Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Simpson Crawford (1875–1976)

by L. G. Tanner

This article was published:

Thomas Simpson Crawford (1875-1976), Presbyterian minister, politician and barrister, was born on 23 December 1875 at Bulli, New South Wales, youngest son and ninth child of James Crawford, coalminer, and his wife Ellen, née Simpson; both his parents came from Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He left Bulli Public School at 14 and worked in the telegraph branch of the railways for some four years, then, influenced by Rev. Simpson Millar, decided to enter the Presbyterian ministry. He resumed his studies under the guidance of his ex-headmaster Joseph Bourke and a tutor in classics; later he went to Sydney Boys' High School and the Cooerwull Academy at Bowenfels, matriculating in 1897. At St Andrew's College, University of Sydney, he worked for the ministry and his degree (B.A., 1901; M.A., 1904). On 12 September 1900 at Nowra he married Hilda Victoria Eve Graham.

Ordained in November 1902, Crawford was briefly at Newcastle and Port Macquarie; he served at the Hunter Street Church, Newcastle, in 1903-05, where he implemented plans for a new church building in Watt Street (St Philip's, 1905). He was minister there until 1908, then at Berrigan in the Riverina; in 1909 he moved to a mission station at Campsie, a growing Sydney suburb.

Crawford was deeply concerned with the conditions of industrial workers and believed that the Political Labor League of New South Wales 'placed humanity above property'. In April 1910 he was narrowly defeated for the Federal seat of Lang. However, 'the fighting parson' campaigned vigorously and, 'helped by an enthusiastic band of women workers', was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for Marrickville in October, holding the seat for Labor in 1913—he was on the party's executive in 1911 and 1913. He resigned from the Presbyterian ministry on 13 October 1914. A supporter of conscription, he joined the Nationalists and was defeated in the 1917 elections.

While in parliament Crawford had studied law and was admitted to the Bar on 29 August 1912. He set up in practice and in October 1917 he was appointed crown prosecutor for the western district, extending from Parramatta to Bourke. He published a book on practice, Proofs in Criminal Cases (1922), which was later updated. In 1924 he transferred to the southern and Hunter district. He was appointed a K.C. in 1935 and was senior crown prosecutor in 1940-47.

Crawford remained active in retirement—he prosecuted for the Commonwealth in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory and was briefed in a royal commission in Sydney. In August 1948 he conducted an inquiry in Nauru into allegations of the excessive use of force by special guards at the gaol after a riot by forty-nine Chinese. On 25 November he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Central Court of Nauru in order to prosecute in a murder trial. Next October he was appointed a judicial commissioner in the Solomon Islands during the absence of the chief magistrate.

Complete retirement was forced on Crawford by failing sight and hearing. He lived at the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield and was interested in bowls: the Soldiers Point Bowling Club, which he helped to found, celebrated Crawford's century by naming its main green after him in 1975. Predeceased by his wife in 1938 and by his son Carlyle Graham, a surgeon, he died in a Newcastle hospital on 20 April 1976 and was cremated. He was an uncle of Sir John Crawford and Professor R. M. Crawford.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. White, The Challenge of the Years (Syd, 1951
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1950-51, 2, 551
  • Bowls in New South Wales, Feb 1976
  • Australian Worker, 18 Aug, 1, 29 Sept 1910
  • Illawarra Mercury, 6 Dec 1963
  • Newcastle Sun, 22 Dec 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Dec 1975, 21 Apr 1976
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

L. G. Tanner, 'Crawford, Thomas Simpson (1875–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 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]


23 December, 1875
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia


20 April, 1976 (aged 100)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

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