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Richards, Thomas James (Tom) (1882–1935)

by Don Wilkey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Thomas James (Tom) Richards (1882-1935), footballer, soldier and commercial traveller, was born on 29 April 1882 at Rose Valley, Vegetable Creek (Emmaville), New South Wales, fourth of six children of John Richards, a Cornish-born miner, and his wife Mary Ann, née Davis, from Victoria. The family moved to Charters Towers, Queensland, in 1883. After attending the local central state school, Tom worked in the mines. In 1897 a visiting New South Wales Rugby Union team fired his ambition 'for the glory and the glamour of a footballer's life'. He joined the local Waratahs team in 1898 and next year began a successful career with the Natives club.

In 1902 Richards represented Charters Towers against other towns. He played in Brisbane for the Northern District and Country 'B' (1903) and for Queensland 'Next Fifteen' against New South Wales (1905). He and other family members then followed his father to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Tom played for the Mines club and represented Transvaal in the Currie Cup. Ruled ineligible for South Africa's tour of Britain, he nevertheless sailed for England, where he played for Bristol in 1906-07 and represented Gloucestershire; one match was against the South Africans. Hearing of plans for an Australian team to visit Britain, he returned home in July 1907; performances for Queensland next year ensured his selection for the team. Modest and unassuming, he was a handsome athlete, with brown eyes and brown hair, 6 ft (183 cm) tall, weighing 13 stone (82.5 kg).

In Britain, France and North America with the Wallabies, 'Rusty' Richards played mostly in the breakaway position. Big, fast, versatile and opportunistic, with a natural brain for Rugby, he set up chances to score but was alert to fall back in defence. He played against Wales and England, and for the gold-medal-winning Australian team at the London Olympic Games in 1908.

Richards returned to Australia in March 1909. To the Referee's 'Cynic', he differed from the average colonial footballer in his intimate knowledge of world Rugby and capacity to discuss the game. That year Richards captained and coached Charters Towers and North Queensland against the Newtown club, from Sydney. He sailed to South Africa during the visit of a British team in 1910 and in Johannesburg was invited to join the tourists, half of whose players were injured. He played in twelve games, including two Tests for Britain versus South Africa.

Back in Sydney in June 1911, Richards played for Manly and for a Metropolitan XV; though unqualified, he also played for Queensland against Metropolitan. In 1912 he toured North America as vice-captain of the Waratahs and was in the Australian team for the 'All-America' Test. He then went to England and in February 1913 to the south of France with an East Midlands team. He helped to train France for its match against Wales in Paris, then played for Toulouse. Briefly he lived at Biarritz. In August 1913, again in Sydney, he retired from football and wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Referee and other newspapers.

Giving his occupation as 'traveller', Richards enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 August 1914 and in October sailed for Egypt with the 1st Field Ambulance. Landing at Gallipoli on the morning of 25 April 1915, he served as a stretcher-bearer, and was mentioned in divisional orders in July for 'acts of gallantry'. He returned to Egypt in January 1916 and in March left for the Western Front. On 25 November Corporal Richards was commissioned second lieutenant and on 2 December transferred to the 1st Infantry Battalion. In May 1917 near Bullecourt he led a nineteen-man bombing party; he was promoted lieutenant in June and awarded the Military Cross in August. He was evacuated to England twice in 1917 and again in May 1918, with his back and shoulders damaged by a bomb blast. Having spent some four months in South Africa en route, in February 1919 he returned to Sydney where his A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 3 November. For two years he was in charge of the employment section, Department of Repatriation, Sydney, before becoming a travelling salesman in electrical goods and then for the Perdriau Rubber Co. Ltd.

On 27 August 1921 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, and also on 25 March 1922 at Punt Road Methodist Church, Melbourne, he married Lillian Effie Jane Haley, née Sandow, a widow. They lived at Manly in Sydney and had two children but, with Richards often working away, soon separated. Mostly isolated and lonely and in worsening health, he wrote a series of articles for the Sydney Mail. In April 1935 he moved to Brisbane and the family reunited. Richards died of tuberculosis on 25 September that year at the Repatriation Hospital, Rosemount, and was cremated with Baptist forms. His wife and their son and daughter survived him. His elder brother Edward William (Bill) (1880-1928) had also played Rugby for Australia. In 2001 the trophy for Rugby Tests between Australia and the British and Irish Lions was named the Tom Richards Cup to honour the only player to have represented both sides.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pollard, Australian Rugby (Syd, 1994)
  • M. Howell & L. Xie, Wallaby Greats (Auckland, NZ, 1996)
  • G. Crowden, Gold, Mud and Guts (Syd, 2001)
  • Town and Country Journal, 16 Apr 1919, p 5
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 26 Sept 1935, p 10
  • service record (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Don Wilkey, 'Richards, Thomas James (Tom) (1882–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richards-thomas-james-tom-13168/text23833, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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