In Memory of Sir Peter Crisp (1912-1984) – Anzac Day

Sir Peter is best known for his bequeath of 696 books and pamphlets on freshwater fishing to the National Library of Australia (NLA) in 1985, the year following his death. The NLA named the collection after him, with each book catalogued individually and kept together as part of the Crisp Collection. Of the 696 titles, 130 were Australian. Most books were published in the Twentieth Century with some from the Nineteenth. 

Sir Peter’s love of water and fishing likely began at a young age, and continued throughout his years as a serviceman in World War II and then back in Tasmania in the post-war era. Having served in the Reserve, Sir Peter was appointed Captain in the  Australian Imperial Force in January 1940. Arriving in Britain in June, he was seconded to AIF Headquarters then to the Australian Army Staff, United Kingdom. He rose to Lieutenant Colonel (1944) before returning to Australia in March 1945. He then oversaw military courts in Morotai (Indonesia) as a Colonel trying Japanese war criminals. Morotai was an important logistical base for Australian forces particularly for the Borneo-led campaign that same year. Trials held there were Australian B and C Class trials, which included crimes against prisoners of war and the execution of Allied air men under the Australian War Crimes Act of 1945. In all, Australia conducted nearly three hundred trials, in which 924 Japanese servicemen were accused of war crimes. Of these, 644 were convicted and 148 were sentenced to death. It is unclear how many of these trails were held at Morotai.

Japanese prisoners playing cards, Morotai, 1945. These men had been sentenced to death for executing three Australian airmen and were waiting the outcome of their appeal. | Source: Australian War Memorial

Sir Peter eventually returned to Tasmania as a civilian, although remained a member of the Reserves. He became a Supreme Court judge and held other official roles such as Crown Prosecutor, Crown Solicitor, and Solicitor-General. He was knighted in 1969, and retired from law in 1971.

Left to right: Mr Eric Reece (Premier of Tasmania), Sir William Crowther and Sir Peter Crisp. 1964. | Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

A keen angler, reader and writer, Sir Peter was also Chairman of the Tasmanian State Library from 1956 to 1977 and then Chairman of the Australian Advisory Council on Bibliographical Services, before then serving as Chairman of the Council of the National Library of Australia in 1971.

Governor-Lord Rowallan laying the foundation stone of the new State Library building in Murray Street with Sir Peter CRISP, on 19 February 1960. | Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

I believe, [he] be described as judicial, firm but fair and patient, controlling the loquacious and encouraging the timid. His insistence on a measure of formality in the proceedings of the Council, where he generally insisted on its Councillors standing while speaking, served to restrict the garrulous and to improve the audibility of comments.”         Allan Horton (National Library of Australia)

Sir Peter was arguably his happiest with his fly rod. In a paper entitled ‘The vicarious angler’, Crisp wrote  

‘my principal recreation has been to fish for trout and, for one brief period, salmon … Over the years have sought, vicariously, to assuage my perpetual disappointments by recourse to the literature of angling, rather fitfully and intermittently, perhaps, but with an ever increasing interest, instruction and sometimes amusement’ (NLA, 2018). 

Sir Peter died 13 February 1984 survived by his wife and two daughters.

 

References:

Australian Government (2018). War Crimes Trials. ANZAC Portal. Accessed 23 April 2018 from https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/thaiburma-railway-and-hellfire-pass/events/after-war/war-crimes-trials

Finlay, H. (2007). Sir Malcolm Peter Crisp (1912-1984). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Accessed 23 April 2018 from http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crisp-sir-malcolm-peter-12369

Horton, A. (1984). Sir Peter Crisp Obituary. Australian Library and Information Association. Accessed 23 April 2018 from https://www.alia.org.au/sir-peter-crisp

National Library of Australia (2018). Sir Peter Crisp Collection. National Library of Australia. Accessed 20 April 2018 from https://www.nla.gov.au/selected-library-collections/sir-peter-crisp-collection