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William Pascoe Crook (1775–1846)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

William Pascoe Crook (1775-1846), missionary, schoolmaster and Congregational pastor, was born on 29 April 1775 at Dartmouth, Devon, England, son of Stephen and Maria Crook. After some rudimentary education at Plymouth he entered domestic service. He was accepted as an artisan missionary by the (London) Missionary Society, and given some instruction in tin-plate working. After designation as a missionary at Zion Chapel on 28 July 1796 he sailed to the South Seas in the Duff with James Cover. He was left at the Marquesas in June 1797 and after the withdrawal of Rev. John Harris, remained alone until he returned to England in the Butterworth, arriving in May 1799.

He spent several periods at Newport Pagnell, where he assisted Rev. Samuel Greatheed in compiling a dictionary of the 'Polynesian' language, and an account of the Marquesas. Crook was also given further tuition and engaged as a preacher by the London Itinerant Society. In London he married Hannah Dare, by whom he had one son and eight daughters. In 1803 he embarked on the expedition under David Collins with a view to rejoining the South Seas mission, and acted as chaplain to the settlers in the Ocean. After a short stay at Port Phillip, he went to Sydney in November. Almost immediately he was engaged by Samuel Marsden to open a school in the church at Parramatta, which at the end of 1804 became the first boarding school in Australia. Besides becoming Marsden's parish clerk and being regarded as the official pastor at Castle Hill, he assisted Rowland Hassall in his itinerating ministry at Kissing Point, Castle Hill and Toongabbie, and even held private services in his own house.

When Governor William Bligh was deposed in 1808, Henry Fulton, the only chaplain in the colony, was discharged from his office. Although the missionaries were also Bligh supporters, Crook had not committed himself to any formal protest as had Hassall and John Youl, and accordingly was appointed as acting chaplain, though he was permitted only to read the services and baptize. He complied after consulting with Hassall and conducted an official ministry at Sydney and Parramatta. Although Crook continued preaching in the church at Parramatta, the other services in the colony virtually terminated through lack of attendance.

Soon after receiving his appointment Crook removed to Sydney where he continued his boarding school and began evening classes; his wife opened a millinery business. On the arrival in 1809 of William Cowper the chaplaincy duties were shared. In January 1810, with the reinstatement of Fulton, Crook was relieved of duties which he had found 'exceeding galling' to his conscience. He recommenced a vigorous itinerating ministry and, in conjunction with John Hosking senior, an Arminian schoolteacher, conducted the services of the congregation gathered by John Harris, which met in his schoolroom in Sydney. In August 1810, having a nucleus of church members from the islands, a Congregational church was formed and the ordinance of Communion administered, the first Dissenting rite to receive publicity as such. Marsden interfered at the behest of some of the missionaries who objected on personal grounds because Crook was not ordained, though the principal objection came from the church party at Government House. Marsden's negotiations to appease both parties earned him the resentment of Crook, and the misleading charge of 'episcopal intolerance' later brought by William Charles Wentworth and John Dunmore Lang led to much bitterness.

Though Crook intended to continue administering the rites, but less publicly, the immediate return of the missionaries to the islands virtually terminated membership, and the services were restricted to little more than preaching. In 1811 he remodelled his school on the Lancastrian plan and in 1813 resumed evening classes for apprentices. In 1814 he secured a master for his school and engaged in full-time evangelism, preaching at Concord, Kissing Point, the 'Northern Boundary', Baulkham Hills, Wilberforce, Portland Head, Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Liverpool, Pitt Town, and Parramatta. In December 1814 he decided to return to the islands. He placed himself under the daily instruction of William Redfern at the Sydney Hospital, and received printing lessons from George Howe. On Marsden's recommendation he was again accepted as a missionary, and left Sydney in the Active in January 1816.

Soon after his arrival in the islands Crook was inducted as pastor of a Tahitian church. He returned to Sydney in December 1830 and opened a school for young ladies in Phillip Street. As the Congregational cause was awaiting a minister from England, Crook joined with the Wesleyans and preached in their chapels throughout the colony. On the formation of the Congregational church in May 1833 Crook was appointed deacon. He became a prominent figure in various philanthropic societies, being a founder of the Temperance Society (1834) and the Australian School Society (1834), and an energetic member of the General Committee of Protestants (1836) and of the Benevolent Society. He gathered a Congregational church at South Head to which he ministered. However, before the building was completed in 1841 his health gave way, and Rev. Lancelot Edward Threlkeld was called to the church. Crook went to Melbourne to live with his son, and died there on 14 June 1846. His wife had died at Sydney on 24 October 1837.

Marsden regarded Crook as a man of considerable ability, but as unstable and rash. A tireless evangelist, who made a considerable contribution to general education in the colony, he was less willing than his fellow missionaries to compromise with the establishment. Portraits of Crook are in the Dixson Gallery and the Pitt Street Congregational Church.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 4-6, 16, 18, series 3, vol 1, series 4, vol 1
  • E. Fanning, Voyages Round the World (NY, 1833), chapter 10
  • S. Marsden, A Letter to Mr William Crook (Syd, 1835)
  • J. Ham, A Biographical Sketch of the Life and Labours of the Late Rev. William Pascoe Crook (Melb, 1846)
  • J. King, Ten Decades, the Australian Centenary Story of the London Missionary Society (Lond, 1895)
  • Brief Sketch of the Life and Labours of the Late Rev. W. P. Crook (no date)
  • manuscript catalogue under W. Crook (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Crook, William Pascoe (1775–1846)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Crook, n.d.

William Crook, n.d.

Camden Theological Library, 16429

Life Summary [details]


29 April, 1775
Dartmouth, Devon, England


14 June, 1846 (aged 71)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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