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Alexander Robert Richardson (1847–1931)

by Cathie Clement

This article was published:

Alexander Robert Richardson (1847-1931), pastoralist, was born on 4 July 1847 at Islington, London, second son of Scottish parents Thomas Elliot Richardson, Presbyterian minister, and his wife Jane, née Anderson. The family had lived in Tasmania and soon after his birth migrated to Victoria. After leaving school Bob (as he was known to family and friends) worked briefly on his father's newspaper, the Portland Guardian, and then with an uncle on Bangaal station and a cousin at Mount Hesse.

In 1864, with his elder brother John Elliot and his cousin A. E. Anderson, Richardson was one of seven shareholders forming the Portland Squatting Co. Next year they left in the Maria Ross with 1600 ewes to exploit liberal land regulations in Western Australia. Despite opposition from Aborigines they established Pyramid station on the George River and 'peacocked' runs on other North-West watercourses. After four years they divided their flocks; Richardson controlled 4500 sheep on Pyramid. His brother and Jack Edgar stayed with him, and they bought out the other partners in 1869-72; A. R. Richardson & Co. spent the next few years improving Pyramid and acquiring runs on the Fortescue River. Finding prime land difficult to obtain, Richardson agitated for lease surveys.

On 19 March 1874 in a Congregational service he married Ellen Bates Wellard of Serpentine. Two years later, appointing a manager for Pyramid, they moved south to Lowlands, Serpentine, a farming and grazing property. He continued to amass North-West leases and by 1879 held choice runs round the Yule, De Grey and Oakover rivers. Severing his connexion with his brother and Edgar, he formed the Murray Squatting Co. with W. and G. P. Paterson and H. Cornish. In 1880 they depastured stock illegally in the Kimberley, seeking unsuccessfully to force the government to grant pre-emptive rights. Withstanding Aboriginal resistance, the company then established Yeeda. Richardson visited the Kimberley when this was sold in 1883, and the company then paid a handsome price for the Fortescue River station, Mardie. Richardson's interest in Mardie spanned three decades; with various partners he also invested in Oakabella, Yarra, Tallering and Boodarrie stations.

Richardson represented North as a member of the Legislative Council in 1887-90 and De Grey in the Legislative Assembly in 1890-97. Respected for his pastoral and agricultural experience, he became commissioner of crown lands in 1894. Robust and assertive, he proved an able, practical and courteous minister and saw through parliament the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs, Licensed Surveyors' and Lands Resumption Acts. He was also responsible for setting up the Agricultural Bank of which he was later a trustee until 1921. In 1887-1902 Richardson was a member of sixteen government inquiries, most concerning pastoral development. He was expected to succeed his long-standing friend Sir John Forrest as premier in 1897. However, deploring his land policy, Richardson resigned from parliament.

He continued to promote expansion, publishing Early Memories of the Great Nor' West (Perth, 1914). In 1925 he presented a submission on northern settlement to a Federal inquiry. He had retired to South Perth in 1922. Predeceased by his wife and survived by eight of their eleven children, he died on 2 May 1931 and was buried in the Brethren area of Karakatta cemetery, leaving an estate sworn for probate in four States at £34,711.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly, History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vols 1-2 (Adel, 1912, 1913)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), The History of the North West of Australia (Perth, 1915)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Western Australia), 1908-09, 2 (21)
  • Western Australian Pastoralist and Grazier, 16 May 1931, p 24
  • West Australian, 14 Jan, 24 May, 1 July, 9, 19 Aug 1881, 4 Apr, 15 Aug, 26 Sept 1882
  • Daily News (Perth), 5 May 1931
  • Lands and Surveys Department (Western Australia), Leases and Licenses, 1865-1900, also unofficial letters received from settlers, 1873-80 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Wellard and Richardson papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Cathie Clement, 'Richardson, Alexander Robert (1847–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 July, 1847
London, Middlesex, England


2 May, 1931 (aged 83)

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