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William Crosby (1832–1910)

by Gordon Rimmer

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William Crosby (1832-1910), merchant and politician, was born in Ryhope near Sunderland, England, eldest son of Captain William Crosby (1805-1885), shipowner and master. After education at Nesham Hall Grammar School, he entered a Sunderland shipbuilding office in 1848. In 1849-53 he was employed by the shipping firm of Fenwick & Co. in London, for whom his father sailed his barques Jane Frances, built in 1841, and Wellington, built in 1846. In the 1840s Captain Crosby, who as part-owner of a ship had been in the Baltic and Atlantic trade since the mid-1820s, made several voyages to Sydney and Hobart Town. In 1842 he carried Henry Hopkins back to Hobart and Charles Walch served an apprenticeship under him. In 1853 Crosby decided to settle in Van Diemen's Land and arrived in the Wellington in November with his wife Jane, née Hodgson (1808-1908), sons William and John (1839-1862) and daughter Jane (1836-1930). Sponsored by Fenwick & Co., Captain Crosby founded in December 1853 William Crosby & Co., importers, exporters and shipping agents in Salamanca Place close by the New Wharf. His two younger sons, Charles (1840-1932) and Richard (1843-1897), remained at boarding school in Hackney, London, and rejoined the family in 1855.

On 14 February 1857 William Crosby junior, a partner in the business, married Sarah Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Thomas Giblin, manager of the Van Diemen's Land Bank in Hobart. The young couple went to live in Melbourne where the firm opened a branch first in Market Street in 1859 and later in Queen Street. Meantime the Hobart business moved to new premises in 1868 and in 1873 had three stores by the New Wharf for sugar, wines and spirits, and general merchandise. In 1865 Crosby & Co. became underwriters for Lloyds; Captain Crosby also acted as Tasmanian consul for Belgium and Holland, and became a director of the Commercial Union Assurance Co. and of the Van Diemen's Land Bank. Amongst the ships he frequently employed were the Ethel and Windward, and for a time he had an interest in the whaler Aladdin. In 1876 William junior left Melbourne for a visit to England and on his father's retirement in 1877 took over the management of the Hobart firm. His younger brother Charles, who had married Catharine Mary Walch in 1864, moved to Melbourne where he became manager of the Victorian branch in 1879. In 1885 the brothers terminated their partnership agreement. Two years later the office and stores of the Hobart branch were moved to Cleburne House in Murray Street and in 1904 to 119 Collins Street. William inherited from his father the Lloyds agency, consular responsibilities and the directorship of the Commercial Union Assurance Co. In addition he secured the agencies of Goldsbrough & Co., the New Zealand Loan Co. and the Messageries Maritimes Line. In 1884 he became chairman of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce and trustee of the Hobart Savings Bank. Four years later he was president of the Southern Tasmanian Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and vice-patron in 1900. He also became a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the Perpetual Trustees Co. of Tasmania, a member of the Tasmanian Club in 1880, a Freemason and from 1883 a magistrate.

Believing that politics and business could not be carried on successfully at the same time, Captain Crosby had refused to stand for parliament, but soon after his father's death in 1885 William was elected to the Legislative Council for the seat of Hobart which he held until his retirement in 1909. On account of his local standing he was often invited to join ministries but declined owing to pressure of private business. In 1885 he supported a reciprocity treaty for Tasmania in preference to free trade, and in the 1890s favoured Federation as potentially advantageous to Tasmanian exports of timber, hops and fruit, although likely to prejudice exports of Tasmanian grain. He also opposed the government's purchase of the Main Line railway because of the high price paid, and objected to payment for members of parliament.

William Crosby lived at Wynscote, Davey Street, near the family estate of Hawthornden bought in 1866. There he died on 23 February 1910, survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters, and leaving an estate worth £98,000.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Cyclopedia, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • W. Tainsh, One Hundred Years: Centenary of William Crosby & Co. Pty Ltd 1853-1953 (Melb, 1953)
  • M. Garrett, The Crosbys of Hawthornden (Hob, 1953)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 13 Feb, 5 May 1885, 14 May 1887, 6 May 1891, 5 May 1909, 24 Feb 1910
  • Examiner (Launceston), 28 July 1858.

Citation details

Gordon Rimmer, 'Crosby, William (1832–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 14 April 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

William Crosby (1832-1910), by J. W. Beattie

William Crosby (1832-1910), by J. W. Beattie

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125880989

Life Summary [details]


Ryhope, Durham, England


23 February, 1910 (aged ~ 78)
Tasmania, Australia

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