Richard Walter Richards GC (AM exchanger)

b. 14/11/1894 Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. d. 08/05/1986 Point Lonsdale, Victoria, Australia.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 09/10/1915-20/03/1916 Antarctica.

Richard Walter Richards (1894-1986) was born on 14th November 1894 in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, the son of James and Olive Estelle (nee Stringer). He was educated at Bendigo High School, before entering Melbourne University where he studied Maths and Science. On completion of his studies, he took up his first job as a lecturer at the Ballarat School of Mines (SMB) in 1914.

Richard W Richards GC

In 1914, he saw and answered an advertisement for a “fit young physicist”. He was offered the job and was informed that he would be working for a geologist Dr Stevens, and be stationed at Cape Evans, from where others would commence he depot laying and he was released from his post at SMB. He then joined his fellow crew members on the “Aurora” at Hobart in Tasmania. The Aurora was to take the men to McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea from where they would disembark together with supplies for themselves, their dogs and for the supplying of depots for Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition which was to start off from the Weddell Sea.

The expedition had its object the crossing of the Antarctic, a distance of some 1,700 miles. As sufficient supplies for the whole journey could not be carried, it was necessary to establish a chain of depots on the Ross Sea side as far south as possible. With this in mind, the Aurora was sent to McMurdo Sound at the southern end of the Ross Sea, as it was intended that only part of the stores and equipment were to be unloaded. In May the Aurora was blown out to sea by a blizzard and was unable to return. The ten crew members ashore were stranded. However, realising that failure to establish the depots would undoubtedly result in the loss of the main body of the expedition, they resolved, in spite of the grave shortage of supplies, to carry out their allotted task. Eight men, including Richards set out in October with two sledges and four dogs, and 162 days elapsed before they returned, having covered a distance of 950 miles. Reverend Spencer-Smith had to be dragged on the sledge for 42 days. Lieutenant Mackintosh collapsed with 100 miles remaining, imposing an additional burden on the active members of the party, who were all suffering from scurvy and snow blindness and were so enfeebled by their labours that at times they were unable to cover more than 2 or 3 miles in 15 hours. Reverend Spencer-Smith died with only 19 miles remained to be covered. Mackintosh and Mr Hayward died later. However, the mission was completed. But all their efforts were in vain when Shackleton’s part of the mission failed.

On 4th July 1923 the London Gazette published the announcements of the award of an Albert Medal to Richards, Petty Officer E.E.M. Joyce, Victor George Hayward and Petty Officer H. E. Wild RN. On his return from Antarctic via New Zealand to Australia in 1917, he resumed his work in Ballarat as Lecturer in Physics and Antarctic Mathematics during which time he was to develop many different pieces of experimental equipment in the laboratories. He was also awarded the Polar Medal with clasp “Antarctic 1917”, one of only seven recipients of the medal.

Dick, as he was known, married Dorothy Hambly in 1919 and they had two sons Peter and Bryan and a daughter, Patricia. During World War II, as well as his duties at the School of Mines, he was a scientific advisor for the production of optical apparatus and in 1946 he was appointed Principal of SMB which post he held for 12 years and with which he was associated for 44 years. He retired from the SMB in 1959. An annual award to the best student at Ballarat School of Mines is the Richard Richards Medal. He also wrote a book “The Ross Sea Shore Party”, which was published by the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge.

In 1972, Dorothy died and in 1973, he married a widowed old friend Joyce Roberts. In 1971, he chose to accept the offer to exchange his Albert Medal for a George Cross after a change in the Royal Warrant. He donated his Albert Medal to the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand. Sadly, Hayward, Wild and Joyce had all passed away prior to the exchange and were not eligible.

Dick passed away on 8th May 1986 in Port Lonsdale, near Geelong, Victoria. He was buried with his first wife Dorothy in Queenscliff Cemetery, Port Lonsdale. In 1982, he had donated his GC, Polar Medal with clasp, a compass (which bears Shackleton’s signature) and his personal diary of the expedition to Canterbury Museum to accompany his Albert Medal.





Carol Judkins – Image of Richards GC Grave in Queenscliff Cemetery, Point Lonsdale.