Thomas James Richards

  • 3Caps
  • 99Wallaby Number
Date Of BirthApril 29, 1882
Place of BirthRose Valley, near Vegetable Creek (Emmaville), NSW
SchoolCharters Towers Central State School, QLD
Other ClubBristol (ENG), Gloucester (ENG), Mines (Johannesburg), Manly
Other ProvinceTransvaal (SAF)
Debut ClubCharters Towers
Debut Test Match1908 Wallabies v Wales, Cardiff
Final Test Match1912 Wallabies v American All Stars, California
DiedSeptember 25, 1935
Service Number25


Nothing perturbs a modern player more than listening to the old adage, ''they don't make them any more like they used to.'' In the case of Tom Richards, they may be just right. Tom Richards was indeed a product of his times, an unlikely aspirant to international fame. Yet, through the sport of rugby, he was provided with a veritable window to the world. His record is second to none. He played for: Charters Towers, Queensland; the Mines Club in Johannesburg and represented that city, and Transvaal, in the Currie Cup; Bristol, England, and represented Gloucestershire; the Wallabies of 1908, and became, with Phil Carmichael the first Queenslander to receive a gold medal in the Olympic Games, by being a member of the Wallaby team that defeated Cornwall in the 1908 Olympic Games rugby tournament; played for the British Lions in South Africa, thus becoming the only player to represent Australia and the British Lions; Manly Club in Sydney; the 1912 Wallabies on their tour of the United States and Canada; and Toulouse France, winning the club championship of France.

He was Australia's first rugby troubadour, to be followed by Cyril Towers in the 20s, and more modern-day entrepreneurs such as Roger Gould, David Campese, Gary Pearse, Dick Cocks and Michael Lynagh. Tom Richards' story is an incredible one, and can only be appreciated by an understanding of the social and economic changes that rocked Australia before he was born and during his formative years. Gold was discovered in Australia by a shepherd in 1823, but the gold rush really commenced when Edmund Hargreaves came up with his find in 1851. In the following decade the Australian population virtually doubled, gold seekers coming from all over the world, including over 18,000 Americans and 40,000 Chinese. The beginnings of many Queensland coastal and inland towns can be traced to the gold discoveries. The most enduring of the finds were at Charters Towers and Mount Morgan. Tom Richard's father was a poor miner, living in a humpy at a nondescript mining settlement at Vegetable Creek, NSW. Forever lured onwards by the dream of the precious metal, he followed the rush to the Towers. Tom's mother came later, bringing their five boys and meagre possessions over daunting country tracks a distance over 1450 km (900 miles). They certainly did breed them tough in those days.

Two of the Richards boys achieved everlasting rugby fame by the fortuitous circumstance of coming to the Towers at crucial periods of their upbringing. Billy' Richards was born in 1878, and Tom in 1887, so Billy' preceded his younger brother and doubtless served as a role model for young Tom. ‘Rusty' Richards worked first of all as a farmer's assistant for 7/6 a week, then for a coach‑builder for 17/6, and in the mines for two pounds a week. He was understandably influenced by his brother's exploits, but a visit of a NSW team to Charters Towers in 1897, when he was only 10 years of age, captured his young imagination, and he resolved to do everything to make his mark in the game. His father forbade him to attend this particular match because it was played on a Sunday, an issue that divided the town in those days, but he and his brother surreptitiously attended. His own story was told in the Sydney Mail: "I learned, that memorable afternoon, that force alone cannot prevail over concentration and well timed movements. I trained every day and ran miles to achieve the honour of representing Charters Towers against Townsville and Ravenswood.

In 1903, I was elated to be chosen for North Queensland during Country Week in Brisbane [‘Billy' was also on that team and Tom was just 16 years of age]. "Brother Bill played splendidly and followed up his selection for Combined Country by playing for Queensland against NSW. Perhaps I was envious, but I was still overjoyed that at least one member of the family had reached such a high level in rugby. My determination to succeed wiped out my disappointment in not being selected with Bill. I went and watched the New Zealanders in Sydney and learned a lot of football lore. Back in Charters Towers, my training methods became far more intensive, from using diagrams of positions, field tactics, and scoring moves, to making my younger brother strengthen my abdomen and solar plexus with swinging punches.”

