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Sir Horace Frank Richardson (1901–1983)

by Michael E. Humphries

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Sir Horace Frank Richardson (1901-1983), retailer and company director, was born on 15 October 1901 at Bendigo, Victoria, son of William Thomas Richardson and his wife Louisa Jane, née Carlyon.  Living at Kerang, from the age of 10 Frank worked in his grandfather’s store.  After his family moved to Melbourne and settled at Murrumbeena he attended Carnegie State School.

At 14 Frank won a scholarship to All Saints’ Grammar School, East St Kilda, where he captained the football team, served on the committee for the school magazine and was a prefect.  He matriculated in 1918 and won a scholarship to the University of Tasmania, where he enrolled in commerce.  In 1920 he briefly took a job as resident master at the Friends’ High School in Hobart, but teaching was not to his liking and he returned to Victoria without finishing his degree.  For a time he sold Burroughs adding machines around Victoria .

In 1923 Richardson had joined the small Fitzroy department store of Cox Brothers as a salesman.  He was appointed managing director in 1930 and chairman in 1949.  During World War II he served the Commonwealth government in an honorary capacity, as deputy-chairman of the business board in the Department of Defence (1941-47) and of the Commonwealth Disposals Commission (1944-49).  In 1946 he led a selling mission abroad, which helped the government recoup £130 million of wartime equipment expenditure.  He was knighted in 1953 for his services to the Commonwealth government.  Richardson also chaired Victorian and Commonwealth committees inquiring into parliamentary salaries; he controversially recommended considerable salary and pension increases for Federal members in 1959.

Richardson was on good terms with both major political parties and acted as an honorary economic adviser to prime ministers Curtin, Chifley, Fadden and Menzies.  A founding member of the Liberal Party of Australia, he was staunchly anti-communist and supportive of a free-enterprise economy, publicly advocating increased overseas borrowing and opposing the payroll tax and any kind of credit squeeze.  He served as president of the Retail Traders’ Association of Victoria (1955-58) and of the Australian Council of Retailers (1956-58).  An opinionated man, he did not hold back in expressing his views.

During the 1950s and early 1960s Richardson built Cox Brothers (Australia) Ltd into a huge retail empire, acquiring stores around Australia, including Sydney Snow Ltd, Foy & Gibson Ltd and Georges Ltd, eventually operating over 100 stores.  Richardson saw himself as a merchant prince, second only to Sir Norman Myer, as he strolled down Bourke Street to inspect his stores, always with a red carnation in his buttonhole.  A small, dapper, solidly built man with a ruddy complexion, he revelled in the atmosphere of his stores, as he conversed with customers and staff.

Richardson’s bold takeover strategy strained the company’s financial resources and Cox Brothers went into receivership in 1966.  At the time it was one of the biggest corporate crashes in Australian history, with accumulated losses calculated at $35 million.  As the largest individual shareholder, Richardson himself lost a tremendous amount of money.  The stores were gradually sold, some to Myer, often at a fraction of their value.  In 1968 Cox Brothers was delisted and Richardson resigned as chairman and director.  He remained a life governor of the Retail Traders’ Association of Victoria and served (1953-76) on the council of the Australian National University.  His fanatical support for the Melbourne Football Club absorbed a lot of his energy later in his life.

Sir Frank was a classic example of a self-made man who rose from humble circumstances to public distinction.  In the commercial sphere, however, he overreached himself and his career ended ignominiously.  He once commented with his dry wit, 'I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but a wooden one—heavily laced with splinters—and I’m still pulling them out!'

Richardson had married Rita Irene Thelma Ashby on 27 March 1925 at Mordialloc Church of England.  Divorced in 1948, he married with Methodist forms Marjorie Amy Hislop on 31 October 1949 at the Canterbury Presbyterian Church.  A resident of Toorak, he died on 23 February 1983 at Richmond and was cremated with Anglican rites.  His wife and their four sons and two daughters, and the three daughters of his first marriage, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 April 1955, p 3
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 March 1959, p 4
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 April 1959, p 5
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 February 1983, p 22
  • Sun (Melbourne), 7 April 1955, p 54
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 29 December 1966, p 1
  • Mirror News-Pictorial (Newcastle), 13 August 1961, p 55
  • Australian Financial Times, 3 July 1961, p 23
  • M. Humphries, A School that has Passed (MEd thesis, University of Melbourne, 1985)
  • University of Melbourne archives
  • private information
  • personal knowledge

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Citation details

Michael E. Humphries, 'Richardson, Sir Horace Frank (1901–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 October, 1901
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia


23 February, 1983 (aged 81)
Richmond, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.