Leslie Finlay Crisp (1917–1984), known as Fin Crisp, was born in Melbourne and educated at Black Rock State School and Caulfield Grammar School. In 1930 his family moved to Adelaide and he completed his schooling at St Peter’s College. He attended the University of Adelaide and in 1938 won a Rhodes Scholarship. He went to Oxford University in 1939, but the War interrupted his studies and he did not return to Oxford until 1947–48. Crisp joined the Commonwealth Public Service in 1940, working in the Department of Labour and National Service, and then the Department of Post-War Reconstruction which was headed by J.B. Chifley. He attended the United Nations Conference in San Francisco in 1945. He was Secretary of the Department of Post-War Reconstruction in 1949–50, one of the youngest permanent heads in the history of the Public Service.
In 1950 Crisp took up the position of Professor of Political Science at the Canberra University College. The College amalgamated with The Australian National University in 1960 and he continued as Professor of Political Science in the School of General Studies. He remained in the department until his retirement in 1977, but ceased to be its Head in 1970. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation from 1975 until his death and served on a number of government committees. He was also active in the Australian Labor Party.
Crisp was the author of many books and articles including The parliamentary Government of the Commonwealth of Australia (1949), The Australian Federal Labour Party 1901–1951 (1955), Ben Chifley: a biography (1961), Australian national government (1965) and a series of monographs on Federation figures (1979–84).
Crisp was a lover of bookshops and libraries, and in the course of his life built up a large collection of books, pamphlets, journals, printed ephemera, manuscripts, theses and other records. In 1982 his wife Helen wrote a poem ‘The Collector’ which included the lines:
He’s a very spacious study in the garden at the back
That’s crammed up to the ceiling with his treasured books; in fact
They’ve spread, too, to the living room, the bedrooms and the hall
While mine are in the kitchen where I’m driven up the wall.
Ben Chifley: a biography (1961)
Crisp had close association with the Library lasting over 40 years: he was a reader in the Petherick Room, he helped it acquire major collections, and he was a member of the 1956–57 Paton Committee on the Future of the National Library. It was his intention that his collection be preserved in the Library. In 1976 he donated the first instalment of his papers. The remainder of his manuscripts and papers and a large collection of his books and pamphlets were received from Helen Crisp in 1985. The printed material was donated under the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme, while the papers were purchased.
The books, pamphlets and journals in the Crisp Collection number well over 6000. They mainly relate to Australian history and politics, but there are also a significant number of British and American imprints. Examples of the more valuable works include Richard Whately, Introductory Lectures on Political Economy (1855), Melbourne Review (1876–85), David Blair, History of Australasia (1878), Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886–88), Australasian Federation Convention Debates (1889–99), A.W. Johnston, New Utopia (1890), W.E. Murphy, History of the Eight Hours Movement (1896), John A. Cockburn, Australian Federation (1901), Henry Gyles Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria (1904) and a good run of Australian Labor Party Federal Conference proceedings.
The pamphlets cover a wide range of subjects with particular strength in Federation, elections, constitutional amendments, the White Australia Policy, Western Australia and Federation, bank nationalisation, the Australian Labor Party, the ALP schism of 1954–55, the Communist Party, the Liberal Party, political and social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and the 1975 constitutional crisis. There are collections of speeches of Alfred Deakin, George Reid, Isaac Isaacs, Robert Menzies, E.G. Whitlam and other political leaders.
The Crisp Collection contains 399 subject files divided into Australian and non-Australian. The Australian files include material on the Australian Public Service, the Constitution, economics, defence, Federal elections, the electoral system, Federation, Parliament, political parties and prime ministers. The non-Australian files mostly relate to British, European and American politics, philosophers, political scientists, economists and other writers. In addition, there are sequences of files on the Australian Labor Party and Australian Capital Territory election campaigns. Among the files are older manuscripts including papers of Tom Price and Sir William Sowden relating to Federation and a small quantity of papers of J.B. Chifley. The collection also contains copies of several university theses.
The personal papers are extensive and cover Crisp’s life from his time as an undergraduate onwards. They include correspondence, pocket diaries, tutorial and research notes, drafts of books and articles, radio talks, speeches, lectures, conference papers, newspaper cuttings and photographs. In particular, there are substantial groups of papers on Ben Chifley: a biography, the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, The Australian National University and the Commonwealth Banking Corporation.
The manuscripts and personal papers in the Crisp Collection are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 5243. They occupy 142 boxes, with the subject files (series 20) filling 70 boxes. A finding aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-294741908/findingaid. The papers of Helen Crisp are also held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 7593.
The printed material has been accessioned, but has not yet been catalogued. It is held at the Hume Repository and occupies 165 boxes. A two-drawer card catalogue of the non-Australian books is held in the Manuscripts Collection.
Bennett, Scott, Crisp, Leslie Finlay (Fin) (1917-1984), Australian Dictionary of Biography Online
Obituary of L.F. Crisp, Canberra Times, 22 December 1984, p. 7.
Thomson, David, “Fin” Crisp: academic and public servant, Unicorn, vol. 20 (4), November 1994, pp. 59–62.
Wilson, I.H.F., Obituary of L.F. Crisp, ANU Reporter, 22 March 1985.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)