Richard W. Richards

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Richard Walter Richards, GC (14 November 1894 – 8 May 1986), often referred to as Dick Richards, was an Australian science teacher who joined Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in December 1914 as a physicist with the Ross Sea Party under Captain Aeneas Mackintosh. Richards was barely 20 years old, and had just completed his studies at the University of Melbourne, when SY Aurora sailed. He was to outlive all other members of the expedition, and became the last survivor of the so-called "Heroic Age" of Antarctic exploration, dying at the age of 91 in 1985.

Early life[edit]

Richards was born on 14 November 1894 in Bendigo, Victoria, to Richard Roberts Richards and Louise Alice Richards (nee Philpott.) He was schooled at Bendigo High School, before going on to study mathematics and science at the University of Melbourne.[1]

With the Ross Sea Party[edit]

On the ill-starred Ross Sea Party, Richards learned sledging and polar travel techniques from Ernest Joyce whom Richards admired.[2] It was Richards who first noticed the disappearance of the Aurora during a gale on 6 May 1915, and coincidentally he was the first to sight her on her return, 20 months later. During the intervening period while the shore party was stranded, Richards participated in the harrowing march to the Beardmore Glacier, laying depots for Shackleton's expected transcontinental party, which of course never came. He observed the deaths of Arnold Spencer-Smith, Victor Hayward and Mackintosh during the journey back from the Beardmore, and was thereafter confined to his bunk for several weeks, suffering from exhaustion and depression.[3]

Post-expedition career[edit]

After rescue in January 1917, and his return to Australia, Richards taught at the School of Mines and Industry at Ballarat. After acting as a government adviser on optical apparatus during World War II he returned to Ballarat in 1948, as Principal of the College, retiring in 1958.[4] During his later years he was frequently consulted by historians and chroniclers of polar exploration, often expressing his views in trenchant terms.[5] He maintained the view that, though the depot-laying journey was ultimately unnecessary, it was not futile, but was a demonstration of what the human spirit could accomplish in adversity.[6]

Honours and memorials[edit]

Richard Richards was awarded the Albert Medal in 1923 for his efforts on the ice to save the lives of Spencer-Smith and Mackintosh, this award being converted in 1971 to the George Cross, an exchange offered to all Albert Medal holders then living.[7] He is further commemorated by the Richards Inlet at 83°20′S 168°30′E / 83.333°S 168.500°E / -83.333; 168.500,[4] and also by the Richard W Richards Medal[4] at the Ballarat College of Advanced Education.

It is reported that Richards signed up for the Trans-Antarctic Expedition without any discussion of payment, and that on his return he received the sum of £70.[8]


  1. ^ Hebblethwaite 2007, p. 121
  2. ^ Huntford, Shackleton biog. p450
  3. ^ Bickel, Shackleton's Lost Men pp228-29
  4. ^ a b c RWR biog. in[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Transcript of archival recording of RWR in "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-06. Retrieved 2016-03-28. 
  6. ^ RWR quoted in "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-06. Retrieved 2016-03-28. 
  7. ^ George Cross Database – Summary index table of all individual GC awards
  8. ^ Shackleton, South (Century Ltd edition) ed. note p169


  • Lennard Bickel: Shackleton's Forgotten Men, Random House 2000
  • M&J Fisher: Shackleton (biog.) James Barrie Books 1957
  • Hebblethwaite, Marion (2007). One Step Further: Those Whose Gallantry Was Rewarded with the George Cross – Book N & R. Witney, Oxfordshire: Chamoleon HH Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9546917-8-3. 
  • Roland Huntford: Shackleton (biog.) Hodder & Stoughton 1985
  • Ernest Shackleton: South Century Ltd edition, Ed Peter King 1991