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Percy Dryden Riddell (1886–1967)

by Mary McPherson

This article was published:

Percy Dryden Riddell (1886-1967), technical education administrator, was born on 31 October 1886 at Marrickville, Sydney, eldest of six children of English-born parents Michael Dryden Riddell, fitter, and his wife Helena, née White. Helena instilled in her five sons and only daughter the determination that none of them was to become a blue-collar worker. After leaving Kogarah Superior Public School, Perce completed a course in speed shorthand, and began to read widely and voraciously. He joined the New South Wales Public Service as a clerk on 23 April 1907, but left in the following year to teach shorthand at commercial colleges in Sydney. In 1911 he entered the Department of Public Instruction's technical education branch as secretary to committees.

Transferred to Broken Hill Technical College as sub-registrar in 1915, Riddell was promoted principal in July 1920. At the Methodist Church, South Bathurst, on 11 January 1916 he married Edith Smith; they were to remain childless. He was foundation president (1917-29) of the Barrier District branch of the Workers' Educational Association. As vice-president of the Barrier Field Naturalists' Club, he arranged scientific expeditions to Central Australia and accompanied some of them as an anthropological observer.

On 18 February 1929 Riddell was appointed principal of Newcastle Technical College. An outstanding administrator, he energetically sought solutions to the problems associated with developing technical education in an industrial centre, and secured the assistance of a number of leaders of commerce and industry. His leisure time was partly filled by community work: he was president of the Rotary Club of Newcastle and of the local branch of the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children.

Riddell was appointed superintendent (director from 1947) of technical education on 23 October 1939. He brought to the position 'experience in various divisions of the service, personal knowledge of the staff of the Technical Education branch', and close contact with industry. He was responsible for implementing the Commonwealth Defence Training Scheme. As State regional director of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, he had to plan courses to suit the needs of the State's industrial structure. A member (from 1941) of the Board of Secondary School Studies, he developed a rapport with Robert Heffron, minister for education (from 1944), and in 1949 was appointed to the council of the New South Wales University of Technology.

Woodwork was one hobby to which Riddell devoted much time. From the workshop of his rented home at Killara he donated each year large numbers of his handmade, moving wooden toys to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. His other hobbies included bowls and anthropology. Following his retirement on 31 October 1949, Riddell and his wife moved to Mount Ku-ring-gai. A tall, slender, but well-built man, he was often seen smoking (or cleaning) his pipe. He was courteous, quietly spoken, considerate and well liked—despite his 'penchant for frankness'. Survived by his wife, he died on 27 November 1967 at Hornsby and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July, 30 Oct, 2 Nov 1949, 19 May 1965, 30 Nov 1967
  • J. Cobb, History of Technical Education in New South Wales to 1949 (typescript, 1988) and staff file, 13/9344 (teachers' records, New South Wales Department of Education Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mary McPherson, 'Riddell, Percy Dryden (1886–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 October, 1886
Marrickville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


27 November, 1967 (aged 81)
Hornsby, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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