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Crawford, Alexander (1857–1935)

by L. Lomas

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Alexander Crawford (1857-1935), agriculturist, was born on 5 May 1857 in Belfast, son of James Wright Crawford, starch manufacturer, and his wife Madge, née Mathews. His parents, devout Methodists, sent him to near-by Queen's College and then to the Albert Agricultural College, Glasnevin, Dublin.

Hoping that the climate would benefit his health, Crawford migrated to Australia, probably visiting Queensland first but later prospecting for gold, surveying possible routes through Western Australia for the transcontinental railway, and for a time managing a butter factory at Ballan, Victoria. In November 1881 he became part-owner of Moorarrie, a sheep run inland from Geraldton, Western Australia, but poor prospects induced him to move to Perth next year. On 3 March 1885 at Linton, Victoria, he married his cousin Eliza Jane Mathews. A trip home to Ireland was extended to include the dairying districts of Norway, Sweden and Denmark and nearly a year in North America visiting agricultural colleges. By this time Crawford claimed that he had 'given a good deal of attention to the dairying, read it up theoretically, and knew it practically'.

In 1888, as part of the Victorian government's programme to encourage the butter export industry, Crawford was appointed manager of a travelling dairy. For the next two to three years he visited by rail thirty-eight centres in Victoria giving practical demonstrations and lectures on butter and cheese production; hygienic operation of the cream separator was a feature. He also wrote more than a dozen articles on topics ranging from cool-chambers for transporting butter to breeds of dairy cattle.

In April 1891 Crawford become manager of the newly founded Victorian Creamery and Butter Co.; farmers were encouraged to establish creameries to supply cream for the manufacture of butter of a uniformly high quality. However the company, one of a group owned by Bartram & Sons, went out of business in December 1895.

By then Crawford had gone to Western Australia, and in 1896 he joined the Bureau of Agriculture in Perth. He rose to acting director of agriculture in 1903 and acting under-secretary in 1905 when a director was appointed. His career may have been adversely affected by the findings of the royal commission on the butter industry in Victoria (1905). This report alleged irregularities in the accounts of the Victorian Creamery and Butter Co. although Crawford, who appeared before the commission, claimed that he had joined the company on the understanding that he knew nothing about finance and was employed only for his practical skills. While no charges against him were laid, his reputation suffered from these reports. In 1909-19 he was chief inspector under the Rabbit and Vermin Acts. A lover of the outback, he enjoyed the trips by camel and vehicle to check the rabbit-proof fence across the State.

Crawford was a councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of Western Australia in 1899 and president in 1916. An active Wesleyan layman, he is commemorated by a plaque in Wesley Church, William Street, Perth. He was a foundation member in 1905 of the Claremont Yacht Club and commodore in 1908-09.

Crawford's first wife had died in November 1891 leaving no issue. On 5 April 1893 at Dandenong, Victoria, he married her sister Martha Linton Mathews: she died of tuberculosis in Albany, Western Australia, in 1921 leaving two sons and a daughter. On 4 July 1923 at South Perth he married a 28-year-old widow Gladys Greenham, née Chatham. Crawford died at South Perth on 8 November 1935 and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. His wife, their daughter and the children of his second marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Royal Commission on the Butter Industry, Parliamentary Papers (Victoria), 1905, 2 (10)
  • Department of Agriculture (Victoria), Bulletin, 1888-91, no 1-14
  • M. Morgan, Biographcial outline of A. Crawford, and Moorarrie correspondence (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

L. Lomas, 'Crawford, Alexander (1857–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/crawford-alexander-5810/text9861, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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