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Original title:  Photograph Mr. Thomas Cramp, Montreal, QC, 1871 William Notman (1826-1891) 1871, 19th century Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process 17.8 x 12.7 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. I-60305.1 © McCord Museum Keywords:  Photograph (77678)

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CRAMP, THOMAS, merchant and shipowner; b. in April 1827 on the Isle of Thanet, England, son of the Reverend John Mockett Cramp, Baptist minister, and Anne Burls; m. 21 Jan. 1866 at Montreal, Canada East, Marianne Dunn, and they had a son and a daughter; d. 18 Feb. 1885 at Montreal.

Thomas Cramp was raised at St Peter’s (St Peter Extra), Isle of Thanet, where his grandfather had been a Baptist minister and farmer. In April 1844 the family sailed for Canada when Thomas’ father was appointed president of the Canada Baptist College in Montreal. Shortly after his arrival, Thomas entered the auction and commission brokerage firm of John Leeming and Company and he later joined John Torrance and Company, shippers, tea importers, grocers, and general merchants. When John Torrance* retired in 1853 his nephew David Torrance* succeeded him; Cramp’s ability made him a partner in the firm which was now called David Torrance and Company, and by the 1870s he largely ran the business. A closely allied Toronto firm, Cramp, Torrances and Company, was opened in 1870, composed of Cramp and David’s sons, John at Montreal and David at Toronto (the latter was replaced in 1873 by another brother George William). The Toronto firm purchased a large warehouse and had sales of nearly $1,000,000 in 1872.

Like most leading Montreal merchants in the mid-19th century, Cramp was involved in the incorporation of a good number of companies in association with his business partners and such other Montreal luminaries as Luther Hamilton Holton*, Hugh Allan, Edwin Atwater*, John Young*, and Charles John Brydges. These companies included the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company in 1857, the Montreal Railway Terminus Company and the Montreal Hydraulic and Dock Company in 1861, the Consumers’ Gas Company of the City and District of Montreal in 1874, and his farthest flung venture, the Assiniboine Bridge Company in 1880 set up to build a bridge over the Red River in Manitoba. Unfortunately, several were hardly profitable enterprises. Cramp simultaneously sat on the boards of some of these companies, as well as on the boards of the Canada Guarantee Company; the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company; the Union Bank of Canada; the Kingston and Montreal Forwarding Company; the North Western Colonization Company; and, most important, Molsons Bank, of which he was a director from 1872 until 1876. In addition, he was involved with real estate, owning a large residence on upper St Urbain Street, land on Dorchester and St Catherine streets, a block of brick stores, and nine villa lots.

Naturally interested in improving the commercial facilities of the city, Cramp was active on the board of trade; he was frequently a member of its council or of its board of arbitration from the 1850s until his death and was elected its president in 1863. He was a member of the Montreal Harbour Commission in 1860–61, 1863–66, and 1874–79 and became president on the death of John Young in 1878, but, being a staunch Liberal, was not reappointed by Sir John A. Macdonald*’s government in 1879 [see Andrew Robertson]. From 1882 until his death Cramp participated in the Montreal Corn Exchange Association, where he began some much needed reforms.

Cramp’s charitable activities paralleled his business interests in variety and scope. He helped incorporate the Montreal Library Society in 1859 and the Protestant Institution for Deaf-Mutes and for the Blind a decade later [see Joseph Mackay]. In 1874 he became one of the incorporators and a life director of the Western Hospital of Montreal which had connections with Bishop’s College and he was active in the Boys’ Home of Montreal, founded in 1870. His wife also concerned herself with a number of benevolent organizations.

In 1876, on the death of David Torrance, Cramp became president of David Torrance and Company which was valued at about $500,000 (the Toronto firm was valued at $100,000). The business had been undergoing difficulties in previous years, partially connected with the depression, and since neither Cramp nor Torrance’s sons possessed extensive personal capital, reorganization after Torrance’s death was a problem. The difficulties came partly from the major involvement of the firm in the Mississippi and Dominion Steamship Company, founded in 1870 to trade with Liverpool from Montreal in the summer and from New Orleans in the winter. The New Orleans route was soon dropped and the firm became the Dominion Steamship Company Ltd, but the combination of depression, competition, and a series of accidents put the business in an uncertain position.

When Cramp died suddenly of a throat infection, his home, valued at $15,000, had to be sold to cover debts. John Torrance succeeded him as president of the Montreal firm, which continued for many years. The Dominion Steamship Company was sold in 1894, the shares realizing less than one-tenth of their original cost.

Cramp was popular in Montreal, where he helped incorporate the St James Club in 1858 and the Montreal Club in 1866. With such leading Liberal figures as Honoré Mercier* and Raymond Préfontaine*, he incorporated the Reform Club in 1881. He became an adherent of the Church of England and was a member and benefactor of St Martin’s Church. By businessmen he was regarded as a person who carried out his commitments and his calm temper was a great aid in difficult negotiations. His career demonstrates how a young man with ability could work his way up in the commerce of Montreal in the second half of the 19th century.

Frederick H. Armstrong

Thomas B. Cramp (Montreal) has papers of the Cramp family. Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 5: 361; 7: 188; 27: 249–60. Can., Statutes, 1873, c.109; 1874, c.90; 1880, c.61. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1857, c.169, c.178; 1859, c.120; 1861, c.82, c.96. Que., Statutes, 1869, c.89; 1871, c.36; 1873–74, c.40, c.53; 1878, c.42; 1880, c.90; 1881, c.58. Gazette (Montreal), 19 Feb. 1885. Montreal Daily Witness, 21 Feb. 1885. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 19 Feb. 1885. Times (Montreal), 18 Feb. 1885. Dominion annual register, 1885: 253–54. T. A. Higgins, The life of John Mockett Cramp, D.D., 1796–1881 . . . (Montreal, 1887), 381–96.

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Cite This Article

Frederick H. Armstrong, “CRAMP, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cramp_thomas_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cramp_thomas_11E.html
Author of Article:   Frederick H. Armstrong
Title of Article:   CRAMP, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 22, 2023