He was, later, picked for the Queensland 2nd XV against a NSW 2nd XV, and learned a lesson or two in the game as he was beaten badly by two very experienced Wallabies, back Stan Wickham and outstanding forward Harold Judd. They carved up the young country boy, but he was intelligent enough to take stock. "Close consideration showed that dodgy runners mislead tacklers by feinting to move left or right. To meet this ruse whereby they change direction and suddenly charge to the open side, I had to draw on my own patience when a man was coming at me, and not be led astray by preliminary drawing attempts. Then I found that my tackling was much simplified. I practiced by catching fowls, but not rushing up to them, waiting patiently until they came within grabbing distance."

The careers of the Richards boys in Australia was put on hold as his father decided to go mining in South Africa, and Bill and Tom accompanied him and also worked in the mines there. Both brothers elected to play for the Miners Club in Johannesburg and for the first time in the history of that Club they won the premiership. They were both picked for the trials to select the Transvaal team for Currie Cup competition. Tom played for Transvaal in the Currie Cup, but was frustrated when he was declared ineligible for the South African team to tour Great Britain in 1906 because of a six‑year residential requirement. He decided to go to England himself, and played for the club Bristol and representative rugby for Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Midland Countries, even managing a game against the touring Springboks.

In 1908, yearning for the country of his birth, he went back to Charters Towers, now a mature and versatile player, 6' 0" in height and weighing 13 stone 1 lb. His goals were clearly put: "I set myself to develop a versatile, conspicuous, and yet safe, hard and effective style, and to fit myself to fill any emergency position on the field. It seemed to me that the loose forward game, attractive and spectacular, offered immense possibilities for development; so I concentrated my studies on an individual style that fitted my team's needs, learning to regulate my ideas according to my own lights and to cultivate attraction, so that wherever I might roam, I would command immediate notice. I aimed at travelling to distant lands, using rugby as my passport and my ability as an introduction.” This is a remarkable statement by a phenomenal athlete and person. The last two sentences could have been written by quite a few ‘amateur' rugby players in recent times who have plied their trade in foreign lands.

Tom was quick to make his mark on his return to the Towers, playing for North Queensland in Country Week and against NSW. He was an automatic selection in the Wallaby team to tour Great Britain and America in 1908‑09 under fellow flanker ‘Paddy' Moran. Scotland and Ireland refused to play against these first Wallabies, the main issues being that the invitation to tour came from England alone rather than a conjoint board of four unions, but also there was displeasure that in an amateur sport the Wallabies were provided three shillings a day out‑of‑pocket expenses. There were other problems on tour. Captain Moran spoke about one of them in Viewless Winds: “... There were little crowds gathering. Our methods had been subjected to some criticism in the England press. There was considerable disapproval of our breakaways [that is, Moran and Richards principally].

Now in Australia referees gave these men considerable latitude. They were the lineal descendants of the old wing‑forwards who in the good old days used to carry on a sort of personal vendetta at the bases of the scrum. In my time we were taught that we could ‑ indeed should ‑ swing out to block the men coming round, and that it was legal so long as we remained attached to the scrum. This, however, was considered obstruction in England. Further, the practice of following the ball through the scrum, keeping just behind it, always arouse the fury of a crowd who were unable to see that the player was still on‑side. Gallagher of the 'All Blacks’ had been the perfect exponent of this plan for keeping just within the law. The onlookers for some reason regarded it as a slim and unsporting practice." Despite the continual carping over the Wallabies' methods of play, Richards as an individual was acclaimed.

The South Wales Echo said: ''He is looked upon as the finest of the Wallabies' side. He is unquestionably the best of the forwards." The Daily Telegraph, after the Swansea match, said that "individually, Richards, the Australian, was once again quite the cleverest forward on the field. He is generally at his best when his comrades are in difficulties and yesterday he played better and better in proportion as the Welsh pack established their superiority." The London Daily Mail said: "The greatest forward seen this season was Tom Richards. His pace, tackling and resourcefulness stamp him as one of the finest forwards who ever pulled on football boots." The Yorkshire Evening Post wrote: "Tom Richards is a big and fast man, and he knows how to scrummage. In line‑out and open play, he has no equal." The London Daily Telegraph, ever praising his play, simply said: "He is the cleverest forward in the world." There were only two internationals on the 1908 tour. Wales narrowly beat the Wallabies by 9 to 6, Richards scoring one of the two Australian tries, and 'Boxer' Russell the other.

