William Frederick Crawford, son of Rev. Hugh C. Crawford, studied arts and engineering at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, and was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA). He gained engineering experience in the works of Emerson and Murgatroyd in Stockport, England, and became an associate member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers. In 1863 he went to India as an assistant to the Madras Irrigation and Canal Company. During the late eighteen-seventies he acted as an agent for Messrs Wythes and Jackson on the construction of the Durban to Pietermaritzburg railway for four years. Afterwards he supplied labour for the construction of the Kimberley waterworks. He then undertook the construction of the Karachi Steam Tramways in Pakistan and upon returning to Britain reported on several mines and studied the chemical analysis of minerals.
By 1892 Crawford had settled in Johannesburg as a consulting engineer and in that year became a foundation member of the South African Association of Engineers and Architects. At a meeting on 29 November 1893 he read a paper on "Kimberley Waterworks", which was published in the Association's Proceedings (1892-1894, Vol. 1, pp. 75-77). By 1897 he had joined the Geological Society of South Africa and was still a member in 1899. He died of pneumonia in 1903.
Crawford married Maria Caroline Ann Despard in Dublin, but they had no children.