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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Piddington, William Richman (1815–1887)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

William Richman Piddington (1815-1887), by unknown photographer

William Richman Piddington (1815-1887), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624

William Richman Piddington (1815-1887), bookseller and politician, was born in London, brought up in the book trade and worked in Edgely's Book Shop, Bond Street. In 1838 he migrated to New South Wales and farmed for a time on the Hunter. He returned to Sydney and in February 1848 joined W. A. Colman, bookseller of George Street. When the partnership was wound up after Colman's death fourteen months later, Piddington narrowly avoided bankruptcy and set up on his own. In 1853 he published The Bushranger: A Play, and Other Poems by Charles Harpur.

Nurtured in the English radical politics of Joseph Hume, Piddington soon became active in public affairs. In June 1849 he had protested against the landing of convicts from the Hashemy and became a member of the council of the Anti-transportation League. He attacked proposals to introduce the British authors' bill (1850) which he feared would 'legalise the sale of piratic editions of British authors'. In 1851 he was elected to the Sydney City Council but soon found the council unworkable and resigned. Secretary of the New South Wales Constitution Committee, he regarded W. C. Wentworth's constitution bill as 'villainous', urged that it be 'burnt by the hand of the common hangman' and described his speeches as the 'ravings of a monomaniac'.

On the introduction of responsible government in 1856 Piddington campaigned for constitutional reform, the development of a rural railway system and the extension of local government but opposed the sale of land by auction and placing any further financial burden on the colony. He won the seat of Northumberland and Hunter and held it in the 1858 elections. He opposed the extension of the franchise to all adult males which he said would lead to 'a rabid and unbridled democracy'. He represented the Hawkesbury in 1859-77 and in 1859-60 was chairman of committees and later served on various standing and select committees. A friend of Henry Parkes Piddington wrote to him in 1862 that the current parliament was 'by far the worst House we have ever had—the most corrupt—the most lazy & useless'. He helped Parkes financially and 'played a good game at romps' with his children.

In the 1860s Piddington supported James Martin, but although described by David Buchanan as 'a little, squat, burly piece of pompous vulgarity' who 'abandoned all his political opinions and turned Tory', he supported such liberal measures as Parkes's 1866 Education Act, opposed state aid for public worship as 'contrary to the spirit of Christianity' and contributed to the rebuilding of St Mary's Cathedral. A constant critic of successive colonial treasurers, he was apt 'in picking out discrepancies'. Fluent and agile in debate, he made effective use of quotations and irony. In 1867 and 1871 he was taunted with securing 'the exemption from duty of the imported printed books and periodicals in which he dealt'. In 1870 he refused to serve under the Martin-Robertson coalition as Martin would not agree to strong measures of retrenchment in the civil service. In May 1872 he became colonial treasurer under Parkes but his health broke down and he resigned office on 2 December. He was again treasurer in Parkes's short-lived 1877 ministry and lost his seat in the October elections. On 7 October 1879 he was appointed to the Legislative Council on Parkes's recommendation and was chairman of committees in 1885-87.

In 1850 Piddington had become a subscriber to the Australian Subscription Library and in 1865 served on its committee of management. He was a director of the Australasian Steam Navigation Co. and the Bank of New South Wales and a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales. He remained a friend of Parkes and sent him the signature of Louis XIV. In the 1880s Piddington built a house at Mount Victoria. Unmarried he died on 25 November 1887 from obstruction of his bowels, a complaint he had suffered for thirty-eight years. He was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery and his estate was valued for probate at over £12,000.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Buchanan, Political Portraits of Some of the Members of the Parliament of New South Wales (Syd, 1863)
  • P. Loveday and A. W. Martin, Parliament Factions and Parties (Melb, 1966)
  • P. Loveday, ‘“Democracy” in New South Wales’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 42 (1956-57), part 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Feb 1848, 6 Apr 1849, 17, 21, 26, 27 Aug, 17 Sept 1850, 4, 11, 16, 18 Aug, 6 Sept 1853, 31 Jan, 27 Mar, 21 Apr, 29 Nov 1865, 17 Mar, 5 Dec 1866, 30 Sept 1867, 16, 18 Jan, 10 Feb, 27 Sept, 30 Nov 1869, 20 Feb 1871, 24 Jan, 3 Nov 1877, 26 Nov, 1 Dec 1887
  • Empire (Sydney), 17 May 1856
  • Town and Country Journal, 15 June 1872
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 27 June 1874
  • Australian Subscription Library, Proceedings of General Meetings, 1845-71, and Minute Books (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/569, 583, 584.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Piddington, William Richman (1815–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 2 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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