Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1856-1857.
PROFESSION:- China & Porcelain Merchant.
WARD:- St George
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- August 21st 1850 on death of Ald Carter.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Magistrate & Portsea Commissioner.
RESIDENCE:- 11 Lion Terrace. Portsea.
DECEASED:- January 14th 1870. aged 76. (1)
BURIED:- Kingston Cemetery.
A staunch Protestant, Crassweller was generally known for his unruffled serenity and placid equanimity. (2) But, in 1850, in common with others, he became agitated at a Papal Bull of that year concerning Catholics Bishops deriving their titles from English sees. This was perceived at the time as a nefarious Papist plot. Crassweller publicly urged that all Catholic Bishops, 'Should be treated as felons and deported.' This uncharacteristic outburst of course prompted the newspapers to quip (given Crassweller's profession) about, 'A Bull in a China Shop.'
This was another robust and interesting affair throwing light on Alderman Crassweller's nature. At the meeting Alderman Orange stood proposing the sixty-two year old Alderman Crassweller as the fit and proper person to fill the post of mayor. He noted that Crassweller had been a resident of Portsmouth for forty years and had always been connected with local improvements. The nomination was seconded by Alderman Charles Smithers who agreed that Crassweller was well suited for the job. Cllr Richard Ford then rose to say that he deplored the practice, which had occurred in this case, of a private group meeting at a tavern or hotel to discuss the merits of certain individuals for the office of mayor. "Such hole and corner meetings" he contended, "were unconstitutional." He went on to say that the council chamber was the proper place in which to discuss matters of such importance. Cllr Vandenbergh (St Thos) agreed with the Ford and proposed Cllr Edward J. Scott (Surgeon of St Mary Ward) as the fit person for the position of mayor. Cllr Emanuel spoke next saying that Scott was a suitable candidate firstly as he was not associated with any political faction. Secondly, the mayoral office needed young blood so that the occupant might be capable in every way of discharging the required duties. Cllr J. A. Howell (St Paul) stood next pointing out that, though he had not one word to say against Scott, he did not think it right that a person should be elected mayor so soon after first being elected to the council (i.e. Scott first elected November 1856). Cllr Isaac Jeffrey (St Thos) had but one objection to Alderman Crassweller - his deafness. On frequent occasions, claimed Jeffrey, Crassweller, due to imperfect hearing, had misunderstood resolutions and consequently voted the wrong way. What then would happen if Crassweller were sitting on the Bench he asked.

Cllr Davey (St Paul) then proposed Alderman Bramble - for a fifth term! Seconded by Alderman Scale. Alderman D. Levy rose to say that if Crassweller was too old then Scott was too young. Turning towards Alderman Bramble he asked, "Haven't you had enough?" This remark was ruled out of order as all comments should be addressed to the chair. At this point Cllr Scott requested that his name be withdrawn - it was. Cllr R.W. Ford then quoted Alderman Levy as saying that gentlemen fining the office of mayor should be possessed of sound nerve and acute understanding, He did not now believe Alderman Crassweller was possessed of all these qualities. He added that while Crassweller had been a useful member of the Corporation and a fine member of the Finance Committee it did not always follow that a competent councillor would make a good mayor. He regretted that the infirmities of age had fallen on Crassweller - ten years ago he might have made a fine mayor but not now. Without further ado, and to avoid an electoral contest, the motion was put that Crassweller was a fit person to be mayor. Motion carried by 26 votes to 18 with five neuters.
Nationally the Indian Mutiny broke out and on August 4th the Queen inspected a large number of troops who were assembled in the Dockyard about to embark for India. The responsibilities of the Municipal authority were still somewhat limited. For example, perhaps the most significant civic event in 1857 was the passing of the Landport & Southsea Improvement Act. This widened the scope of the Commissioners especially in respect of sanitary measures e.g. drainage etc. For the borough council there was always the Camber Docks and at their Spring meeting the mayor had to report that the lessee of the Camber slip way - Mr Thomas White - had gone bankrupt. This represented a loss of revenue to the borough. Now they could either run it themselves or find another lessee - they decided to advertise for a new man. (4) Inter alia, the council voted to petition Parliament for the abolition of the Income Tax - it failed. It was followed by a further petition to emancipate British born Jews - this also failed.
In 1857 the Queen dissolved Parliament, there would be a General Election. Locally It was noted there had been a significant increase in the number of registered voters especially in the outwards. St Paul's now had c2,500 voters whilst All Saints had 1,462. Concern was expressed that this might cause difficulties for the Returning Officer (i.e. the mayor) in the pending election for if they all voted (even at six a minute) the poll would take over eight hours to complete. (5)
The election proved to be quite a contest. At the 1852 election Portsmouth had returned unopposed two Liberals, Francis Baring and Lord Monck. By 1857 both were deeply unpopular. This time a third candidate, Sir James D. Elphinstone, a Tory, stood. A 'Hustings' had been erected in St George's Square and on Friday 28th March, in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000, the mayor presided over the formal nominations. He addressed the gathering saying he wanted a well ordered meeting with no raucous outbursts and requested that they respect the dignity of his office. The crowd took no notice and groans and hisses greeted Baring and Monck when they appeared. Nominations were then formally made and each candidate made a short and oft interrupted speech. At the end of the meeting Crassweller asked for a show of hands. Elphinstone was the clear leader with Baring second, no protracted campaigns in the C19th and the mayor would have settled on the show of hands but Alderman George Scale called for a formal Poll. The mayor was obliged to agree and announced it would be held the following day -Saturday. Polling booths were set up and the result, in this two member constituency, was announced on Monday 30th. In the event the result was:-
ELPHINSTONE (Tory) 1,522
BARING (Liberal) 1,496
MONK (Liberal) 1,476.
The top two were elected. So Portsmouth had returned a Tory and a Liberal to Westminster.
At the end of his tenure Crassweller received his vote of thanks and Cllr R.W. Ford stood to say that though he had opposed Crassweller's candidature he now congratulated him on the way he had discharged his duties. (7) He continued to be a member of the council until his death in 1870. Upon his passing the local press carried no obituaries and no reports of his funeral. His plot, in Kingston cemetery, shows he was married to Louisa who died 19th February 1871 at Barnstaple in Devon aged 74.
Norman Gordon
1. Portsmouth Times 15th January 1870.
2. Portsmouth Times 23rd November 1850.
3. Portsmouth Times 15th November 1856
4. Portsmouth Times 7th March 1857 & 9th May 1857
5. Portsmouth Times 7th March 1857.
6. Portsmouth Times 28th March 1857
7. Portsmouth Times November 14th 1857.