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23 January 2010

Robert Richardson

Robert Richardson was born in 1850 in Armidale, New South Wales. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School before graduating in Arts from the University of Sydney in 1870. He became a journalist and moved to England in the 1870s working in London and Edinburgh, writing for publications including The Boys’ Own Paper, Chums, and Punch (1871-1875) (Gibbney and Smith 212). He wrote a number of children’s books, including 18 boys’ novels. In addition to his Australian school stories, Richardson also wrote two British school stories. He died in 1901.

The Boys of Springdale, or, The Strength of Patience. Edinburgh: William Oliphant & Co., [1875]. 64 pages. Not Illus.

The Boys of Springdale was the first Australian school story published. The story is set at Springdale, a small school with about forty pupils including twelve boarders, run by Mr Blaxland. This small private venture boarding school owned and run by the Headmaster was typical of the era, and all of Richardson’s stories are set in this type of school. The Boys of Springdale centres on a conflict that arises between the boarders when they are collecting a subscription for a new cricket ball, and one of them, Steven Kent, refuses to contribute. The boarders send him to Coventry, not realising that he has been saving money to buy a pet for Philip, an invalided boy he visits. Steven is teased and has tricks played on him. When the Head discovers the boys’ ill treatment of Steven he tells them at the School Prize Giving about Steven’s kindness to the sick boy. The boys realise their wrongdoing, and at Mr Blaxland’s encouragement, plan to give Philip a seaside convalescent holiday. Steven is given a special conduct prize, voted for by the boys, because of his good character. The Boys of Springdale features moral themes and motifs which were common in British school stories from this period, started in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Richardson stresses noble character, moral purity, kindness and good deeds.

Our Junior Mathematical Master, and, A Perilous Errand. Edinburgh: William Oliphant and Co., 1876. 95 pages. Not illus.

This title contains two stories, Our Junior Mathematical Master, and A Perilous Errand.1

Our Junior Mathematical Master follows the arrival of a new junior mathematical master, Mr Pottle, at Astor House. For many of the boys he is a poor replacement for his predecessor. One of the Sixth Formers, Fred, believes that Mr Pottle sneaked to the Head, and he begins a campaign of ragging against Mr Pottle which results in the teacher being asked to leave at the end of the half-year. When Fred and his friends discover that Mr Pottle gave up his plans to become a doctor when his parents died, instead starting teaching to look after a younger brother, they realise that they have behaved shabbily and resolve to make amends. Fred confesses to the Head and Mr Pottle is allowed to remain at Astor House, in time becoming senior Mathematical Master.

The second story, A Perilous Errand, contains a similar moral message. A new boy, fourteen-year-old ‘Watty’, comes to Grange House, a small boarding school near Sydney run by Mr Craig. Most of the boys like Watty, though one boy, Will, constantly teases him, thinking it will toughen him up. Watty angers Will by ticking him off for swearing. Both boys remain at school for the holidays and Will becomes very ill with scarlet fever. Watty makes a difficult journey to town to get medicine for Will, and goes missing. He is discovered the next day unconscious and when Will realises that Watty risked his life to help him, he thanks him.

1 Some sources state they were published separately (e.g. Saxby Offered to Children 285 and Crotty 278), however Muir and bibliographic records from the National Library of Scotland, and the British Library confirm they were published in the one volume.

The Cold Shoulder; or, A Half-Year at Craiglea. Edinburgh: William Oliphant & Co., 1876. 128 pages. Illustrated, 2 b/w illus.

The Cold Shoulder centres on the arrival of an impoverished new boy, Philip Freeling, at Craiglea, a small Sydney bay-side school. Philip’s mother is a widow, struggling to make ends meet. The School Captain, Frank, quickly realises that clever Philip could prove to be a future rival. Some of the boys tease Philip and when he refuses to participate in cribbing, he is further disliked. Philip accidentally damages one of the boy’s maps and he is sent to Coventry by the school. During a holiday boating trip, Philip shows his courage when he helps one of the boys, George, who has been bitten by a snake. When they return to school the boys think Philip has been very heroic and stop mistreating him. Frank and George feel guilty about their treatment of Philip and tell the Head, who urges Frank to make amends by helping Philip get a job after school. Philip, Frank and George remain lifelong friends.

Reprinted as The Craiglea Boys, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 189?.

The Boys of Willoughby School. Edinburgh: Nimmo, 1877. 143 pages. Not illus.

The Boys of Willoughby School contains a moral message of a teacher being persecuted similar to that which appeared in Our Junior Mathematical Master. A new French master, Monsieur Flavelle, arrives at Willoughby School, a private boarding school on the bank of the Parramatta River, run by Mr Cubitt who is assisted by two masters. A trio of friends, Tom, Fred and Jack are in the top form, the fourth form, and Tom is Captain. The boys quickly discover Monsieur Flavelle’s weakness for gossiping and boasting and learn to distract him to miss out on lessons. A new boy, ‘Sandy’, is shunned by the boys when he refuses to pay a cricket sub, a motif Richardson also used in The Boys of Springdale. A trick played by some of the boys on Monsieur Flavelle backfires when he becomes angry and tells the Head, who punishes the form. The class decide to retaliate by snubbing the teacher whenever they can. Sandy is against the idea, as he learns that Monsieur Flavelle is very poor and supports two daughters, one of whom is an invalid. During a Cadet Corps camp, Monsieur Flavelle rescues Tom from drowning and the boys realise they have behaved badly to the Frenchman and with Sandy’s help they decide to show their gratitude by helping to obtain a governess’ post for his eldest daughter to help the family finances. This idea of schoolboys’ atoning for their misdeeds by helping the less fortunate to obtain employment is one peculiar to Richardson. The idea of social good works also appears in Richardson’s other school stories.

The Boys of Willoughby School was reprinted by Sampson, Low, Martson & Co. [1925].


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