Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Thomas Ball (1857–1937)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Richard Thomas Ball (1857-1937), engineer and politician, was born on 14 September 1857 at Surry Hills, Sydney, eldest son of George Ball, farmer, and his wife Ann, née Hooper. His parents had reached Sydney on 23 August from Devonshire, England, as bounty migrants in the Zemindar. After his father's death his mother married Jabez Francis and moved to Rooty Hill. Richard was educated at the Eastern Creek Public School, then was employed by Chapman & Co., engineers, and the Atlas Foundry & Engineering Works. He was working as a blacksmith at Brisbane Street, Sydney, when he married Esther Arnold, a dressmaker, on 6 May 1880 with Baptist rites.

In 1881 Ball bought Burn & Son's foundry at Goulburn and had various partners until 1885 when he established R. T. Ball & Co. From 1888 he carried out government railway contracts 'as a commercial speculation' on borrowed capital, and in 1890 set up a branch called the Rolling Stock Works. In 1894 his estate was sequestrated with debts of over £6000 and the works forcibly sold at a loss; he received his certificate of discharge in 1895. An alderman on the Goulburn Municipal Council in 1887-94, he had been mayor in 1890 and 1891.

In 1895 Ball went to Albury to help construct the local waterworks. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Albury as a free trader in July 1895 but was narrowly defeated in 1898 after opposing equal representation of the States in the Senate and the lack of machinery to break deadlocks. He petitioned in vain against the return of his opponent as 'guilty of undue influence and intimidation'. He was now practising as a mechanical engineer in Sydney. About 1911 he moved to Petersham and at Goulburn re-established R. T. Ball & Co., later managed by his son.

Defeated for Albury in 1901, he represented Corowa in 1904-20 and 1927-37 and Murray in 1920-27. A member of the Farmers and Settlers' Association, Ball was one of a group of members who tried to form a country party in 1914-15. In 1916-20 he was secretary for public works and minister for railways in W. A. Holman's National ministry. Minister for agriculture from April to June 1922 in Sir George Fuller's coalition government, he was then again secretary for public works and minister for railways and State industrial enterprises from June 1922 until June 1925. Administrative ability and business and engineering knowledge contributed to Ball's success as secretary for works. In 1918 he established the ship-building industry at the Government Dockyard at Walsh Island, Newcastle. He carried legislation to construct 526 miles (846 km) of new branch railways and to build bridges, water-supply, sewerage and harbour works, and conducted government industrial enterprises in a business-like manner. In 1922 he skilfully piloted through parliament an Act to ratify the border railway and bridges agreement with Victoria which helped to develop the Riverina; and after fifty years of controversy, as a non-party measure, carried the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act authorizing work to start.

Ball urged the union of all anti-socialist parties in the early 1920s and, as a good local member, supported the Riverina New State Movement. However in April 1932 he left the United Australia Party and joined the United Country Party. He was a trustee of the National Park in 1933-37 and an associate member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, which he had helped to found. He enjoyed playing bowls and billiards. Ball died on 30 October 1937 at Marrickville, and was cremated after a state funeral at the Central Baptist Church. He was survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage, and by his second wife Lillie May Hume, née Gettens, a divorcee whom he had married on 26 January 1926 at the Baptist Church, Stanmore. His estate was valued for administration at £5211.

Select Bibliography

  • E. W. Hine, A Parliamentary Veteran (Corowa, 1937)
  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of Goulburn (Syd, 1972)
  • Australian National Review, 20 Feb 1924
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Apr 1932, 15 Sept, 1 Nov 1937
  • bankruptcy file 8562/5 (State Records New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Ball, Richard Thomas (1857–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 September, 1857
Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 October, 1937 (aged 80)
Marrickville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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