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Richards, Jack Christian (1911–1969)

by Helen Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Jack Christian Richards (1911-1969), engineer, was born on 9 December 1911 at Auchenflower, Brisbane, elder child of Australian-born parents Henry Caselli Richards, university lecturer, and his wife Grace, née Christian. Jack was educated at Brisbane and Melbourne Church of England Grammar schools, and at the University of Queensland (B.E., 1934). A Rhodes scholar, he studied engineering science at Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1936), and ferrous metallurgy at the Technische Hochschule, Berlin (1936-37). The Institution of Civil Engineers, London, awarded him a Telford premium (1936-37) for a paper on structural design. He visited steel-making plants in Britain, Germany and the United States of America before returning to Australia.

On 27 April 1938 Richards joined the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd as a special (technical) cadet attached to the company's steelworks at Newcastle, New South Wales. At St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, on 15 April 1939 he married Olivera ('Vebe') Graham Gardner, a schoolteacher. When he nominated for associate-membership (1941) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Essington Lewis testified to his 'probity and personality'; Richards became the A.I.M.M.'s representative for Newcastle and was admitted as a full member of the institute in 1952.

In 1940 Richards had been appointed assistant to (Sir) Ian McLennan, executive-officer and later production superintendent at the steelworks. In addition to his other duties, he gained experience in the field of ferro-alloys. B.H.P. had been unsuccessful in obtaining information on how to manufacture tungsten carbide, a strategic material important to the war effort. Under Richards's direction the Newcastle steelworks launched (December 1940) a research programme to develop tungsten carbide for the tips of steel-cutting tools. Within a year large numbers of tool tips had been made and used to produce shell cases. In 1943 Richards was promoted production superintendent.

As his company's representative, Richards joined the Australian Scientific and Technical Mission to Germany in 1946; its members examined and collated data of value to Australian industry. Back at Newcastle in mid-year, he was made assistant-manager of the steelworks. On 10 August 1951 he was appointed assistant general manager of B.H.P. at head office, Melbourne. Eight years later he rose to general manager, development and shipbuilding. He upgraded B.H.P.'s shipyard at Whyalla, South Australia, and, when the company decided to explore for oil and natural gas, co-ordinated investigations into the production of offshore drilling platforms. On McLennan's appointment as general manager of B.H.P. in 1967, he made Richards his executive-assistant, but directed him to retain responsibility for oil and natural gas operations in the Gippsland Basin.

Richards was a director (1952-59) of the Lysaght Durham Chemical Co. Pty Ltd, chairman (from March 1967) of Koppers Australia Pty Ltd and a board-member (from January 1968) of the Wiltshire File Co. Pty Ltd. In 1951 he and his wife had joined the University Ski Club. They brought to it enthusiasm and energy. Jack's craftsmanship was seen in the French-polished interiors of the club's lodges at Mount Buller and Mount Hotham. He managed the Hotham lodge in 1962-67. Another of his interests was breeding Aberdeen Angus cattle on his property at Romsey.

A 'sterling character' who always acted with 'absolute fairness', Richards served (1955-69) on the council of Trinity College, University of Melbourne, and was a member (1957) of Sir Keith Murray's committee on Australian universities. He was killed on 19 February 1969 when the motorcar in which he was a passenger overturned at Ruby, near Leongatha. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and three sons, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Sheridan, University Ski Club, 1929-1979 (Melb, 1988)
  • BHP Review, Dec 1942, p 2, Mar 1944, p 5, Mar 1946, p 6, June 1947, p 6, June 1951, p 4, Sept 1951, p 8, June 1957, p 22, Autumn 1969, p 25
  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 Feb 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 Feb 1969
  • Trinity College, University of Melbourne, Newsletter, July 1969
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, member records (Clunies Ross House, Parkville, Melbourne)
  • Richards papers, 1945-50, M085 and executive biography files, 6E-1 (BHP Billiton Ltd Archives, Melbourne).

Citation details

Helen Smith, 'Richards, Jack Christian (1911–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richards-jack-christian-11514/text20541, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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