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Crawford Atchison Pasco (1818–1898)

by Michael T. Moore

This article was published:

Crawford Atchison Denman Pasco (1818-1898), naval officer and police magistrate, was born in Plymouth, England, youngest son of Rear Admiral John Pasco and his wife Rebecca, née Penfold. As a lieutenant his father had signalled 'England expects every man will do his duty' at Trafalgar and later commanded Macquarie's escort to New South Wales and returned with Bligh to England.

At 12 Crawford entered the navy and as a midshipman was in H.M.S. Nimrod at the blockade of the Scheldt in 1832 and with the squadron on the Tagus in the Portuguese civil war and siege of Oporto in 1833. In 1834-37 he served in the Blonde and Satellite, stationed chiefly off Peru and Chile, where he witnessed the repercussions of revolutions and earthquakes. In 1838 he was appointed to the Britomart under Lieutenant Owen Stanley and sailed to Port Essington to prepare a settlement. In 1839 Pasco transferred to the Beagle. He served first under J. C. Wickham, then under J. L. Stokes, engaged in surveying parts of Australia's northern and western coasts, discovering in particular the Adelaide River, the future port of Darwin and the Victoria River. In 1842 he was temporarily transferred to the Vansittart for survey work in Bass Strait. On his return to England in 1843 Pasco was appointed to the Vestal, sailed via America to the Far East, South Africa, Van Diemen's Land and thence to Canton and Singapore with two million dollars, reparation from the Opium war. He sailed for Penang, subdued a rebellious rajah in Borneo, and then visited the Philippines.

Pasco was transferred to the paddle-steamer Vulture. In September 1846 he wrote to the editor of the Hong Kong Register suggesting that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. might extend its mail steamer services from Singapore to Australia. The letter was republished in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian papers. Meanwhile Lieutenant Pasco continued survey work first of the Canton River and then of the Palawan Island area, where he renewed contact with Borneo rebels. After a severe illness in 1851 he was sent to England and given two years' leave. In 1852 with a free passage from the P. & O. Co. in the steamship Chusan on its inaugural voyage to Australia, he was a great help with the navigation, particularly compass deviation, and took the ship through Port Phillip Heads himself.

Pasco retired from the navy and settled in Victoria. He was appointed a police magistrate and helped to organize a greatly expanded water police force at Williamstown. He dealt mainly with deserting crews and was instrumental in having convicted sailors imprisoned in hulks instead of a Melbourne gaol. Appointed a visiting justice of the hulks, he clashed with their officers and after a board of inquiry was transferred to Swan Hill to his great chagrin in 1857. Pasco was later appointed to Maryborough, Port Albert and Alexandra with various subsidiary duties, and was finally dismissed with many other magistrates on 24 January 1878.

Pasco retired to Melbourne. There he became a founder member of the Victorian branch of the Geographical Society in 1884. At its inaugural meeting the presidential address by F. Mueller led to the formation, with the Royal Society, of the first Antarctic Exploration Committee; Pasco was made chairman. The committee was extremely active, particularly in 1886-93, encouraging support in Australia, Britain and Scandinavia from politicians, scientists, whalers, explorers and philanthropists.

Pasco was twice married: first, at Hobart on 21 September 1852 to Mary Elizabeth Emmett; and second, to Francis Emily, daughter of Dr Thomas Barker. In 1897 he published A Roving Commission, a vivid account of his naval life. He feared God and the Melbourne Club. He died on 18 February 1898 and was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Cable, A Hundred Year History of the P. & O. (Lond, 1937)
  • R. A. Swan, Australia in the Antarctic (Melb, 1961)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1862-63, 3 (11)
  • Australasian, 3 July 1897
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Feb 1898.

Citation details

Michael T. Moore, 'Pasco, Crawford Atchison (1818–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Plymouth, Devon, England


18 February, 1898 (aged ~ 80)
Annandale, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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