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Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson (1872–1939)

by J. Fitzpatrick

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Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson (1872-1939), cyclist and mining engineer, was born on 23 February 1872 at Pernambuco (Recife), Brazil, one of ten children of Arthur Richardson, physician, and his wife Isabella, née Merrifield. The family moved to Port Augusta, South Australia, while Arthur was very young. He attended Whinham College and Adelaide Collegiate School. By the mid-1890s, when the gold boom was in full swing, his father was practising in Western Australia. Arthur, after 'serving his time as an engineer', tried mining and station life. He was acknowledged as an experienced bushman and travelled about the goldfields.

On 24 November 1896 he left Coolgardie for Adelaide by bicycle. Carrying only a small kit and a water-bag, he followed the telegraph line. He recalled much 'sweating and swearing' on sandy roads west of Eucla, and hot winds on the Nullarbor ('about 1000 in the shade') and judged the twenty-four miles (39 km) of sandhills west of Madura station the worst in Australasia. Nonetheless, he arrived in Adelaide thirty-one days later, becoming the first man to pedal the Nullarbor route. The ride was widely reported in Australian newspapers and magazines, demonstrating the value of the bicycle for rural travel.

In 1899 Richardson set out to be the first to ride round the continent, described in his Story of a Remarkable Ride (1900). He left Perth on 5 June, heading north, carrying 'not more than 25 pounds [11.4 kg] of luggage' and a pistol. Heavy rain slowed his progress in Western Australia, and later in the north, where the black-soil plains were unrideable for several days. He had to push and carry his bicycle through much sand, and encountered 'hostile blacks' across the north. He arrived back in Perth on 4 February 1900 after travelling 11,500 miles (18,507 km). Richardson was fêted by leading West Australians, his ride received much publicity and he achieved brief fame, especially because another party, Frank and Alec White of Melbourne and Donald Mackay, were attempting the ride in a counter-clockwise direction from Brisbane at the same time. It was seen as a race and Richardson not only finished first but rode solo.

After having served three years with the South Australian militia Richardson joined the Third (Bushmen's) Contingent from Western Australia, destined for the South African War. He left Fremantle on 13 March 1900, with a bicycle donated by a local agent for use as a dispatch rider or scout. The contingent disembarked at Beira (Mozambique) on 18 April. He left the service at Marandellas, near Salisbury, Rhodesia, in June, after breaking his arm.

Of his later life, little is known definitely. He worked briefly in West Africa and mined in South America. He was badly wounded in World War I and later worked as an engineer in England. He had married Gwendolin Bedwell. They were divorced and on 26 July 1934 in London he married a widow Rita Betsy Elliott-Druiff, née Mosely.

Richardson died on 3 April 1939 at home at Troutsdale, Scarborough, England, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after shooting his wife. His war injuries had left him seriously disturbed. He was survived by a son of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Fitzpatrick, The Bicycle and the Bush (Melb, 1980)
  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 6 June, 10 Aug 1899, 18 Jan, 5, 7, 10 Feb 1900
  • Scarborough Evening News and Daily Post (England), 5 Apr 1939
  • diary letter to H. Sparrow, 25 Jan 1897 and H. Sparrow, personal manuscript, 16 Nov 1937 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • M. P. Durack, personal diary, 25 Aug 1899 (privately held).

Citation details

J. Fitzpatrick, 'Richardson, Arthur Charles Jeston (1872–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 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

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