Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Richard Marshall (1838–1923)

by John C. Radcliffe

This article was published:

Richard Marshall (1838-1923), farmer and wheat-breeder, was born in 1838 at Hartland, Devonshire, England, son of Richard Marshall, and was educated at local schools and Shebbear College. Young Richard reached Melbourne in the George Marshall at the age of 16, and worked in a market garden at Geelong. In 1854 he joined his brother John at Yankallila, South Australia, and later farmed in a partnership with John Way at Second Valley. On 13 September 1860 at the Bible Christian Chapel, Bald Hills, Yankallila, Marshall married Mary Ann Watson. They were to have ten children. Marshall farmed at Rapid Bay, but disposed of the property to go to the diggings at Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria. After two and a half years, he returned to farm for three years at Lovely Valley, near Myponga, where he suffered successive crop failures. In 1865 he moved to Wasleys, renting 246 acres (99.6 ha), but lost his first crop there to red rust (Puccinia graminis), and suffered further losses in 1866-67. However, he successfully established his property, Hope Farm, ultimately expanding it to 3800 acres (1537.8 ha). His farming encompassed cereal growing, dairying and sheep raising.

After his losses from rust, Marshall began to improve disease resistance, selecting plants from available wheat varieties in 1868, notably Purple Straw. In 1880 Richard Schomburgk imported Du Toit's (otherwise known as Early Baart) from South Africa. From this, James Ward, a farmer of Nelshaby, near Port Pirie, selected Ward's Prolific. Marshall likewise experimented with wheats he imported from France, Germany, England, Russia and the United States of America: in July 1892 he had 180 varieties growing in plots at Hope Farm, including 100 new ones. As well as rust resistance, he sought other selection characteristics, including likelihood of grain shake-out when ripe, quality and yield of grain, stooling, and strength and length of straw.

The Intercolonial Rust in Wheat Conference in 1896 recommended a change from the still widely grown Purple Straw. By 1910 this was almost totally replaced by Marshall's No. 3, probably a natural cross between Ward's Prolific and Purple Straw. Marshall's variously selected and cross-bred varieties—such as The Majestic, Gallant, Silver King (a white-grained selection from Marshall's No. 3), Phyllis' Marvel, and Dart's Improver—were distributed among farmers about the same time as those of W. J. Farrer. Marshall's most successful variety, Yandilla King, which was widely available from 1907, was derived from a cross between his Silver King and Farrer's Yandilla and was a 'half-sister' to Farrer's well-known Federation. Until the 1920s, Marshall's No. 3 and Yandilla King remained standards of yield among later-maturing varieties throughout Australia.

Marshall was a member of the District Council of Mudla Wirra North for seven years (chairman 1876-80) and a long-serving committee member of the Gawler Agricultural Society. He retired from active farming in 1899 to his Adelaide residence, Hartland, 73 Frederick Street, Unley. Two of his sons continued to farm at Wasleys, while the other two established farms at Lameroo and in New South Wales at Cootamundra. In 1901 Marshall was appointed a member of the Central Agricultural Bureau, continuing with its successor, the South Australian Council of Agriculture until 1905. In 1904 he received an illuminated address from the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia in recognition of his work.

Marshall's first wife died in 1905. On 3 July 1906 at Southwark, Adelaide, he married Elizabeth Richards. In the last years of his life he was blind. He died at home on 5 August 1923 and was buried in West Terrace cemetery, leaving an estate sworn for probate at £29,700. His wife, and four sons and five daughters of his first marriage survived him. Although his work has been overshadowed by that of Farrer, Marshall left 'an indelible record on the scroll of Australian wheat breeders'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), The Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • H. Wenholz, The Improvement of Australian Wheat (Syd, 1937)
  • R. D. Watt, The Romance of the Australian Land Industries (Syd, 1955)
  • E. Dunsdorfs, The Australian Wheat-Growing Industry 1788-1948 (Melb, 1956)
  • A. Lazenby and E. M. Matheson (eds), Australian Field Crops, vol 1 (Syd, 1975)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 11 Aug 1923, p 38.

Citation details

John C. Radcliffe, 'Marshall, Richard (1838–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 4 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Hartland, Devon, England


5 August, 1923 (aged ~ 85)
Unley, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.