Ernest Alfred Crome (1902–1987) was born in Sydney and educated at Enmore Public School. In 1915 he was appointed office boy in the Newtown and Enmore No. 1 Starr-Bowkett Society, beginning an association with the Starr-Bowkett building societies that was to last for 56 years. He served on vessels of the Union Steamship Company in 1918 and from 1918 to 1922 he was a shipping clerk and wool sampler with Goldsborough Mort & Company. He then returned to the Newtown and Enmore Building Cooperative Society, where he was employed as a cashier and clerk until 1942. From 1943 to 1945 he was on the staff of the De Haviland Aircraft Company, working on its Mosquito Project. After the War, he was employed by various firms before returning to the Newtown, Marrickville and General Cooperative Building Societies. He retired as secretary in 1971.
Crome became fascinated with aviation in 1919, when he witnessed the arrival in Sydney of the Vickers Vimy piloted by Ross and Keith Smith, at the end of the first flight from England to Australia. He began collecting aviation material, particularly flight covers and other aero-philatelic items, and continued to do so all his life. In 1928 he met Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm and his collecting was especially focused on the achievements of these two aviators. Ulm was the patron of the Air Mail Society of New South Wales, which Crome founded in 1932. Crome won medals for his philatelic collection at the Melbourne Centenary Exhibition in 1934, the South Australian Centenary Exhibition in 1936 and the Sydney 150th Anniversary Exhibition in 1938. By the post-War years he had assembled one of the finest collections of its kind in the world.
Crome, who was related to the English painter John Crome (1768–1821), studied painting at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. Many of his paintings were on aviation themes. His parents were musicians and as a boy he studied the violin. Although he did not pursue a musical career, he had a strong interest in music, especially violin-making, an interest which again was reflected in his collecting. He was the author of Qantas aeriana (1955) and Footnotes to history and the first ten years of the Rotary Club of Newtown 1962–1972 (1972). He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1983.
Qantas aeriana (1955)
The E.A. and V.I. Crome Collection was purchased by the Library in 1966. Crome was subsequently engaged as an aviation consultant for five years and, acting on his advice, the Library purchased many publications and pictures relating to aviation and air transport. He made numerous donations to the Library in the next 20 years. Following his death in 1987, the Library received his remaining books, manuscripts and papers, as well as a substantial bequest to be used for the development and maintenance of his collection.
The original collection contained about 250 books and pamphlets, mostly on aviation history. Many of them are inscribed to Crome. The authors include Sir Ross Smith, Sir Gordon Taylor, Jim Mollison and Sir Hudson Fysh, and there are several works relating to Kingsford Smith. Within later consignments were books on Australian history, art, music, poetry, local history and other subjects, and some published music scores. Many of the books are signed or inscribed by the authors. One of the oldest works is a copy of Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield (1780), which belonged to Captain John Hunter.
The Crome Collection contains a vast quantity of printed ephemera. Material on aviation includes commemorative booklets, brochures, leaflets, circulars, airline magazines, receipt books and tickets. In addition, there are stamp catalogues, auction catalogues, travel brochures, Rotary newsletters, and concert and theatre programs.
The main groups of manuscripts in the Crome Collection consist of aircraft logs (1928–40), papers and memorabilia of some early Australian aviators, and records of Australian National Airways, Imperial Airways Ltd and other early airlines. Among the most important items are notes exchanged between the crew on the first trans-Pacific flight in 1928, the log kept by Charles Ulm on the flight of the Southern Cross from Richmond to Wyndham in 1929 (ending with a forced landing at ‘Coffee Royal’), and the log of the Southern Cross on the first east–west crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1930. There are several logs of the Southern Cross (1928–34) and Faith in Australia (1933–34). Among the aviators whose flights are documented in the logs are G.U. Allan, Nancy Bird, Charles Kingsford Smith, Tommy Pethybridge, P.G. Taylor and Charles Ulm.
