Emeritus Professor Eric Richards, 1940-2018
It is tremendously sad to report the sudden passing of Emeritus Professor Eric Richards, Flinders University, aged 78, on 21 September while in London. Eric will be remembered as one of the great Australian historians of the last 50 years, having won numerous awards, including Australian Historian of the Year in 2012.
He will be specifically remembered for his influential works on history of British migration and the Highland Clearances, in books such as The Leviathan of Wealth: The Sutherland Fortune in the Industrial Revolution (1973); A History of the Highland Clearances: Vol. I. Agrarian Transformation and the Evictions, 1745-1886 (1982), winner of the Scottish Arts Council book award; A History of the Highland Clearances: Vol. 2. Emigration, Protest, Reasons (1985); (with Monica Clough) Cromartie: Highland Life 1650-1914 (1989); Patrick Sellar and the Highland Clearances: Eviction, Homicide and the Price of Progress (1999), recipient of the Scottish History Book of the Year; The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil (2000 & numerous editions); Britannia’s Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1600 (2004); Debating the Highland Clearances (2007); Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since 1901 (2008), winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Prize; and The Highland Clearances (2013). His most recent book, The Genesis of International Mass Migration: The British Case, 1750-1900, published in July 2018, adds to his corpus of ground-breaking books in fields that he was instrumental in making front and centre of Australian and British historical scholarship. Special mention must also be made of his leadership in the publication of the influential six volumes in the Visible Immigrants series. Let’s not forget his landmark articles, such as in Economic History Review (1972, 1973 & 1974), History (1974), Past and Present (supplement 6, 1982, 60+ pages), Journal of British Studies (1993), Australian Journal of Politics and History (1995), (with A. Tindley) Agricultural History Review (2012), and most recently in History. The Journal of the Historical Association (2018). Then there are his numerous book chapters, including, I’m very proud to say, in my own edited ‘El Dorado’ volume (in Eric’s honour), and in which Professor John MacKenzie penned a wonderfully rich tribute to Eric
After studying his BA (1962) and undertaking his PhD (1967) at the University of Nottingham, Eric was a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Adelaide from 1964-7 (having arrived as a ten-pound ‘Pom’ in 1963!), then a Lecturer in History at the University of Stirling from 1967-71, before returning to Adelaide as Lecturer in Economic History at Flinders University in 1971. He quickly climbed the ranks, going from Lecturer, to Senior Lecturer, to Reader, and finally Professor and Chair in History in 1975. He was for many years the Head of the History Department. His reluctant retirement in 2012 meant, as he stated, that he was now on ‘permanent sabbatical’. During these years as an Emeritus Professor several events have been organised and several publications have appeared in his honour, such as the Festschrift organised by Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, and Emigrants and Historians: Essays in Honour of Eric Richards edited by Professor Philip Payton. I’m proud of my leading role, along with Philip, Dr Ella Stewart-Peters, and Tony Nugent, in organising the first Eric Richards Symposium in British and Australasian History, a biennial conference of which Eric too was proud. Eric’s last presentation was at the University of Picardie, Jules Verne, at Amien, at the conference ‘Colonial and Wartime Migration, 1815-1918’. Regrettably, despite being invited, I could not attend to have heard him one last time.
On a personal level, Eric has been a great role model for me and I know for many others. When I arrived at Flinders as a Lecturer in Modern History in 2009 one of his first questions was whether I could play tennis! He was overjoyed at my answer, thereby starting a regular fortnightly singles match, which became irregular as our injuries grew. Our tennis story culminated in a memorable moment for me when he fill-in for my club team and we won our doubles match!
Emeritus Professor Eric Richards was a towering figure in the history of migration and diaspora histories and the history of the Highland Clearances over the last 50 years, who will be remembered as a prolific researcher, an inspiring mentor and role model, an eloquent speaker, and as a genuinely sincere, sensitive and humble human being, with a passion for playing tennis, only matched by his love for his discipline and its progress. Although his dance on earth has come to an end, he lives on through his work and the Eric Richards Symposium in British and Australasian History, to be hosted in September 2019 by the University of New England. Eric is survived by his wife Ngaire Naffine, Professor of Law, University of Adelaide, daughters Lou and Sally and grandchildren Stephanie and Bodie. Rest in peace Eric, you shall be missed and remembered fondly.
Associate Professor Andrekos Varnava, FRHistS,
College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences,