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John Soame Richardson (1836–1896)

by Gregory J. Pemberton

This article was published:

John Soame Richardson (1836-1896), soldier, was born on 16 March 1836 at Heydon, Norfolk, England, son of John Richardson, estate manager, and his wife Eleanor, née Soame. Educated at Rugby School, he became an ensign in the 72nd Highlanders in November 1854 and was commissioned lieutenant in November 1855. In the Crimea, he was at the siege and fall of Sebastapol and received the Crimean Medal and Clasp.

Richardson joined the 12th Regiment in England and came to Australia in 1858 in the Saldanha. In June 1860 he was appointed adjutant and the same year went to New Zealand where he served in the Taranaki and Waikato campaigns of the Maori wars. Promoted captain in July 1863, he left the imperial service in September 1864 and returned to New South Wales. Having gained his majority, he became inspecting field officer of the Volunteer Forces on 17 February 1865 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel at a salary of £500. A thorough professional, he several times reorganized the forces and initiated the system of part-paid volunteers which helped achieve efficiency within the shortcomings of the units. He established the reserve rifle companies, but his plans were frustrated as the necessary finance and ministerial sanctions were withheld. After the withdrawal of the British troops in 1870, Richardson was appointed president of the new commission on defence from foreign aggression and of the board for inspecting and maintaining the supply of colonial warlike stores. On 1 August 1871 he became commandant of the permanent and volunteer military forces of New South Wales and was promoted to colonel on 26 August 1876. In 1881 he was a member of the royal commission on military defences; he defended the payment of volunteers and urged the formation of a permanent Australia-wide defence reserve. In France in 1882 despite poor health he inspected the battlefields of the Franco-Prussian war in order to gain an appreciation of changes in warfare.

On 11 February 1885, partly at the instigation of Sir Edward Strickland, W. B. Dalley offered a New South Wales contingent to Britain for the Sudan campaign. Richardson was appointed to command Australia's first expeditionary force of 750 men. They left Sydney in the two troopships Australasian and Iberia amid great enthusiasm on 3 March and reached Suakin on the 29th, where they were honoured by being brigaded next to the Guards. The contingent saw little action and was affected by fever, but took part in the advance on Tamai and Richardson was mentioned in dispatches. They returned to Sydney on 23 June.

On 15 August 1885 Richardson was raised to major-general; he was made C.B. and was awarded the Sudan Medal and Khedive Star. On 3 January 1889 in his inaugural address to the United Service Institution, founded for the higher education of officers, he said 'we must … demonstrate that we … are not unmindful or careless of the sacred trust confided to us by New South Wales as her defenders, that we do not wear her uniform for purposes of mere display, but that we rather attach a deeper, more patriotic value to the commissions we have the honor to hold'. However, Richardson had to contend with many problems including failing health, the government's indifference to his proposed reforms, and the enmity of Colonel C. F. Roberts. Amiable and kind-hearted, he was a committee-man of the Union Club and the Australian Jockey Club.

Richardson retired on 9 December 1892 and after some time in a private mental hospital was admitted to the Hospital for the Insane, Callan Park, on 20 May 1894, where he died on 9 June 1896; he was survived by his wife Jeannie Strachan, née Dickson (d.1935), whom he had married in Sydney on 14 May 1862, and by their two sons and two daughters. Probate of his estate was sworn at £8233. His burial in the Waverley cemetery with full military honours not only indicated the deep respect accorded him at the time, but also symbolized his great contribution to the founding of the Australian military tradition.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1872-73, 1, 1355, 1877-78, 3, 307, 1880-81, 1, 325, 1882, 4, 29, 1883-84, 1, 177, 587, 6, 328, 1887 (2nd Session), 1, 162
  • Bulletin, 18 Feb 1882
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 14 Mar 1885
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June 1896
  • Town and Country Journal, 20 June 1896
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/603/417, 515, 604/347, 369.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Gregory J. Pemberton, 'Richardson, John Soame (1836–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 March, 1836
Heydon, Norfolk, England


9 June, 1896 (aged 60)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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