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John Christopher Croft
Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)
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To cite this:
Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney),
"John Christopher Croft",
Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):
http://sydney.edu.au/paradisec/australharmony/croft-john-christopher.php; accessed 29 March 2017
CROFT, John Christopher (Jack Chris, the Barber)
Convict, musician, flute player, teacher of music, barber
Born England, 1798
Arrived Sydney, NSW, ? 1821
Died, Sydney, NSW, April 1829
Reporting on the first concert by a new Philharmonic Society in Sydney in July 1834, a correspondent to The Australian grasped the opportunity to expatriate on how the enterprise bode well for moral improvement of the colony:
Music seriously applied, is one of the noblest entertainments that can engage the mind of man, it humanizes the passions, strengthens devotion, and exalts, the soul with the sublimest ideas. As a proof of its salutary effects, we may boldly assert, that among the whole prison population that have arrived in Australia, there never was a professor of music.
"Philharmonic Concert", The Australian (29 July 1834), 2
The early colonial press is so full of similar bold claims, probably more often than not the combined result of failures of community memory, and of recently-arrived journalists to apprise themselves of the previous history of the colony.
In fact, by then there had been several "professors of music" (professional music teachers) among the convict arrivals. Croft was one such, a "teacher of music", and not just to the working classes, but reportedly "in the habit of giving lessons in the harmonious art to younger branches of respectable families."
Moreover, far from protecting him "from actions that he would regret", music appears to have created the conditions, and inspired the crime, for which he was transported.
At London's Old Bailey, on 28 October 1820, John Christopher Croft, a 22-year-old musician in the employ of Goulding and Co., music-sellers of Soho, was tried on two counts of stealing flutes, and found guilty on the second count.
His trial record contains interesting information, not only on his own life, but on the firm of Goulding, D'Almaine and Potter, in particular identifying George Wood as a flute maker.
As of August 2015, I have not found a record of his transportation; however, at his inquest he was described as a "prisoner for life".
Two reports of Croft's death, the result of a knife wound and drowning in Sydney Cove near the current site of the present Sydney Opera House, in April 1829 provide the only other biographical information we have. On equivocal evidence, the inquest returned a verdict of suicide, though murder is not out of the question.
If suicide, however, Croft's death was typical of those of many other colonist musicians - a fatal combination of poverty, underlying mental instability, and alcoholism.
I have found no record of a Soho music-dealer called Croft. However, in 1737 one of the children of the musician-composer Robert Woodcock was apprenticed to a John Christopher Croft of Covent Garden, haberdasher.
David Lasocki and Helen Neate, "The life and works of Robert Woodcock 1690-1728", The American Recorder (August 1988), 103 note 31
THE WHOLE PROCEEDINGS ... in the Old Bailey; ON WEDNESDAY, 25th of OCTOBER, 1820, and following Days (London: For H. Buckler, by T. Booth, 1820), 645-46
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=182010280035 645 (DIGITISED)
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/images.jsp?doc=182010280036 646 (DIGITISED)
http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?path=sessionsPapers%2F18201028.xml (modern edition online)
[28 October 1820] 1302. JOHN CHRISTOPHER CROFT was indicted for stealing, on the 7th of October, three flutes, value 6 l., the goods of Thomas Potter and others, his partners, in the dwelling-house of Sarah Gouldings, widow.
MR. ANDREWS conducted the prosecution.
JAMES LAWSON. I am shopman to Mr. Dobree, a pawnbroker, who lives at Charing-cross. On the 7th of October a young man pledged three flutes for two guineas and a half. I believe the prisoner to be the man. He said he had an order to send some to the Cape of Good Hope, and pawned them till he completed the order, they are wrapped in the same paper in which they were brought. I will not positively say he is the man.
MR. THOMAS POTTER. I am one of the firm of Golding and Co., I have different partners. The prisoner was in our employ about six weeks, from July to the 26th of August. We are music-sellers. After he left us he called repeatedly to know if we could employ him again, he always came between twelve and two o'clock, when the men were at dinner.
Cross-examined. Q. You have hundreds of these flutes - A. Yes.
SAMUEL HILL. I have the care of the flutes, the paper these flutes are wrapped in has a private mark, which I put on it. We only made eight of this sort, and sold none of them.
GEORGE WOOD. I made the flutes. On the 20th of September I sent the prosecutor two eight-keyed flutes, one of those produced is one of them. I know it by the formation of the key.
Prisoner's Defence. I bought them all, and told them if they sent an officer with me I would find the man. I informed the foreman the night before I was taken that I had bought them of a man who owed me money.
SAMUEL HILL re-examined. I am foreman. He told me he had advanced 14 l. on some flutes, and said they were in pledge at Dobree's, in Oxford-street, not at Charing-cross.
First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Recorder.
