CRAWFORD, James Coutts
Explorer and geologist.
A new biography of Crawford, James Coutts appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
J. C. Crawford, the son and grandson of naval officers, attended the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, and before his resignation at the age of 21 had attained the rank of sub-lieutenant. He then decided to try his fortune and capital in the antipodes, and in June 1838 arrrived at Sydney. Almost immediately, with the assistance of an excellent overseer with Australian experience, he purchased a herd of cattle from Braidwood, near Goulburn, and drove them to Adelaide. At the end of 1839 he sailed for New Zealand, calling at Kapiti and Mana before landing at Korohiwa, from where he walked to Port Nicholson (Wellington). The New Zealand Company land-purchase negotiations had just been completed and Crawford crossed the strait to Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds before returning to Wellington shortly after the first settlers had disembarked.
While camped on Petone Beach he bought five New Zealand Company land orders for 1,300 guineas, which entitled him to select 5 town acres and 500 country acres on the completion of surveys. He decided on Watts Peninsula, where he established a cattle farm, and revisited Australia to buy stock. In December 1840 he went back to England for a six-year period, but on his return to Wellington threw himself into the task of developing his estate, draining Burnham Lake in the centre of the Miramar flat by a tunnel through the coastal rim rock to Evans Bay.
Crawford, a keen amateur geologist, began in December 1861 a geological reconnaissance of the province. That month, with a mixed European-Maori party, he left for the upper Wanganui River, reaching Utapu, just below the Tangarakau junction, but he was refused permission to inspect the coal seam in the tributary, which was the main purpose of the journey. Obliged to return, he then visited the upper Rangitikei and Moawhango Valleys. The party left the Moawhango at the junction of the Otuareiawa Stream near Pawerawera and continued on to Turangarere and across the plateau to Tokaanu, returning to the west of the volcanoes to the Ongarue-Wanganui junction. Although in no sense a pioneer journey, it was a significant visit to a still comparatively unknown area.
In 1863 Crawford made his most noted contribution to exploration by the ascent of a ridge in the southern Tararua Range. Prevented by flood from proceeding up either the Waiohine or Ruamahanga Rivers, he continued round the foothills to the Manawatu via the Pahiatua Track. At Otaki he induced the ferryman, Manahi, to accompany him up the Waiotauru to the Otaki Forks. Not far above the junction he climbed through the bush to points on the open ridge, known today as Table Top and Dennan, from where he saw the “Maunga Huka” (Mount Hector) ridge. Later in the same year he reported on the geology of the Wairarapa east coast. In 1864 he acted for a few months as Goldfields Warden and Resident Magistrate. A versatile man of varied but somewhat dilettante interests, Crawford did not meet with the degree of success either in his business affairs or in his scientific pursuits that his energy and ability would seem to have promised. In addition, however, to his geological reports to the Wellington Provincial Council, he contributed many papers on geology, natural history, and agriculture to the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. In 1880 he published his Recollections of Travel in Australia and New Zealand, where his main expeditions are summarised. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1860–67, and was for nearly 15 years Resident Magistrate and Sheriff at Wellington.
Crawford married (1) Sophia, daughter of Admiral Sir J. W. Dundas on 28 November 1843, and (2) Jessie, daughter of Alexander McBarnett, August 1857, whose son, Major McBarnett, gave the name Miramar to the estate.
Crawford died in London on 8 April 1889.
by Austin Graham Bagnall, M.A., A.L.A., Librarian, National Library Centre, Wellington.