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Richardson, Arnold Edwin Victor (1883–1949)

by R. J. Best

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Arnold Edwin Victor Richardson (1883-1949), by unknown photographer, c1945

Arnold Edwin Victor Richardson (1883-1949), by unknown photographer, c1945

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B61585

Arnold Edwin Victor Richardson (1883-1949), agricultural scientist, was born on 12 September 1883 in Adelaide, son of George Edwin Richardson, inventor and ironfounder, and his wife Louisa, née Mansfield. Educated at Currie Street Public School, he proceeded at 13 to the Agricultural School, Adelaide, and at 15 to the Agricultural College, Roseworthy, where he obtained a first-class diploma in 1902. He taught at the agricultural and other state schools including that at Moonta. Here he met Lilian Moonta Lucas, composer and singer, whom he married on 30 September 1909. In 1904-10 Richardson attended the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1907; B.Sc., 1908; M.A., 1910) where he shared the John Howard Clark scholarship for English in 1907. Next year he transferred to the State Department of Agriculture where he bred the successful wheat variety, Gallipoli.

In 1911, while acting director of agriculture, he was appointed superintendent of agriculture to the Victorian government. He established the research stations at Werribee and Rutherglen, and through these and many field experiments, developed scientific agriculture in Victoria. He transformed the farmers' hostile attitude towards agricultural advisers to one of trust and co-operation by his articles in newspapers and journals, and by personal appearances and lectures throughout the State. In 1918 he investigated agricultural education and research in North America; and by 1920 he had reorganized cereal breeding and culture in Victoria and started a pasture improvement programme. In 1924 he inaugurated the Better Farming Train to implement agricultural extension work. That year the University of Melbourne conferred on him the degree of D.Sc. He had become a part-time lecturer in the faculty of agriculture at the university and a member of the committee to inquire into the teaching of agriculture in 1917; he was first dean of the reconstructed faculty and first director of the school of agriculture in 1919-24.

Foundation professor of agriculture and first director of the Waite Agricultural Research Institute of the University of Adelaide from 1924, Richardson investigated the development of pastures and the economics of farm management in Australia. He preached and practised a constant theme: advances in agricultural practice and increased productivity depended on scientifically based experimentation. And he reached agreements with the Department of Agriculture on the relative roles of that department and the Waite Institute in research and extension work; and with the chief of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's division of animal nutrition on the areas of separate interest and degree of co-operation to be observed between the two institutions.

In South Australia Richardson again won the confidence of farmers, pastoralists, industrialists, agricultural scientists and governments in the early 1930s; at official openings, his sagacity and eloquence reflected his broad education and mastery of English.

In 1927 he had been a delegate to the first Imperial Agricultural Research Conference in London and, among other things, took the lead in persuading the Empire Marketing Board to finance research into the relation between the mineral content of pastures and the health of plants and animals, including the role of trace elements. As a marketing expert Richardson was chief adviser to the Australian delegation at the 1932 Imperial Conference, Ottawa, led by S. M. (Viscount) Bruce.

He had become a member of the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Science and Industry in 1917. In 1927 he joined the central executive committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, becoming the third member with (Sir) George Julius as chairman, and (Sir) David Rivett as chief executive officer. From 1938, having resigned from the Waite Institute, he was full-time deputy chief executive officer. That year Richardson was appointed C.M.G. He continued, at the level of planning and administration, the work on pasture research and improvement which he had done elsewhere, extending the work throughout Australia and directing research and development in Australian primary production over the period of its most rapid growth. From 1946 till his retirement in 1949 he was chief executive officer of C.S.I.R. playing 'a major part in the council's work in the plant and animal industries, than which none had yielded results of greater value to the Commonwealth'.

In World War II he had chaired many committees, gaining a reputation for patient listening, divining the crux of a matter, and giving an acceptable summing-up. He was helped by a quick sense of humour.

Richardson's main fields of personal research were cereal agronomy and wheat-breeding; his principal publications dealt with agricultural education in Canada and the United States of America, wheat and its cultivation, and the water requirements of farm crops. He was foundation president of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science (1935-36), and first president of its South Australian branch; president of section K (agriculture and forestry) of the Australasian (later Australian and New Zealand) Association for the Advancement of Science (1923) and president (1947-49). He also belonged to the Melbourne, Adelaide and Wallaby clubs and the Boobooks. He was president of Melbourne Rotary Club in the year of his death, 1949. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died in East Melbourne of coronary vascular disease on 5 December and was cremated with Anglican rites. Richardson's portrait hangs in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation building, East Melbourne. In 1977 the south wing of the Waite Institute was named the A. E. V. Richardson Laboratory.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, Journal, 3 (1937)
  • Department of Agriculture (Victoria), Bulletin, 1915, 1924
  • 26th ANZAAS Congress, Perth, Report of Meeting, 1947, p 41
  • CSIRO, First Annual Report, 1949
  • R. J. Best, ‘Arnold Edwin Victor Richardson. An appraisal’, in Waite Agricultural Research Institute, Biennial Report, 1980-81
  • CSIRO Archives, Canberra, series 3, item PH/RIC/IE and series 67, no 13, section—personal
  • Richardson letters and papers collected by author
  • personal recollections, 1928-49.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. J. Best, 'Richardson, Arnold Edwin Victor (1883–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richardson-arnold-edwin-victor-8198/text14341, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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