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Joseph Crompton (1840–1901)

by Marjorie Findlay

This article was published:

Joseph Crompton (1840-1901), by unknown photographer

Joseph Crompton (1840-1901), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 30328

Joseph Crompton (1840-1901), vigneron, manufacturer and exporter, was born on 17 January 1840 in Liverpool, England, the youngest of four sons of Woodhouse Crompton and his wife Lucy, daughter of Robert Fletcher of Rivington Hall in Lancashire. His parents died before he was 6 and Joseph was brought up at Rivington Hall by maiden aunts, with whom he spent his holidays. He attended a preparatory boarding school run by Unitarians at Knutsford. His decision to migrate was prompted mainly by poor health and the intention of 'making his fortune'. In the Great Britain Joseph arrived in Melbourne on 24 September 1860 and went to Adelaide in October with letters of introduction to the family of Francis Clark of Hazelwood.

Friendship between Henry Clark and Joseph led in 1862 to the partnership of Joseph, Henry and his brother Algernon Sidney in the Stonyfell vineyards on property bought by Henry in 1858. Ill health prevented Henry Clark from doing his work as engineer and secretary to the East Torrens Council so Joseph spent long hours supervising the building of roads and bridges although he was not an engineer. When Henry died in 1864 Joseph bought the interest of the Clark brothers in the Stonyfell property, but the company's name of Clark & Crompton continued until 1880. Since then the company has traded under the names of Joseph Crompton, Crompton & Son, Crompton & Sons Ltd. Starting as wine-makers and distillers, and wine and spirits merchants, they later handled wool, sheepskins, fur skins, hides and tallow.

In 1874 the Stonyfell Olive Co. was formed, an association promoted by William Mair and A. S. Clark with a lease of 130 acres (53 ha) of land from Clark & Crompton. Joseph was its first manager and secretary. This business was carried on for eighty years. In 1878 Joseph bought fifty-three acres (21 ha) at Port Pirie where he started a soap factory. It was transferred to Winwood Street, Southwark, in 1889 as the Bunyip Soap Co., later Crompton Bunyip Soaps Ltd. In 1879 he bought a ten-acre (4 ha) farm at Woodville where he had his first store for drying and packing hides and skins for export to English fellmongers. Another two acres (0.8 ha) at Footscray, Victoria, in 1882 were similarly used. A consignment of kangaroo skins was made to the Booth Organization before 1883 and about 1910 Crompton & Son published in Adelaide a booklet, Skins and their Treatment.

Joseph had an eye to River Murray trade. In February 1877 he wrote to a firm in Liverpool about a suitable riverboat. He also leased about 500 sq. miles (1295 km²) at Keith in the Tatiara district where he grazed sheep. 'Once they find the right manure for this type of country', he predicted, 'it will become very valuable', but he did not hold it until trace elements were discovered and sold his station of 300,000 acres (121,407 ha) for £6000. He owned a dairy farm of 116 acres (47 ha) at Woodville and 500 acres (202 ha) called Carrickalinga on the coast near Myponga.

The depression of 1884-85 forced Joseph Crompton temporarily to leave his premises in Freeman Street (Gawler Place). Adelaide banks were then demanding reductions in overdrafts and he was forced to sell valuable assets. The Stonyfell vineyard was supervised by trustees until 1888 when the Bank of Adelaide transferred it to Henry Dunstan. The bank also took over Carrickalinga. In spite of ill health Joseph Crompton tried to retain personal control of his interests but they were too widespread to withstand financial stresses. Generous to a fault, he had too much faith in the ability and integrity of others. 'With a lot more good health and a little more luck he might have made the fortune he dreamed of'.

At the Unitarian Church in Adelaide on 8 May 1866 Crompton had married Susan Mary, youngest child of Francis and Caroline Clark of Hazelwood. She was born on 28 February 1846 in Birmingham and kept a diary of her honeymoon which included a tour of France, Spain and Portugal in order to study wine and oil making. On their return they lived at Tower House, Beaumont, while additions were made at Stonyfell, where most of the house was built from local stone which gave the property its name and was used in building the Adelaide Jail. Crompton died of a cerebral haemorrhage at Stonyfell on 27 April 1901 and was survived by his wife and ten children. He and his wife were staunch members of the Unitarian Church, like his family in Lancashire.

Susan Mary Crompton worked with her sister, Caroline Emily Clark, on the 'boarding out system' for destitute children and joined the committee of the State Children's Council in 1906. In World War I she was made a justice of the peace, one of the first women in South Australia chosen for this office. Their eldest son, Henry Woodhouse (b.1867), joined his father's business in 1886 after studying commercial law. In 1889 he became manager and secretary of the Olive Co. and a partner in the export business in 1890. He was later managing director of the Bunyip Soap Co. Ltd. Like his father he tried to attend to too much. Blessed with robust health he lived to his eightieth year. A younger brother, Owen, succeeded his father as manager of the Olive Co. in 1899. He married Sarah, daughter of Alfred Simpson who had settled on her his large holding in the company. Another brother, Robert, became works manager of the soap factory. He took over the management of the olive mill in 1923 when Owen died suddenly. Since then grandsons and a great-grandson have carried on the various enterprises.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Crompton, The Story of Joseph Crompton and the Companies he Founded (Adel, 1962)
  • ‘Stonyfell’, Homes and Gardens (SA), Oct 1952
  • Register (Adelaide), 7 Nov 1874, 26 Feb 1923
  • Mrs J. Crompton, diary and papers (privately held).

Citation details

Marjorie Findlay, 'Crompton, Joseph (1840–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 15 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

Joseph Crompton (1840-1901), by unknown photographer

Joseph Crompton (1840-1901), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 30328

Life Summary [details]


17 January, 1840
Liverpool, Merseyside, England


27 April, 1901 (aged 61)
Stonyfell, South Australia, Australia

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