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Richardson, Robert Pemberton (1827–1900)

by Beverley Kingston

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

Robert Pemberton Richardson (c.1827-1900), stock and station and estate agent, was born at Liverpool, England, son of David Richardson, wool merchant, and his wife Isabella. Trained to follow in his father's footsteps, Robert decided to migrate and reached Sydney in 1850. He joined T. S. Mort & Co., auctioneers and wool brokers, and was soon sales representative. On 25 August that year at All Saints Church of England, Sutton Forest, he married Scottish-born Violet Alston (1830-1893). Their first home, of which there were many in succeeding years, was Prospect Cottage, Newtown, Sydney. It was a long and happy marriage that produced nine children.

At the end of 1857 Richardson left Mort & Co to set up his own business at 235 George Street, specializing in stock and station sales and country estates. He began with a clerk (John Little) and an office boy (Alec Gregg), both of whom spent their lives with the firm and eventually became partners.

Edward Thomas Jones Wrench (1828-1893) had been born on 11 January 1828 in London, son of Edward Wrench, optician, and his wife Anne. On 25 January 1851 in the parish church of St Andrew, Holborn, he married Mary Ann Smith. Next year the couple arrived in Sydney and Wrench joined the Australian Joint Stock Bank, rising in a few years to general manager. He resigned when it was found that a swindle had been perpetrated without his knowledge. His friend Richardson, who had an unassailable reputation in the Sydney business world, stood by him and offered him a partnership in 1860.

Richardson & Wrench prospered during the 1860s, playing a substantial role in the pastoral occupation of Queensland. Their wool stores at Circular Quay, Sydney, were 'the best lighted and most convenient warehouses for the exhibition and sale of wool in this city', and vast quantities of wool, hides and skins were stored there for transhipment. Meanwhile, their reputation as real estate agents grew. By the 1880s they had become a major force in the development of suburban Sydney, with trains and once even the vessel Lady Rawson hired to transport prospective buyers to sales.

As well as having a keen eye for wool and real estate, Richardson was a natural salesman. He was also a strict Presbyterian who set great store by the strength and loyalty of his family. Within the firm he was punctilious and demanding, but fair in his treatment of both customers and employees. His character, it was said, was marked by 'sagacity and promptness'. Wrench handled the firm's finance and administration with meticulous efficiency. Patient and methodical, his was also the more gregarious personality, well known in Sydney social circles. His wife died in 1876 and on 3 June 1879 he married Theresa Clementine Throckmorton, née Horne, a widow with five children.

Richardson retired in 1875 but became bored and in 1881 returned to the business, which next year was lucky enough to secure the exchange number 1 when a telephone service was introduced in Sydney. Since none of Richardson's sons was interested in entering the firm, and Wrench was childless, in 1889 the partners, including A. W. S. Gregg and his brother James (Little had retired in 1885), decided to convert to a public company. Although he remained a shareholder, Richardson declined to become a director. On 27 March 1892, however, he agreed to join the board and on 5 April replaced the ailing Wrench as chairman. In part this was a consequence of the crisis caused by the disastrous Gibbs, Shallard & Co.'s fire on 2 October 1890, when Richardson & Wrench Ltd's offices were partially destroyed, but it also reflected the worsening economy and the end of that boom in suburban real estate. The fire led to the creation of Martin Place and the rebuilding of much of that part of the city. Richardson & Wrench also survived as a public company. Its fire-damaged records, including an impeccably kept series of contract books from 1858 to 1936 that have proved invaluable to historians tracing the history of Sydney property, were transferred to the Mitchell Library in the 1960s.

Wrench died on 26 October 1893 at his home, Glenora, Edgecliff Road, Woollahra, and was buried with Anglican rites in Ashfield cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £14,764. Richardson finally retired in April 1900 and died on 23 May that year at Drummoyne, survived by three daughters and two sons. The funeral and burial in Waverley cemetery was 'of the simplest character' in accordance with his wishes. His estate was sworn for probate at £30,475.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Barnard, Visions and Profits (Melb, 1961)
  • Richardson and Wrench’s Pastoral and General Advertiser, 22 June 1864
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Oct 1893, p 1, 26 May 1900, p 9
  • R. G. Rabone, The History of Richardson & Wrench Ltd (manuscript, State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Beverley Kingston, 'Richardson, Robert Pemberton (1827–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richardson-robert-pemberton-13169/text23835, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 28 August 2014.

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

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