The Wallabies came back in the Test against England in January 1909, winning 9 to 3. Richards was at number eight in the game, Norm Row and Ken Gavin playing at breakaway as the captain ‘Paddy' Moran, was injured. Richards achieved immortality, however, not by his participation in the Test matches, but in another game which was not held by the Wallabies to be one of any great consequence. It was for an Olympic gold medal, and the only one that Australia received in 1908. Rugby was introduced to the Olympic Games in 1900 in Paris, when the host country defeated Germany by a score of 25‑16, and except for 1908, was not held again until 1920 in Antwerp. Here the U.S. team upset the pundits by defeating France 8‑0, and proved four years later that it was no fluke by again defeating France, 17‑3. The USA remain to this day as the reigning rugby Olympic champions, as the sport was dropped from the Olympic program following the 1928 Games.

On the itinerary of the 1908‑09 Wallabies was a match on October 26, 1908, at Shepherd's Bush Stadium ‑ the Olympic Rugby Tournament. Scotland, Ireland and Wales ignored the tournament, and New Zealand and South Africa, which had sent teams to England in previous years, elected not to participate. In actual fact this non-participation was indicative of the low status the Rugby Unions in those countries accorded the Olympic Games. A week prior to the tournament, France withdrew as it was unable to raise a representative team, reducing the tournament to one match ‑ Australia versus England. Cornwall, as the previous year's county champions, had the honour of representing the host nation. Confidence was high among the Wallabies, who had comfortably won seven of the eight games they had played, the only loss coming in front of the highly partisan crowd at Llanelly in Wales. They had already defeated Cornwall at Camborne, by 18‑5.

It was thought, however, that the return of two internationals to the Cornwall team, halfback J. Davey, and fullback E.J.Jackett, would make a considerable difference. The slippery nature of the turf and ball was also likely to be more upsetting to the tourists than to the home side. Neither the captain, ‘Paddy' Moran, who had strained his shoulder in the previous game against London at Richmond, nor the vice‑captain, Fred (‘Possum') Wood, played in the match. They thereby missed their appointment with destiny. More than one thousand Cornish supporters travelled to London to support their side, only to see an overwhelming 32‑3 win by the Wallabies. The Australian fifteen who became gold medallists because of this one‑off match were: fullback Phil Carmichael (Q); wing three‑quarters, Dan Carroll (NSW); five‑eighth, Arthur McCabe (NSW); half‑back, Chris McKivat (NSW); forwards, Tom Griffin (NSW), ‘Bowser' Barnett (NSW), ‘Paddy' McCue (NSW), Syd Middleton (NSW), Tom Richards (Q), ‘Boneta' Craig (NSW), Charlie McMurtrie (NSW) and Malcolm McArthur (NSW).

The Cornish Telegraph recounted how the Australians easily worsted the Cornish fifteen: "The Australians displayed better form than they have as yet shown, except perhaps, at Cardiff against Glamorgan, and the result was the biggest margin of the tour to date ‑ 32 points to 3. The afternoon, without being associated with rain, was damp and cheerless, and the attendance at the Shepherd's Bush enclosure fell short of 3,000, though Lord Desborough and other prominent Olympic authorities were present…"The Wallabies, who treated the company to their war cry before the start, lacked for the first time the services of their captain, Dr. Moran, who strained a shoulder in the game at Richmond on Saturday, and Wood was also rested at half. The Duchy team was as announced, except that Bennetts is hors de combat, and had to stand out of the three‑quarter line. This added to the weakness of the Westerners, who were beaten, and beaten well, in everything, except the rushes.

