Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Dowse (1866–1955)

by C. C. Falk

This article was published:

Richard Dowse (1866-1955), soldier and public servant, was born on 29 June 1866 at Portsea, Hampshire, England, son of Henry James Dowse, civil servant, and his wife Rosa, née Stevens. He attended a private school and the Surrey County School and in 1883 joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, as a private, serving until May 1885. Later that year he migrated to Queensland and in September enlisted in the Queensland Volunteer Rifles; after serving in all ranks up to colour sergeant he was commissioned second lieutenant in October 1889 and promoted lieutenant in December. Next year, on 12 May, he married Sophia Mary Kate Austin at St Mary's Anglican Church, Kangaroo Point; at the time he was working as a clerk with the Australian Joint Stock Bank, Brisbane.

Dowse was made a captain in the Volunteer Forces in March 1892 and four years later he was appointed adjutant of the 1st Battalion, Queensland Mounted Infantry. In November 1899 he embarked as a lieutenant with the 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry Contingent for South Africa, remaining on active service until December 1900. He saw action at the relief of Kimberley and in operations in the Orange Free State, Cape Colony and Transvaal, including significant engagements at Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, Driefontein, Vet River, Johannesburg and Pretoria. After returning home he joined the Permanent Military Forces as a lieutenant and was appointed a captain on the Administrative and Instructional Staff in July 1901. In 1902-11 he served as a staff officer in Queensland and Victoria and was promoted major in 1909.

In October 1911 Dowse was appointed deputy assistant quatermaster general for the 3rd Military District and in 1913 became A.Q.M.G. From the beginning of World War I he was engaged in the equipping and dispatch of units for overseas service; then, in February 1916, he was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant-colonel and commanding officer of the 3rd Divisional Train. He embarked in June and after training in England served in the Armentières sector from November. In March 1917 he was appointed deputy assistant adjutant general of the 4th Division and held this post during operations at Bullecourt and Messines. An appointment as the division's assistant adjutant and quartermaster general in July enabled him to contribute to preparations for the battles of Ypres and Passchendaele, and in 1918 Villers-Bretonneux and the advance to the Hindenburg line. For outstanding service during the war he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the New Year honours of 1918 and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

Dowse returned to Australia in February 1920 and served as a brevet colonel in the Staff Corps, Australian Military Forces, until 1922 when he retired from the army. In 1923-30 he was marshal to the chief justice of the High Court of Australia. On 27 December 1933, at St Canice's Catholic Church, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, he married a widow, Alice Nicolson. During World War II he served as manpower officer for the 2nd Military District. 'Dickie' Dowse was 'the perfect English gentleman, considerate and courteous in all circumstances, the complete host and charming friend'. He was an active member of Legacy from 1930 until his death. Retired without a service pension, he found life hard until he was granted a totally and permanently incapacitated pension in his later years. Survived by his wife and three children from his first marriage, he died at the War Veterans' Home, Narrabeen, on 24 May 1955 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • London Gazette, 28 Dec 1917, 1 Jan, 20 Dec 1918
  • Bulletin, 4 Aug 1954
  • Sydney Legacy Bulletin, 2 June 1955
  • Dowse file, war records section (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

C. C. Falk, 'Dowse, Richard (1866–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 June, 1866
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England


24 May, 1955 (aged 88)
Narrabeen, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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