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Robert Adam Ritchie (1836–1891)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Robert Adam Ritchie (1836-1891), manufacturer and politician, was born on 18 October 1836 at Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, son of John Ritchie (d.1861), dyer, and his wife Barbara, née Henderson (d.1878). In 1848 the family joined an elder brother John, a shipwright and engine-smith, in Sydney. Robert worked for his brother and in 1849-51 at J. and W. Byrnes's woollen mill at Parramatta where his father was manager. After eighteen months at the Turon River diggings he was apprenticed to Joseph Whiting, blacksmith, in Parramatta. In 1857 he took over Whiting's business in Phillip Street and soon expanded it by making agricultural implements including the celebrated 'Ritchie Plough'.

In the 1860s Ritchie moved to George Street, Parramatta. In 1876 he contracted to supply the government with 150 railway trucks worth £70 each and next year successfully tendered for the construction of first-class carriages. In 1879 he opened a branch works at Wickham near Newcastle. By June 1880 Ritchie employed sixty men and was one of the biggest contractors for government rolling stock: his works could make 200-300 railway wagons a year and produced 300 ploughs and a wide variety of general engineering and smithing annually. Ritchie's valuable railway contracts continued and in 1883 he merged with Hudson Bros, becoming managing director of their Clyde works. In 1884 he retired from the firm and became a director of Mason Bros Ltd, merchants and importers, of Kent Street, Sydney.

Ritchie was connected with many benevolent and social movements; active in local government, he was an alderman of Parramatta for Anderson Ward from 1877 and chairman of the works committee in 1879, president of the Central Cumberland Agricultural and Horticultural Association, chairman of the Auburn Progress Association and one of the original members of the Parramatta volunteers. He was also a Freemason and a councillor of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales. A staunch free trader, in 1889-91 he represented Central Cumberland in the Legislative Assembly. In the assembly Ritchie was an excellent speaker and shrewd critic; diligent and fair-minded he was mainly interested in local issues, but municipally, according to the Cumberland Argus, he was 'more the captious and destructive critic than the constructive man of action'.

Ritchie died of peritonitis on 16 August 1891 at his residence in Auburn Road, Auburn, and was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery, Parramatta. His will was sworn for probate at under £18,355. He was twice married: on 25 March 1859 at Parramatta, to Jemima Fergus Douglas (d.1868); and on 6 June 1868, at Sydney, to her sister Clara (d.1925). Three sons and a daughter of the first marriage and four sons and three daughters of the second survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Illustrated Sydney News, 12 June 1880, 22 Feb 1888
  • Town and Country Journal, 20 Apr 1889, 22 Aug 1891
  • Sydney Mail, 22 June 1889
  • Cumberland Argus, 17 Aug 1891
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Aug 1891, 5 Oct 1892
  • Cumberland Times, 14 Nov 1901.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Ritchie, Robert Adam (1836–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 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]


18 October, 1836
Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland


16 August, 1891 (aged 54)
Auburn, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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