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Toutcher, Richard Frederick (1861–1941)

by Donald S. Garden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Richard Frederick Toutcher (1861-1941), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1895

Richard Frederick Toutcher (1861-1941), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/05/95/9

Richard Frederick Toutcher (1861-1941), politician and nationalist, was born on 27 May 1861 at Maryborough, Victoria, son of Charles Toutcher, architect, and his wife Ellen, née Finnen, both Irish born. Charles was a prominent citizen in Maryborough from the late 1850s and designed many of its buildings; in 1866-75 he was town clerk and then engineer and valuer of the shire of Huntly; he was town clerk at Ararat in 1877, but died suddenly in 1878, leaving a widow and eight children.

Richard, generally known as Dick, attended Maryborough Grammar School. After moving to Ararat, he entered the civil service in July 1877 as a letter carrier in the Postal Department. He became an enthusiastic nationalist and joined the local branch of the Australian Natives' Association, serving as president for three terms. On 20 April 1883 at Ararat he married with Anglican rites Marion Theresa Ryan; they were to have seven children. Shifting to Melbourne in 1888, he worked briefly as a mail sorter before transferring to the Trade and Customs Department.

Toutcher became increasingly involved in nationalist and liberal movements at the highest level in Melbourne. He joined the Richmond branch of the A.N.A. and served as its president. In 1894 he was one of a group of radical young members elected to the central board of directors and next year was elected vice-president. When the directors initiated the moves which led to the formation of the Australasian Federation League of Victoria in 1895, he became its secretary and held the position throughout its existence. Apparently indefatigable, he also became a member of the Anti-Sweating League.

Despite these activities, Toutcher was content with his humble occupation. Transferred in 1896 to the Income Tax Office, he protested, claiming that the move caused his health to deteriorate. He took sick-leave next year and, after an application for a return to the Customs Department on the grounds of ill health was rejected, obtained a medical certificate recommending that he be transferred to outdoor work. The Public Service Board responded by retiring him.

In 1897 Toutcher was elected chief president of the A.N.A. At the election in October, he stood for the Legislative Assembly seat of Ararat as a Liberal supporter of Sir George Turner. The campaign was hard fought, marked by criticism of Toutcher's struggle with the Public Service Board, but he was returned comfortably. He held the seat until 1904 and then the combined Stawell and Ararat seat until 1935. In that time he won fifteen elections.

The years between his 1897 election and the achievement of Federation were the most active in Toutcher's career. One of a group of young A.N.A. politicians who defied the Age's opposition to the Constitution bill and prodded the Turner government into supporting it, he chaired the A.N.A. conference of March 1898 which decided to support the bill. He gained a reputation for seizing every opportunity to make a pro-Federation speech. Contemporary photographs show him as slightly balding, with a handlebar moustache.

After Federation, as a back-bencher Toutcher was less prominent. He continued to fight for liberal causes such as female suffrage and factory legislation, but the passage of time and the advent of Labor pushed him with other Liberals towards conservatism. In the course of his long career he served on most parliamentary committees and for several years chaired the Railways Standing Committee. He was minister of public instruction and forests in the Peacock government in April-July 1924.

A director of the A.N.A. until 1913, Toutcher continued to be active in the branch at Elsternwick, the suburb where he lived. He served as a trustee of the Exhibition Building and as a member of the board of control of the Boy Scouts' Association, Victorian section. On retirement from parliament through ill health in February 1935, he was described as a 'cheerful, kindly soul' with a gentle disposition. He died on 6 September 1941 at Caulfield. Survived by his wife, a daughter and a son, he was buried in Ararat cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Menadue, A Centenary History of the Australian Natives' Association 1871-1971 (Melb, 1971)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1934, p 2540
  • Illustrated Australian News, 1 May 1895
  • Ararat Advertiser, 5 Oct 1897, 9 Sept 1941
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1941
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1941
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1941
  • M. Aveling, A History of the Australian Natives' Association, 1871-1900 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970).

Citation details

Donald S. Garden, 'Toutcher, Richard Frederick (1861–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/toutcher-richard-frederick-8833/text15497, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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