Who Was Crump?

Crump Street, Mortdale from Boundary Road, 1986

One of the more memorable street-names in our area is Crump Street, Mortdale.  Who was Crump?  The search leads us into a seedy world of frauds, fakes, charlatans and con-men.

William Charles Crump (1842-1925) was born at Greenwich, England, in 1842.  He came to Australia in the 1860s, and in 1871 married Sarah Hall.  They lived in Gulgong, NSW for several years.

Australian Town and Country Journal 13 March 1886

By the mid-1880s Crump had come to Sydney, where he set himself up in premises in Forbes Street as a ‘herbal and electric physician’.  He could be consulted daily, 10-12 and 7-9, and treated chronic diseases, specialising in ‘nerve, brain and spinal affections’.  He dealt in herbal remedies, and could supply electro-voltaic and magnetical appliances by mail.  He advertised frequently, and trade-marked his ‘electro-voltaic shield’ device. He was NOT a qualified medical practitioner. 

This was an era when great claims were made regarding electricity’s healing powers.  Crump latched on to this and made a lucrative living preying on the insecure and desperate.  He peddled a range of belts to be worn under the clothing, which, it was promised, would deliver mild electrical current, stimulating the area requiring treatment. 

In 1887 the Legislative Council investigated legally unqualified medical practitioners, and Crump was one of those examined.  The Daily Telegraph pinned him as a ‘medical quack’.

Daily Telegraph 8 August 1887

Crump diversified into land dealings, and became a director of the Federated Squatters’ and Farmers’ Co-operative Association in May 1889.  The following month he became a director of the Universal Advance and Investment Association Limited.  This brought him into contact with Mr E C V Broughton, a real estate developer; and Mr G Montgomery, with whom he was a director of the Mutual Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Australasia Limited.  By now he was operating from up-market premises in Victoria Chambers in Elizabeth Street.

Crump and Broughton pulled off a coup when their company, the Universal Land and Deposit Bank Limited, purchased ‘a valuable property on the Illawarra line’ valued at £9,626, for only £4,000 cash.  This was the Kemp’s Estate at Mortdale, which was an attractive parcel of land near the proposed Mortdale Railway Station.  Kemp’s Estate was subdivided and sold at auction on 11 May 1895 with E C V Broughton as auctioneer.  Street names on the estate included Universal Street (after the Universal Land and Deposit Bank), Broughton Street, and Crump Street.  More than 100 lots sold in the first month of offering, although few houses were built on the estate until long after the railway station opened.

In 1900, Crump’s money-making electric-belt scheme was exposed by the newspaper Truth, which called him a quack, ‘bogus’, and a cheat.  They acquired one of Crump’s so-called ‘medical’ belts, and two separate electrical experts confirmed that it was incapable of generating electrical current.  Crump was taken to court and ordered to pay a small fine.  Truth latched on to one of Crump’s other money-spinning ideas, that of sending illustrated medical pamphlets of doubtful value through the post, and called him a ‘liar and a scoundrel’ in bold headline. Crump declined to sue.

Undeterred, however, in 1903 he applied for a patent for ‘improvements in ‘electro-medical’ belts, and for other like purposes.’  Given that the belts did not work, any improvement was likely to be dubious.  He still felt free to describe himself as a ‘medical galvanist’, despite having no medical qualifications.

In the same year, he was one of the directors of the ill-fated Manly Water Chute and Amusements Limited company.  For a brief time, this attraction on a prime site at South Steyne, Manly was a huge success, but following a fatal accident to one of the ride’s operators, the popularity of the Water Chute declined and the valuable site was sold off.

William Charles Crump died at home at Beecroft in 1925.  He left a large estate of more than £20,000 divided between his two surviving daughters, which shows that regardless of what other expertise he may have claimed, he certainly had a talent for making money.

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