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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meagher, Richard James (Dick) (1871–1947)

by R. J. K. Chapman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Richard James Meagher (1871-1947), public service commissioner, was born on 21 July 1871 at Ballarat East, Victoria, son of James Meagher, tollgate keeper, and his wife Eliza, née Tracey, both Irish born. Richard was educated at the Christian Brothers' College, Ballarat. He joined the Post and Telegraph Office, Victoria, as a telegraphist and transferred to the Hobart Telegraph Office on 25 July 1891. On 9 September 1894 he married Adeline Mary Ann Nettlefold in Hobart. Almost immediately he was retrenched but was appointed a telegraphist at Kalgoorlie and Perth, Western Australia. He returned to Hobart in 1895 and was re-employed in the Hobart Telegraph Office in January 1896. He resigned in October 1902 to enter commercial life and later became secretary of St Joseph's Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society, and Tasmanian district secretary in 1907. An alderman on the Hobart City Council in 1910-18, he was mayor in 1914.

On 22 December 1905 Meagher was appointed government nominee on the first Tasmanian Public Service Board and became acting chairman in 1914 after his reappointment in 1911. When the board was abolished in 1918 and replaced by a single commissioner, Sir John Gellibrand, Meagher was appointed assistant commissioner. He became commissioner in 1922 on condition, as an economy measure, that he remain chairman of the wages and railway classification boards. Meagher supported this 'need for the exercise of every effort, even to the last ounce, in order to meet the exigencies of the State' and claimed that over fifteen months he saved 'about £750 …in my own office'. He was reappointed commissioner, though never permanently, and altogether served under seven premiers.

The wages board was a major initiative in Tasmanian industrial relations and Meagher had been the main architect of the Wages Board Act (1910). He was chairman until he resigned on 25 October 1935, when he pointed out that his duties as commissioner included the chairmanship of fifty-nine wages boards, as well as boards relating to awards of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, public service appeals, relief of workers suffering from occupational diseases and returned soldiers' employment. He was also a member of the government office accommodation board, visiting gaol magistrate and a trustee of the Hobart public cemetery.

Even after his retirement, in August 1941 Meagher remained chairman of two boards and was also government nominee on the public service classification and chairman of the Transport Commission appeal boards. On reappointment as public service commissioner in 1938 he had said: 'I shall return … to my aforementioned place in the field as full forward, ready and fit to play my part in the teamwork required to achieve success in the game'. He was chairman of the Tasmanian Football League.

A fellow of the Federal Institute of Accountants and of the Institute of Incorporated Secretaries, he was appointed O.B.E. in 1941. He had been first president of the Australian Natives' Association's Tasmanian board of directors in 1905-07. He was a member of the Athenaeum Club and found time to play golf and bowls.

Meagher died on 11 March 1947 and was buried at Cornelian Bay cemetery, Hobart. His wife and son survived him. His elder son had been killed in France in 1917.

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 12 Mar 1947.

Additional Resources

Citation details

R. J. K. Chapman, 'Meagher, Richard James (Dick) (1871–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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