Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Youl, Richard (1821–1897)

by Ann M. Mitchell

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

Richard Youl (1821-1897), medical practitioner and coroner, was born on 3 December 1821 at George Town, Van Diemen's Land, son of Rev. John Youl and his wife Jane, née Loder. Sir James Arndell Youl was his brother. Educated in England from an early age, he qualified M.R.C.S. 1842, M.D. (St Andrews) 1844. He studied in Paris for six months, gained experience in Edinburgh and London and in 1850 settled in Melbourne. He was founder-member in 1852 and for a time secretary of the Victoria Medical Association. In 1853 he was appointed colonial assistant surgeon to the gaol and penal establishments in Melbourne, a magistrate, and district coroner for Bourke. In April 1854 he became acting coroner for Melbourne in the absence of Dr W. B. Wilmot; and also visiting justice to penal establishments, a post he held until 1867 when the government redistributed the duties between two police magistrates. After the murder of John Price Youl declined to preside at the inquest because of his friendship with the dead man. Dr J. Singleton and others on the Citizens' Committee accused him of helping Price to conceal the injury and death of convicts arising from maltreatment. At two parliamentary committees of inquiry in 1857, Youl showed himself to be a disciplinarian in strict accordance with the penal code.

Succeeding Wilmot as city coroner in August, Youl lost office temporarily in 1878 during (Sir) Graham Berry's 'Black Wednesday' purge and was threatened with compulsory retirement in 1892, having passed the statutory age. Reputed to have conducted over 12,000 inquests, he introduced formal medico-legal procedure including a post-mortem in every case. His interest in the circumstances of accidental death led to safer working conditions on building sites, nets under ships' gangways, and sanitary improvements in public institutions. He featured at most government inquiries dealing with the medical profession, public health and prison discipline. A member of the Central Board of Health in 1855-84, he was president in 1879-84; a member of the Medical Board of Victoria from 1858, he was president in 1885-97. He was chairman of the Police Medical Board in 1892, founder and physician of the Victorian Infant Asylum and official visitor to industrial schools, lunatic asylums and the inebriates' retreat, Northcote. He kept up his private practice for years, starting in Flinders Street and moving to Collins Street in 1860.

Youl favoured flogging. He considered the death penalty a kindness in days when a life sentence was interpreted literally, that prostitution should be legalized to keep it in bounds, that parents should be punished for failing to control their children and that the majority of mothers were unfit for their role. He deplored the custom of locking up lunatics, juvenile offenders and the children of convicts indiscriminately with criminals. He performed many private kindnesses for released prisoners. Given to sardonic overstatement, which made him popular with the press, his reputation for disinterested public service was unrivalled.

On 15 September 1855 Youl had married Sarah Ann Jane (Annie), daughter of Dr Robert Martin of Heidelberg. They had eleven children of whom five daughters and four sons survived both parents. Mrs Youl died on 8 January 1881 of Bright's disease. Youl was gout stricken and in poor health with heart disease throughout the 1890s but continued to fulfil his duties as coroner until a few days before his death, precipitated by bronchitis, on 6 August 1897. He was buried beside his wife in the Anglican section of the Heidelberg cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Victoria), 1856-57 (D13)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1856-57, 3 (D48), 1870, 2nd session, 2 (18), 1871, 3 (31), 1872, 3 (55)
  • Intercolonial Medical Journal of Australasia, 1897
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Feb 1855, 30 Dec 1856, 30 Mar 1857, 8 Mar 1867, 7 Aug 1897
  • Australasian, 25 Apr 1891.

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Youl, Richard (1821–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/youl-richard-4900/text8201, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 October 2017.

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

View the front pages for Volume 6

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