Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richards, Thomas (1800–1877)

by J. C. Horner

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Thomas Richards (1800-1877), author, was baptized on 10 July 1800 at Dolgellau, Merioneth, North Wales, son of Thomas Richards (d.1808), attorney, and his wife Elizabeth. Educated at Christ's Hospital, London, in 1809-15, he was then apprenticed to a medical practitioner and attended clinics at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Granted the licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1823, for the next nine years Richards probably practised both medicine and freelance journalism. He claimed to have contributed to the Monthly Magazine and British Register and other literary journals.

In April 1832 with his wife Hannah Elsemere, née Adams, and infant son, he sailed from London in the Princess Royal as ship's surgeon; he reached Hobart Town in October to encounter criticism about the control exercised over the free female migrants, nearly 200, on board. He set up as a surgeon at Elizabeth Town (New Norfolk). Richards edited for a while and contributed to Henry Melville's Hobart Town Magazine from its appearance in March 1833 to its demise in August 1834. Moving to Hobart about July 1833 he succeeded Henry Savery as editor of the Tasmanian after Savery had been wrongfully convicted of libel for an article that Richards admitted writing. In October Richards quarrelled with Melville and resigned.

Although he remained on the list of medical practitioners until 1836, Richards was clerk of the Town Surveyor's Department from 1834 to 1837 when he became involved in a dispute between R. W. F. L. Murray, co-proprietor of the Tasmanian, and Alexander Murray, the town surveyor. Assistant editor of the Hobart Town Courier in 1837, for the next ten years he worked as a senior journalist for J. C. Macdougall's Colonial Times. In 1847-48 he visited England. In 1852 he was again listed as a doctor, but returned to journalism late in life as reporter and reader for the Hobart Mercury, remaining there till his death.

The greater part of Richards's identifiable literary work was published in the Hobart Town Magazine; at least half of its contents were his poems, essays, reviews, sketches and short stories. His verse is slight in both quantity and quality, introspective and sentimental pieces, disciplined but uninspired, strongly influenced by the Wordsworthian school of nature poets. His prose was much more significant. He wrote with good control of vocabulary, clarity of expression and a nice feeling for prose rhythms. He drew on his medical experiences and training, his contact with local politics and his knowledge of the Tasmanian countryside.

Richards was one of the first and the most substantial of early colonial short story writers, at a time when the literary output from Sydney was slight. His better stories and many that are incomplete are set in his well-remembered native Wales. His importance is as an enthusiastic pioneer of what was to develop into a distinctive Australian literature.

Survived by his wife, a son and three daughters he died at Portsea Place, Hobart, on 18 July 1877.

Select Bibliography

  • E. M. Miller, Pressmen and Governors (Syd, 1952), and for bibliography.

Citation details

J. C. Horner, 'Richards, Thomas (1800–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richards-thomas-4472/text7297, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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