The game certainly had the effect of adding to the reputations of McKavitt [sic] and Carroll and gave McGabe [sic] a chance of distinguishing himself which he utilised to the full. The Colonials were still rather too eager to kick up the field instead of going on, and another fault was that of ‘feet up’ in the scrummage, for which they were several times penalised. It was barely five minutes after the start of the game ‑ the kick off was ten minutes late ‑ when Hickey, after a feinting run, opened up the Wallabies' account, Cornwall easily converting. Each in turn had to touch down. Mid‑way through the first half McGabe [sic] cleverly scored and Cornwall landed a fine goal. Before halftime he also increased the Australians' advantage with a brilliant penalty goal from a few yards short of the centre line, and the Cornishmen found themselves on the change of ends in a minority of 13 points. For the first few minutes after resuming Cornwall attacked with vigour, and all but got over. Hickey, however, bore away, and passing to Carroll, the latter wound up with a brilliant unconverted try. A few minutes later McGabe [sic] made an opening, and Richards, gaining the ball in clever fashion from the former's kick, ran right in between the posts, Cornwall placing a goal. Next came an unconverted try as the outcome of a movement in which McKavitt[sic] Hickey, Bede Smith and Carroll in turn figured, followed by the only item of the day to the home side, for whom Jackett, now at three‑quarter, had previously failed badly with a penalty.

This item was initiated by Davey, and completed by Bert Solomon, whose brother failed with the place. In the last few minutes accrued a try by McKivatt [sic] on which Carmichael improved, and a final try by McGabe [sic] the place‑kick failing. Result: Australia 4 goals 1 penalty goal, 3 tries (32 points), United Kingdom, 1 try (3 points)." The Wallabies did not treat the Olympic Tournament as a momentous occasion, being much more concerned with the internationals against England and Wales. The Olympic victory only receives a brief mention in Moran's Viewless Winds, and even then only to record another accusation of unfair play that was levied against the Wallabies. During the game, a Cornish official had the effrontery to suggest that the Aussies were using running spikes on their football boots.

Moran insisted on an inspection of his players at the conclusion of the game, and yet when they were cleared did not receive an apology. One match Tom Richards particularly remembered, as did the 1947‑48 Wallabies many moons later, was their loss to the fanatical Welsh club Llanelly. "I never imagined that men could stand up and kick so viciously at one another. I saw one of our men give a Welshman an unmerciful kick. The referee blew his whistle and asked him why he had kicked the man, to which he replied: "He kicked one of our fellows just now." That was the position; everybody was kicking each other. Our men, perhaps, kicked straight ahead more successfully than the opponents, but the Welshmen were superior at kicking from angles.'' On his return to Australia Tom went back to Charters Towers and mining, and though he played for Queensland in 1909, there was no international rugby where he could display his skills. He was offered a position in charge of black labour in Johannesburg mines, and went there in 1910.

The British, under captain Tommy Smyth, were touring South Africa at the time, and their team became decimated by injuries. Because of his appearances in the British Isles for county teams, as well as having a Welsh heritage, he was prevailed upon to play. In all, he was in some 13 matches, including three Tests. So a Wallaby tourist and Olympic gold medallist became a British Lion as well. Once more in 1912 he returned to Australia, this time to Sydney, and played a few club games for Manly. He showed enough form that he was selected as vice‑captain for the first‑ever Wallaby tour of the United States and Canada. The Wallabies scored 301 points on tour to the opposition's 94, but only won 11 of 16 matches, going down to Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley in the United States, and all matches in Canada, to Vancouver, British Columbia and Victoria. Tom Richards did not return to Australia immediately after the tour. Australia's first rugby globe‑troller went instead to Bristol, and then on to the south of France, playing for Toulouse, and due in no small measure to his own efforts and experience, they won the club championship of France in 1913.

In 1914 he was back in South Africa, playing for Transvaal, and then came back to Manly. When war broke out he immediately volunteered in the AIF, and was one of the first to land at Gallipoli and was one of the last to leave. He was awarded the Military Cross in France and was promoted to lieutenant. He was severely gassed there, and was repatriated back to Australia, his football days sadly over. He later became a journalist on the Sydney Mail, a now defunct newspaper. His writings were keenly followed. He died in 1935, a mere 48 years of age, and was buried beside his brother at Manly Cemetery. Tom Richards was a legend in his own time, an international rugby troubadour before such ventures were popularised. Born in a humpy in a mining town, he was an unlikely candidate for world fame, which he bore with modesty and humility. He was truly one of the greats of Australian rugby. RICHARDS, THOMAS JAMES (1882 – 1935), footballer, soldier and commercial traveler, was born on 29 April 1882 at Rose Valley, Vegetable Creek (Emmaville), New South Wales, fourth of six children of John Richards, a Cornish-born miner, and his wife Mary Ann nee Davis, from Victoria. The family moved to Charters Towers, Queensland, in 1883. After attending the local central state school, Tom worked in the mines.

