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Crooks, Alexander (1847–1943)

by Greg McCarthy and Margaret Phillips

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Alexander Crooks (1847-1943), bank manager, cricketer and embezzler, was born on 23 September 1847 at Leith, Midlothian, Scotland, youngest of seven children of William Crooks, printer, and his wife Ann, née Thompson. The family sailed in the Colooney and reached Port Adelaide on 7 December 1852. In the 1860s Alexander was employed as a bank clerk at Angaston, returning to Adelaide in 1872. On 18 September 1873 at the Wesleyan Church, Kent Town, he married Emily Hannah Birks; his sister Jemima had married Emily's brother Walter Richard. In 1874 Crooks gained a moment of cricketing fame when, representing the colony at Adelaide Oval, he took a spectacular boundary catch to dismiss the legendary W. G. Grace (for 6 runs). Crooks's cricketing skills brought him into contact with an elite fraternity, including Sir Henry Ayers and C. C. Kingston, and in 1874-85 he was treasurer of the South Australian Cricket Association. In October 1885 he became chairman of the association but resigned at the December meeting, shortly before he was engulfed by scandal.

In 1879 Crooks had been employed as an accountant in the newly established Commercial Bank of South Australia; within a year he was manager. With one son and three daughters (a son had died in infancy), the family lived in North Adelaide. The bank grew rapidly, its balance sheet rising from £221,130 in 1879 to £1,909,537 by 1886, with twenty-six branches in South Australia, including Palmerston (Darwin), and offices in Melbourne, Perth and London. On 24 February 1886, to the shock of the Adelaide business community, the bank suspended trading. Three days later Crooks was arrested and charged with fraud. It soon emerged that lending and accounting practices in the bank were lax, with Crooks engaging in speculative lending to prominent businessmen and also supplementing his income from the till.

The collapse of the bank created an atmosphere of recrimination against the managers and directors; at an Adelaide Town Hall meeting there was a call to lynch Crooks. He was charged with embezzling £5000. Kingston defended him at the trial, held on 6 April 1886, where he pleaded guilty. In passing a sentence of eight years' hard labour at the Stockade, Yatala, the judge commented that Crooks had probably misappropriated some £20,000 to £30,000 and had made advances to customers without approval from the directors to an extent of £278,000. The bank went into liquidation—a fate that the South Australian Cricket Association managed to avoid through astute management and a secret loan from the brewer (Sir) Edwin Smith.

In detention Crooks, a model prisoner, was placed in charge of the dispensary. He was granted early release on 11 October 1890 and in 1899 sought a new life in Western Australia, where he became a manager of a mining company, Gray & Sons, at Norseman. He left Western Australia in 1916, returned to Adelaide about 1923 and retired to Brighton. Predeceased by his wife in 1932, Crooks died on 29 August 1943 at Brighton and was buried in St Jude's Church of England cemetery. A son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, Gold and Paper (Melb, 1958)
  • S. J. Butlin, The Australian Monetary System 1851 to 1914 (Syd, 1986)
  • R. M. Gibbs, Bulls, Bears and Wildcats (Adel, 1988)
  • T. Sykes, Two Centuries of Panic (Syd, 1988)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 15 Mar 1886, pp 116, 123, 15 Apr 1886, p 196
  • 13 May 1886, p 252
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Feb 1886, pp 4, 5, 27 Feb 1886, p 4
  • 1 Mar 1886, p 5, 5 Mar 1886, p 5
  • Sun (Sydney), 3 Mar 1977, p 28.

Citation details

Greg McCarthy and Margaret Phillips, 'Crooks, Alexander (1847–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/crooks-alexander-12870/text23243, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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