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Crawford, Thomas William (1865–1948)

by Ann G. Smith

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Thomas William Crawford (1865-1948), by J. S. Wiley, 1920s

Thomas William Crawford (1865-1948), by J. S. Wiley, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24171421

Thomas William Crawford (1865-1948), sugar-grower and politician, was born on 31 January 1865 at East Collingwood, Melbourne, son of Thomas Crawford, an Irish storekeeper, and his English wife Helen, née Lawson. After spending his childhood on the farm which his father had acquired in Gippsland, Crawford served a printing apprenticeship with the Gippsland Mercury. He then spent two years with the Melbourne Federal Australasian and in about 1886 moved to Brisbane to work for the Courier. A unionist, he was elected permanent secretary of the Queensland Typographical Association in March 1889, although he appears not to have accepted the office; he became president in 1892 and was a delegate to the Brisbane District Council of the Australian Labour Federation in 1889-92.

The land, however, attracted Crawford's chief interest and in 1895, in association with William, Edward, George and Alfred Muntz whose sister Emily he had married on 17 September 1886 at the Bowen Hills Wesleyan parsonage, he obtained the 400-acre (162 ha) Brie-Brie estate in the Mossman district. He was to develop the property into one of the most successful cane-growing undertakings in Queensland. Crawford went to the area in anticipation of the erection of the Mossman Central Mill, one of the mills proposed under the 1893 Sugar Works Guarantee Act; on the formation of the Mossman Central Mill Co. Ltd he was elected to the directorate and was later chairman. He took an active part in the 1907 conference of sugar representatives convened by the Townsville Chamber of Commerce to discuss the replacement of Melanesian by white labour, and became vice-president of the subsequent Queensland Sugar Producers' Association. He was president in 1909-43, then again vice-president until 1945.

Although Crawford was a member of the Douglas Shire Council, public life did not hold great appeal for him and it was only after pressing requests from sugar-growers that he stood, unsuccessfully, as a Liberal candidate for Herbert in the Federal elections of 1910. He lost a bid for the Senate in 1914 but was elected a Nationalist senator in 1917 and held the seat until his retirement in June 1947. A member of the Standing Committee of Public Accounts in 1918-20, he was honorary minister in the Bruce- Page government of 1923-28 and acting minister for trade and customs for much of this time. Described as a 'keen debater with a capacity for lucid and logical expression' Crawford spoke as an acknowledged authority on sugar matters. Early in his parliamentary career he was a strong advocate for a separate State to encompass the Australian tropical zone.

Survived by his wife, four daughters and three sons, he died on 9 June 1948 at Indooroopilly, and was cremated. He left an estate valued at £21,066 for probate in Victoria and at £39,935 in Queensland. Two of his sons served in the Australian Imperial Force, the elder, William Hugh, receiving the Military Medal for bravery in the field.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Typographical Journal, Mar, Apr, July 1889, Jan, June, Dec 1890, June 1891, Feb 1892
  • Australian Sugar Journal, Nov 1975
  • Brisbane Courier, 20 July 1914
  • Punch (Melbourne), 19 Aug 1920
  • Queenslander, 19 Sept 1929.

Citation details

Ann G. Smith, 'Crawford, Thomas William (1865–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/crawford-thomas-william-5813/text9867, accessed 26 September 2017.

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