The personal documents mainly relate to Ross Smith, Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm and W.H. Shiers. They include letters, telegrams, licences, passports, certificates, receipts, newspaper cuttings, maps, badges and other memorabilia. There are also screenplays of the films Smithy and The Old Bus, together with biographical notes, articles and papers relating to memorials to early aviators. The Smithy Book, compiled by Crome over a period of 30 years, contains comments by many of the aviators and others who knew Kingsford Smith.
The most extraordinary component of the Crome Collection is the aero-philatelic items. They total about 30 000 items and comprise flight covers, postcards, photographs, menus, vignettes and leaflets. There are about 1000 Australian and Papua New Guinea covers, dating from 1914 to 1969. They document inter alia the first Australian airmail (1914), the first England–Australia airmail (1919), the first regular service in Australia (1921), the first Australia–Papua airmail (1922), the first England–Australia round trip (1926), the first England–Australia solo flight (1928), the first flight around Australia by a woman (1932) and the first official Australia–New Zealand airmail (1934).
In addition to the Australian covers, the collection contains flight covers from New Zealand, Britain, Canada, Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. They include zeppelin flights, flights over the North Pole, rocket flights and space flights.
The collection contains 25 paintings by Crome, comprising depictions of the first balloon ascent in Sydney, the Southern Cross and Miss Southern Cross, William Willis in his yacht Little One, and landscapes in New South Wales and Queensland. Other paintings include portraits of Crome and his wife Virtue Crome by Lyall Trindall (1944), a portrait of his mother Lottie Crome by Perceval Norton (1931), and a portrait of Jack Lang by Fred Leist (c. 1930).
The Crome Collection contains 1145 photographs, mostly depicting early Australian aviators and planes. They include photographs of G.U. Allan, Keith Anderson, Jean Batten, Nancy Bird, Jim Broadbent, Alan Cobham, Hudson Fysh, Bert Hinkler, W.E. Hart, Amy Johnson, Charles Kingsford Smith, Guy Menzies, Jim Mollison, W.H. Shiers and Charles Ulm. There are also photographs of air crashes, early services of Qantas, airfields, parades, aircraft workshops, RAAF operations during World War II, and memorials to early aviators.
Crome did not make any distinction between library and museum materials and a large number of objects, mostly associated with early aviators, found their way into his collection. In his own listing of his collection, compasses had pride of place: the compass used by Kingsford Smith on the Southern Cross and the compass used by Ulm on Faith in Australia. Other artefacts include a radio receiver used on the 1928 trans-Pacific flight, the case used by P.G. Taylor to transfer oil from a failed engine on the Southern Cross as it crossed the Tasman Sea in 1935, and a pilot’s jacket and RAAF uniform worn by Kingsford Smith.
Apart from some early family photographs, the personal papers of Crome date from about 1932 until his death. He maintained an extensive correspondence with aviators, stamp dealers, collectors and libraries and retained copies of his own letters. There are also scrapbooks, travel diaries, notebooks, autograph books, research material, drafts of talks and publications, newspaper cuttings and a very large number of photographs.
The books and pamphlets in the original Crome Collection were catalogued individually and integrated in the Australian and general collections. Books and printed ephemera that were received in later instalments have been kept with his manuscripts and personal papers in the Manuscripts Collection. The collection is held at MS 1925 and occupies 234 boxes. A 434 page finding aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-229739163/findingaid. The log books held in boxes 1-10 have been digitised.
The Australian and Papua New Guinea aero-philatelic items are filed in binders and housed in the Manuscripts Collection. A 54 page item listing was compiled by Tom Frommer in 1993 and is shelved in the Special Collections Reading Room. The albums have been digitised. There is no listing for the flight covers relating to other countries.
The photographs are held in the Pictures Collection at PIC 3394 and they are progressively being digitised. The objects are also held in the Pictures Collection.
The E.A. and V.I. Crome Collection in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has 20 000 aero-philatelic items collected by Crome. In addition, there are music manuscripts, books and other material relating to music and his interest in violin-making.
Cleland, J.L., Ernest A. Crome talks about his aviation collection, 1967, ORAL TRC 24.
Ingram, Terry, Old Crome Junior Takes Collection to New Heights, Australian financial review, 24 September 1987, p. 32.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)