In 1897 a visiting New South Wales Rugby Union team fired his ambition `for the glory and the glamour of a footballer’s life’. He joined the local Waratahs team in 1898 and next year began a successful career with the Natives club. In 1902 Richards represented Charters Towers against other towns. He played in Brisbane for the Northern District and Country `B’ (1903) and for Queensland `Next Fifteen’ against New South Wales (1905). He and other family members then followed his father to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Tom played for the Mines club and represented Transvaal in the Currie Cup. Ruled ineligible for South Africa’s tour of Britain, he nevertheless sailed for England, where he played for Bristol in 1906-07 and represented Gloucestershire; one match was against the South Africans. Hearing of plans for an Australian team to visit Britain, he returned home in July 1907, performances for Queensland next year ensured his selection for the team. Modest and unassuming, he was a handsome athlete, with brown eyes and brown hair, 6ft (183 cm) tall, weighing 13 stone (82.5 kg). In Britain, France and North America with the Wallabies, `Rusty’ Richards played mostly in the breakaway position.

Big, fast, versatile and opportunistic, with a natural brain for Rugby, he set up chances to score but was alert to fall back in defence. He played against Wales and England, and for the gold-medal-winning Australian team at the London Olympic Games in 1908. Richards returned to Australia in March 1909. To the Referee’s `Cynic’, he differed from the average colonial footballer in his intimate knowledge of world Rugby and capacity to discuss the game. That year Richards captained and coached Charters Towers and North Queensland against the Newtown club, from Sydney. He sailed to South Africa during the visit of a British team in 1910 and in Johannesburg was invited to join the tourists, half of whose players were injured. He played in twelve games, including two Tests for Britain versus South Africa. Back in Sydney in June 1911, Richards played for Manly and for a Metropolitan XV, though unqualified, he also played for Queensland against Metropolitan.

In 1912 he toured North America as vice-captain of the Waratahs and was in the Australian team for the `All-America’ Test. He then went to England and in February 1913 to the south of France with an East Midlands team. He helped to train France for its match against Wales in Paris, then played for Toulouse. Briefly he lived at Biarritz. In August 1913, again in Sydney, he retired from football and wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Referee and other newspapers. Giving his occupation as ‘traveller’, Richards enlisted in Australian Imperial Force on 26 August 1914 and in October sailed for Egypt with the 1st Field Ambulance. Landing at Gallipoli on the morning of 25 April 1915, he served as a stretcher-bearer, and was mentioned in division orders in July for ‘acts of gallantry’. He returned to Egypt in January 1916 and in March left for the Western Front. On 25 November Corporal Richards was commissioned second lieutenant and on 2 December transferred to the 1st Infantry Battalion.

In May 1917 near Bullecourt he led a nineteen-man bombing party; he was promoted lieutenant in June and awarded the Military Cross in August. He was evacuated to England twice in 1917 and again in May 1918, with his back and shoulders damaged by a bomb blast. Having spent some four months in South Africa en route, in February 1919 he returned to Sydney where his A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 3 November. For two years he was in charge of the employment section, Department of Repatriation, Sydney, before becoming a travelling salesman in electrical goods and then for the Perdriau Rubber Co. Ltd. On 27 August 1921 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney, and also on 25 March 1922 at Punt Road Methodist Church, Melbourne, he married Lillian Effie Jane Haley, nee Sandow, a widow.

They lived at Manly in Sydney and had two children but, with Richards often working away, soon separated. Mostly isolated and lonely and in worsening health, he wrote a series of articles for the Sydney Mail. In April 1935 he moved to Brisbane and the family reunited. Richards died of tuberculosis on 25 September that year at the Repatriation Hospital, Rosemount, and was cremated with Baptist forms. His wife and their son and daughter survived him. His elder brother Edward William (Bill) (1880 – 1928) had also played Rugby for Australia. In 2001 the trophy for Rugby Tests between Australia and the British and Irish Lions was named the Tom Richards Cup to honour the only Australian-born player to have represented both sides.

Thomas James Richards