Page 1: Biography
Crookes, Samuel Irwin
Engineering teacher and consultant, local politician
This biography, written by Peter Lowe, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Samuel Irwin Crookes was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, in 1871, the son of Henry Crookes, a grinder, and his wife, Margaret Irwin. He attended school and university in that city, where he studied chemistry and electrical engineering. On 24 December 1896 in Sheffield he married May Robinson. They were to have four children. From 1904 Samuel taught electrical engineering at Battersea Polytechnic, South London.
In 1907 Samuel Crookes emigrated with his family to New Zealand. Until 1912 he taught theoretical and practical physics at Seddon Memorial Technical College, Auckland. By 1911 he had set up as a consulting engineer in Auckland, and this business was the focus of his subsequent career, although from 1916 to 1919 he also taught electrical engineering at Auckland University College in place of an absent staff member. His elder son, Samuel Irwin Crookes, a structural engineer, joined the consulting practice, which was known as Crookes and Son, in 1920. Their speciality was the design of industrial plant, especially in relation to electricity supply and distribution and the manufacture of bulk agricultural fertiliser. In 1926 Samuel junior joined the staff of the school of Architecture, where he remained until retirement. Crookes's younger son, Charles, became an architect specialising in the design of industrial complexes.
His combination of electrical and chemical engineering expertise gave Samuel Crookes senior an excellent consulting profile. Despite the depression, demand for electricity was growing rapidly and during the 1920s and 1930s he was associated with the Wairua Falls hydroelectric scheme inland from Whangarei and designed several local distribution systems. Farmers’ demand for fertiliser was also increasing steadily. Superphosphate was made by treating finely ground high-quality phosphate rock from Nauru Island with sulphuric acid. Crookes and Son supplied the technical and engineering expertise for manufacturing acid in bulk using a new method, and for processing the rock. Crookes was involved in the construction of major fertiliser works in Onehunga and New Plymouth. The Onehunga works, operational before 1923, was large in world terms and had an initial capacity of 50,000 tons of fertiliser, with provision for a future doubling of capacity. Work was also carried out at the Portland cement works near Whangarei.
In 1919 Samuel Crookes had been elected a corporate member of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers and in 1938 he was elected president of the New Zealand Institution of Engineers. His presidential address of February 1939 on Michael Faraday and the centennial of the discovery of electromagnetic induction was well researched. Samuel Crookes served on the Auckland City Council from 1922 to 1929, chaired the Town-planning Committee and was an elected member and later chairman of the Auckland Electric Power Board. Two terms as a member of the Auckland University College Council (1923–29 and 1930–36) acquainted him with the plight of the School of Engineering, which was under threat of closure. He and his friend, Auckland-trained consulting civil engineer W. A. (Arthur) Gray, organised a fund-raising appeal which enabled the school to remain open, albeit with the staff re-employed on half-pay.
Crookes was interested in farming, especially the breeding of Jersey cattle. He served as president of the Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Association during the Second World War and was a director of the New Zealand Farmers Fertiliser Company. Freemasonry was another of his interests. In his prime Samuel Crookes was of above average height, slim with a prominent moustache. He died on 26 December 1955, survived by his wife and family.