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James Fordue (Rick) Rickaby (1866–1906)

Barely of average height, spare but well set in figure, active and wiry; the upper half of the olive-skinned face having the forehead, high cheekbones and wide apart eyes of the Kitchener mould, the orbs large, hazel in colour, and matching a wild crop of hair; the lower half revealing a strong rounded chin, lips which had expressions distinctly their own, and were covered by an unconquerable moustache; hat slightly tilted to one side and body clothed in an easy, comfortable and somewhat negligent style: such was the familiar figure, face and personal appearance of Jas. F. [James Fordue] Rickaby, better known as "Rick," ex man-o'-warsman, miner, unionist, disciple of co-operation, philosopher, and an in all-Bohemian, who on Friday last met with a less sudden death than was his wont to prophesy for himself. Of a highly strung nervous and excitable disposition, no man could be more impulsive, quicker of perception, or to give thought expression than the subject of these lines, who is most truly described as a creature of impulse, whether for affection or hatred, belief or doubt, word or deed. To think was, with him, to act, let the consequences be what they might, but this rapidity of thought was almost invariably balanced by a faculty of intuitive judgement, which only, once, alas, made a fatal mistake. Rick was a generous if bitter enemy but his friendship when secured, was of the anchor brand. The term is used advisedly, for from an early age he ran away from home, in the North of England, and entered the British Navy against the wish of his parents (the paternal Wesleyan doctrine even at this time stirring the combative elements of the son in his religious views). Here, during an experience of travel in foreign seas, extending over seven or eight years, under the most rigid discipline and rough living, young Rickaby learned, in the severest of schools, the true passions of love and hatred as known only by a cosmopolitan crew of sea dogs, or a regiment of British soldiers. The adjectives peculiar to the British navy were a lesson which the midshipman also learned very accurately and he could not, by reason of having sadly neglected his grammar, give any other degrees of expression, though the use of the words had not that usual vulgarity of the expletive but rather a style of emphasis expected from a demonstrative and forcible character of no scholastic attainment. For the unctuous church goer Rickaby had a supreme contempt; he claimed and admitted no religion other than Freemasonry, and woe betide the man who desecrated that doctrine, in any shape or form, in his presence. He also claimed that the prevalence of the Uriah Heep type of humanity in this world had shaken to the ground his faith in mankind generally. For women he had a fine respect though the one love episode of his career, a blighted affection, would in most cases have produced a different effect. To dumb animals he was especially kind, and to use his own words "he had as much faith and more confidence in his dog than in anything or anybody else." Though there was not one particle of music in his composition, an instrument or a song, in good hands, exercised an extraordinary spell over the man, leaving him either speechless or boiling over with admiration and applause. "I reckon you’d have made a champion pickpocket," was the rough and ready, and idiosyncratic, compliment which he paid to a well-known musician who had just executed a difficult pianoforte recital on one occasion. Many a person and society has benefitted by this love of music, for as an organiser of entertainment in the sacred cause of charity "Rick" leaves a record in this Commonwealth which many a professional artist would envy. Coming to Victoria just before the nineties, and after he had abandoned the sea Rickaby became alternately gold hunter and coal miner, roaming hither and thither, ever restless, as is customary with those of the sea, but whether as secretary to a branch union, President of the Victorian Miners' Union (positions which his outspokenness and consistent and convincing manliness, won for him), at a Masonic function, or, as a member of the Lamb Club (a well-known Bohemian literary society of that period) he was invariably welcome in the haunts of men. His imperial and political views may be gauged from a remark he made —here is "a country which spends years and thousands in discussing a measure such as the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill while millions is walkin’ about without a rag to their back or a boot to their foot." He was an avowed "Australian," who read a chapter of the "Bulletin" every night before turning into bed—all his reading being done in the fits and starts characteristic of him. To act kindly, openly and generously, especially when it cost him something, was a course inseparable from his nature at all times, but a trust broken or betrayed was as gall or wormwood to him. Unostentatious and void of all sentiment, his practical nature may be seen in the following circumstance. Prior to leaving on a recent trip to England he turned abruptly, to the bosom friend, who had accompanied him to Fremantle to see him off and who was standing with him at an hotel door, and bade him adieu with the remark, unaccompanied by any shake of the hand, "Good night, I’ll see you when I get back.' Like many men he could write what he could not speak. One would hardly expect a sailor and miner to be a successful commercial man yet such was this man's ability and aptitude that he took up the affairs of the Co-operative Industrial Society when in a languishing state, and by dint of daily and nightly application (he never seemed to cease work), brought it to that success which makes few friends and many enemies. It is a record of which any man at the age of 34 might well be proud, but he who has gone and will be long remembered in Collie abhored posthumous praise, believing in practice rather than in theory. On his tombstone can and will be inscribed the words

"Here Lies a Man."

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Southern Times (Bunbury, WA), 20 January 1906, p 3
  • inquest, Southern Times (Bunbury, WA), 23 January 1906, p 3
  • his dog dies, Collie Miner (WA), 24 February 1906 p 2

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Rickaby, James Fordue (Rick) (1866–1906)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rickerby, James Fordue

30 December, 1866
Coxhoe, Durham, England


12 January, 1906 (aged 39)
Collie, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

train accident

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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