1303. JOHN CHRISTOPHER CROFT was again indicted for stealing, on the 20th of August , one flute, value 50 s., the goods of Thomas Potter and others, his partners, in the dwelling-house of Sarah Goulding.
WILLIAM GORTON. I am a shopman to Mr. Dobree, a pawnbroker, in Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square. On the 8th of August the prisoner pawned a flute in the name of Rose, London-street. In October he offered to pledge three, I questioned him, and his answers not being satisfactory. I took him to Mrs. Golding, and gave him in charge.
(Property produced and sworn to.)
GUILTY. Aged 22. Of stealing to the value of 39 s. only. Judgment Respited.
First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Recorder.
[News], Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser (2 November 1820), 4
The following have been convicted of felony, viz.: - ... J. C. Croft, for stealing four flutes ...
"OLD BAILEY. WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 1", Globe (2 November 1820), 4
John Charles Croft [sic] was charged with stealing four flutes, the property Messrs. Goulding, d'Almaine, Potter, and Co. music sellers, in Soho-square. The Prisoner was employed occasionally in assisting in the warehouse of the Prosecutors, which means he had opportunity of committing the robbery. The property was pledged at Messrs. Dobree's, Charing-cross; but the proof that the Prisoner was the man who pledged them not being satisfactory, the Jury acquitted him. He was again put to the bar on a similar charge, which the proof being more conclusive, he was found Guilty of stealing to the value of 39s.
"CORONERS INQUESTS", The Australian (28 April 1829), 3
An inquisition was convened by Major Smeathman, Coroner for Sydney, at two o'clock, on Sunday, at the Sydney Hotel, on the corpse of John Christopher Croft, alias John Christopher, better known as "Jack Chris, the barber", who had been found laying dead in the water, with a cut throat, near Macquarie Fort, round by Bennelong's Point, on Sunday morning. This unfortunate man proves to be the son of Mr. Croft, who kept a well-known music shop in Dean-street, Soho. In the early part of his life, Christopher studied music with such intensity that he lost his wits at the age of 17, and was placed in St. Luke's, where he was recalled to reason; but now, in place of being harmoniously, he became wildly disposed. He associated with questionable characters and finally obtained His Most Gracious Majesty's free passage to this Colony, where it was fated he should pass the remainder of his days. His skill in music continued unimpeached; and, for some time, he had been in the habit of giving lessons in the harmonious art to younger branches of respectable families; but he also became addicted to a liberal use of ardent spirits, which, together with his predisposition to mental aberration, flung him from fits of wildness into moody reflection.
Oh! the vanity of human life!
Poverty had borne rather hard upon him of late; and at times, to raise funds, he was in the habit of dabbling in "the suds", - exercising the razor, and cutting hair, for a little gain, which gained him the appellation of "Jack Chris, the barber."
It appeared by evidence of the watchman at the Governor's bathing-house, that, on Sunday morning, about half-past six, he (the watchman) was coming down the flight of steps near Governor's Landing-place, when he was called by Mr. Robert Campbell, who was taking his usual morning's walk, and he discovered some of the clothes belonging to deceased hanging on the railings, near the water. The clothes, consisting of a jacket and waistcoat, were much blooded on the right side. Upon looking farther, they discovered deceased in the water some few yards from shore: it was in deep water, and not to be come at easily by those on shore. They hailed a vessel, which sent a boat with two hands, who picked up the body of deceased.
Some other witnesses proved deceased had shewn a great degree of mental aberaation for some days before. It was the opinion of Dr. Bland that death had been caused as much by suffocation as the wound. Verdict accordingly.
"CORONER'S INQUESTS", The Sydney Gazette (28 April 1829), 2
On Sunday another inquest was held at Cummings' Hotel, Sydney, in the case of John Christopher Croft, who was found drowned, with his throat cut, but not so effectually as to have been the cause of depriving him of life. After inflicting the wound in the throat, it is supposed that he pulled off his cloaths and hung them upon the rails, where they were found, and very near to the spot where he threw himself into the water. Upon the examination of evidence, it appeared the deceased had upon many previous occasions evinced every symptom of a disturbed mind, and one witnesses in particular, who had known him in England, swore to the fact of his having been confined as a lunatic in St. Luke's Hospital, and that in this country he had often been afflicted by the same malady; the jury, therefore, under direction of the Coroner, returned their verdict - "The deceased destroyed himself then labouring under a state of aberration of mind." The spot he selected for the tragic scene, was on the east side of the Cove, near the steps leading to the Domain, and with in a short distance of a vessel at her moorings; the individual was a prisoner for life, and well known about Sydney as a teacher of music, with which science he was well acquainted.
Bibliography and resources
Skinner 2011a, 68
Coronial inquests, NSW, 1829, Macquarie University, Macquarie Law School
Flute (pictured above), by Goulding, D'Almaine, Potter, & Co., London [c.1810-20], University of Edinburgh, Musical instruments museums
© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2017