Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Ethel Florence (Henry Handel) Richardson (1870–1946)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Henry Handel Richardson, by Elliott & Fry, n.d.

Henry Handel Richardson, by Elliott & Fry, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 110348066

To a Melbourne-born girl, whose family directed her early talents towards music, must go much of the credit for drawing overseas attention to Australian literature.

The six books of Henry Handel Richardson, whose death is announced to-day, have given her a permanently honoured place, not only among Australian writers, but among the world's modern authors.

Her death, the childless widow of John Robertson, a London University professor, has brought to a close the career of a great writer of tragedy.

For in the tragedy which wove a pattern through her work her method of expression reached its highest point.

Her conception of tragedy is Shakespearean. Her theme is that failure never depends on external factors; it develops logically, inevitably, from the character of the carefully sketched central figure.

Her most important work, the Mahony trilogy, which took 15 years to write, is an example of her philosophy for life. The work ends in defeat, yet sounds a note of nobility and courage.

Her gift for music was so pronounced that she was sent to Leipzig to study, but her own standards of self-criticism were too high to allow her to proceed.

Her first book, Maurice Guest, published in 1909—it took five years to write—confirmed her decision that writing was her medium of expression.

The author was unknown, and those who noticed the book took it for granted that a man had written it.

The Getting of Wisdom came a year later, and had a background of a girls' school. Her secret was out. She was a woman.

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony was the result of a visit to Australia in 1912, undertaken to gain a more intimate knowledge of Australian life for her major work.

The first two volumes were scarcely noticed, and it was not until 1925, when the third, Ultima Thule, came out, that she gained real recognition. Critics abroad for the first time realised the value of her work.

To the end of her life, Henry Handel Richardson showed a complete disregard for publicity.

In her Dorset home she found time for her music and her writing. Her writing reflected her character—painstaking and mature.

Her style was never ornate, but rather austere, and closely wedded to the theme of her writing.

Her other works are Two Studies, published in 1931, and a collection of short stories, The End of a Childhood, in 1934.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Ethel Florence (Henry Handel) Richardson

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Richardson, Ethel Florence (Henry Handel) (1870–1946)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Henry Handel Richardson, by Elliott & Fry, n.d.

Henry Handel Richardson, by Elliott & Fry, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 110348066

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Richardson, Henry Handel
  • Robertson, Ethel

3 January, 1870
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


20 March, 1946 (aged 76)
Hastings, East Sussex, England

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations