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Henry Caselli Richards (1884–1947)

by Dorothy Hill

This article was published:

Henry Caselli Richards (1884-1947), professor of geology, was born on 16 December 1884, at Melton, Victoria, son of Benjamin Richards, schoolteacher, and his wife Jane, née Sergeant, both Victorian born. Educated at Box Hill Grammar School, South Melbourne College and the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1907; D.Sc., 1915), he worked briefly in 1907-08 as metallurgical superintendent of the new zinc flotation process at De Bavay's Treatment Co., Broken Hill, New South Wales, then became a research scholar at the University of Melbourne in 1908-09. In 1910 he moved to Brisbane as lecturer in charge of the chemistry and mining department in the Central Technical College. Richards married Grace Christian, whom he had met at Broken Hill, on 12 January 1911 at Malvern, Melbourne. When the new University of Queensland took its first students that year, he became the first lecturer in charge of the department of geology (and mineralogy in 1912) and in 1919 the department's first professor. Richards published fifty-five research papers but soon became a highly successful administrator, building his well-balanced department into a position of strength; he gave and received co-operation and kindness from both staff and students.

Thorough, persuasive and fair, he attracted a load of committee work, and became inter alia president of the board of the faculties, member of senate (1926-32, 1943-47), and deputy chancellor (1944-46). He vigorously promoted research. Representing the university on the Queensland committee for the Advisory Council of Science and Industry (1916-18), he began a lifelong association with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as council-member and chairman of its Queensland committee. When Commonwealth money was provided for research in universities in 1937, Richards chaired the committee disbursing the funds for the University of Queensland. In 1922 he founded, with Sir Matthew Nathan, the Great Barrier Reef Committee. During his term as its chairman (from 1925) it put down bores through Michaelmas Reef and Heron Island; established the Low Isles research station; and organized, with a British committee, the highly successful Yonge expedition to the reef (1928-29) and geographical expeditions in 1928-29 and 1936.

Richards gave forceful service to the Royal Society of Queensland (president 1913, 1938), the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, the Australian National Research Council (executive member 1923-32) and the Queensland Bureau of Industry (1933). In 1927 he was appointed a member of the oil advisory board of the Queensland Department of Mines and in 1929 to the royal commission on the Queensland mining industry. He was chairman (1935-38) of the mining commission of the State Bureau of Industry and a member of the artesian water committee (from 1938). In 1927 and 1935-36 he represented Queensland at interstate geological conferences that considered establishing a Federal geological body; from such committees developed in time the Bureau of Mineral Resources. He was awarded the Clarke medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1938.

In 1932 the Federal government asked him to join S. F. Markham in a survey of Australian art galleries and museums, on which they reported to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Richards became chairman of the John Darnell fine arts committee and of the trustees of the Queensland Art Gallery. He represented the Carnegie Corporation in Australia and received the Carnegie medal.

Richards was an active man of warm humanity, with a friendly smile, twinkling eyes and a cheerful manner welcoming to all. His portrait by Arthur Murch hangs in the Richards building of the University of Queensland. He died of hypertensive heart disease at his home at Auchenflower on 13 June 1947, and was cremated after a service at St John's Cathedral. His wife, a daughter and a son Jack Christian, Rhodes scholar and engineer, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. I. Thomis, A Place of Light and Learning (Brisb, 1985)
  • Royal Society of Queensland, Proceedings, 59, no 5, 1948, p 141, and for publications
  • D. H. Hill, ‘The first fifty years of the department of geology of the University of Queensland’, Papers (University of Queensland, Department of Geology), 10, no 1, 1981
  • D. H. Hill, ‘The Great Barrier Reef Committee, 1922-82. The first thirty years’, Historical Records of Australian Science, 6, no 1, 1984
  • Great Barrier Reef Committee papers, and University of Queensland Senate minutes (University of Queensland Archives).

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Citation details

Dorothy Hill, 'Richards, Henry Caselli (1884–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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