Thomas Crapper
[ Issue 3 ]

Emily Bronto is without doubt an admirer of Thomas Crapper

Bikwil is proud to feature Thomas Crapper

Thomas Crapper

The thing Tony Rogers likes most about the Internet is the democratic opportunity it gives us all to be creators instead of consumers — to publish our fancies, serious or playful, at a modest cost.  Here is a personal example of how the Internet came in handy, thanks to someone else’s obsession. It's the case of Thomas Crapper, inventor of the flushing toilet.   

Painstaking research into lavatory patents?

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


If you want to share your favourite hobbyhorse and it’s a bit obscure or just plain bizarre, where do you rustle up your audience? If you’re lucky, you might locate one or two people in your city with the same arcane interest, but if you want to broadcast your enthusiasm more widely to other like-minded souls, how much is it going to cost and how many readers can you expect anyway? And how do you market your product to best effect?

Your chances of finding fellow enthusiasts would be patently far greater, wouldn’t they, if only you could reach the whole planet? Well, now you can — by publishing on the Internet. And once your Web site is up and running it will be there all day, every day, accessible to all. Thousands of people are learning this lesson every week. Hence the myriad sites maintained with dedicated single-mindedness by amateur devotees of everything under the sun, as well as those sites established with equally narrow focus by serious professional bodies like Project Gutenberg (publishing electronic versions of out-of-copyright literary classics) or the SETI Institute (looking for extraterrestrial intelligence).

Naturally this freedom has given rise to some remarkable material, as the mainstream press loves to warn us. No doubt you’ve heard of concern about Internet sites giving advice on bomb building and other terrorist techniques, and sites offering that everlasting curse of the thought police, pornography. But not to panic: all that nasty stuff is a tiny fraction of what’s available.

(A little aside on the new censorship implications of the Net. You will be aware of the conviction of the editors of the La Trobe Uni newspaper Rabelais for an article in the July 1996 issue called The Art of Shoplifting, which issue now cannot by law be distributed in Victoria. But did you know that in his programme The National Interest ABC RN’s Terry Lane recently told listeners how to get the banned article via the Internet? FOI, yeah.)

Anyway, when I referred to “remarkable material”, I was thinking more of those sites on ufology, vampires, conspiracy theories, the millennium, etc., as well as the innumerable fan sites panting over the gorgeous passion of the month – Elle Macpherson, David Duchovny, Ellen deGeneres, John Cleese . . .

All that said, however, this is the thing I like most about the Net: the democratic opportunity it gives us all to be creators instead of consumers — to publish our fancies, serious or playful, at a modest cost. And these days, with user-friendly software to help us get our pet ideas out there in a half presentable manner, anyone can have a bash.

Let me give you a personal example of how the Internet came in handy, thanks to someone else’s obsession. It started when I saw a mail-order catalogue blurb for Wallace Reyburn’s Flushed with Pride: the Story of Thomas Crapper:

“The remarkable story of Thomas Crapper, inventor a century ago of the flushing lavatory and eventually plumber by appointment to King Edward VII.”

Like you, my thoughts dashed to the question whether Mr. Crapper had given his name to a four-letter word. According to Harlish Goop, the age of the word “crap” (from the Middle English “crappe”, meaning “chaff”), quickly puts paid to that idea, though the name “Crapper” (a variant of “Cropper”) may perchance be related to it, albeit from long ago.

Wiser but disappointed, I wondered if the Net had anything on the book, or perhaps even on T. C. Well, one Adam Hart-Davis has an on-line magazine called Science and Technology Heros [sic], which deals with characters like Richard Arkwright, John Dalton, Henry Bessemer, etc. Though it costs money to read every issue, guess who’s there for free, with plenty of detail about his life and work? (Incidentally, Mr. Crapper was famous for manhole covers as well as loos, and one of his manhole covers is in Westminster Abbey, in the cloisters near the deanery.)

And the upshot of Adam’s painstaking research into lavatory patents? It seems that though he did register six other plumbing patents, and did install many loos for the Royals, Crapper did not invent the siphonic flush. So much for the reliability of Reyburn’s book.

More disappointment, but at least I’ve saved twenty dollars.

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