  • R. M. Hague, Mr Justice Crawford, Judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia (Adel, 1957), and for bibliography.

Citation details

'Crawford, George John (1812–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Longford, Ireland


29 June, 1852 (aged ~ 40)
South Australia, Australia

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