Flindersblog: “Historians pay tribute to Eric Richards”
A new book Emigrants and Historians (Wakefield Press) has been published in honour of Flinders historian Emeritus Professor Eric Richards. The book launch is part of an international symposium focusing on Australian-UK migration being hosted this week by the School of History and International Relations. This week’s First Eric Richards Symposium in British and Australasian History in fact follows the 2015 International Seminar in Honour of Professor Richards.
Presentations from the earlier seminar have been published in the new book, entitled Emigrants and Historians – Essays in Honour of Eric Richards (Wakefield Press), to be launched at the symposium at Flinders, Victoria Square today.
Keynote speakers at this year’s symposium include Professor Richards, Professor Alison Bashford from the University of Cambridge, Professor Joy Damousi (University of Melbourne), Professor Katie Pickles (University of Canterbury) and Professor Philip Payton (Flinders). Professor Richards is still active after more than 35 years at Flinders working on British and Australian social history, and in particular Scottish history and British and Australian immigration history.
Professor Payton says the first two Eric Richards conferences have paved the way for annual British-Australasian history at Flinders and other Australian and New Zealand universities in future, providing rich networking opportunities for scholars working on British and Australasian history – including imperial and colonial history. In the Emigrants and Historians collection of essays, Professor Payton writes Professor Richards continues to be a “role model and source of inspiration” to students of history, adding his interest in migration and economic history started in his early years in north Wales.
After migrating to Australia, and making Flinders his “academic home for life” in the mid-1980s, Professor Richards’ scholarly output included editing the The Flinders History of South Australia – Social History (Wakefield Press, 1986) for the SA Jubilee 150 celebrations.
The prolific author has many other titles to his credit, including Britannia’s Children – Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1600, a series of volumes including Debating the Highland Clearances (2007) and From Hirta to Port Phillip: The St Kilda Emigration to Australia in 1852.
“Several of Eric’s books have won literary prizes,” Professor Payton says. “In 2009 he was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Prize for his volume (published the year before) entitled Destination Australia, which traced emigration to Australia from the early days of Federation through to the demise of the White Australia policy and beyond.”
Copies of Emigrants and Historians – Essays in Honour of Eric Richards are available from all good bookshops or direct from Wakefield Press
Callum McCarthy: “Eric Richards obituary,” 26 October 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/25/eric-richards-obituary
My friend of nearly 50 years, Eric Richards, who has died after suffering a heart attack aged 78, was the pre-eminent historian of the Highland clearances and of emigration, and emeritus professor of history at Flinders University, South Australia.
Eric was fascinated by the interplay between impersonal economic forces – “big history” – and their implications (tragic, painful or liberating) for individuals – “little history”. His final public lecture, delivered last month in Amiens, France, explicitly addressed these themes, but they informed all his work; his research and scholarly publications (a dozen books, more than 60 articles) explored how these had played out in varied contexts.
The range of his work was daunting. His books explored the specifics – the history of the Sutherland estates in The Leviathan of Wealth: The Sutherland Fortune in the Industrial Revolution (1973); Patrick Sellar and the Highland Clearances: Eviction, Homicide and the Price of Progress (1999) – and the bigger issues behind, including the two-volume A History of the Highland Clearances (1982 and 1985), Britannia’s Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland since 1600 (2004) and The Genesis of International Mass Emigration (2018).
In all of them, analysis and description of the economic forces and the leading capitalist figures who gave effect to these forces were combined with a lifelong empathy for those compelled to leave homes and move from countryside to town or from country to country.
Rarely can there have been a historian whose own family and life gave better insight into the events he studied and wrote about. Eric was born in Wrexham, north Wales, to William, the manager of a furniture store, and Jessie (nee Pritchard), who worked as a nanny. One grandfather was a small farmer forced by economic pressures to move to the town, the other a farm labourer; great-uncles emigrated to South Africa, Australia and Canada.
Eric himself, after attending Wellington grammar school in Shropshire and studying economic history at Nottingham University, emigrated to Australia in 1963 on an assisted passage as a “£10 Pom”, before returning to teach at Stirling University in 1967 – an institution for which he retained great and reciprocated affection.
In 1971 he went back to Adelaide, to Flinders University, where he rose from lecturer to the chair in history in 1975. He was a frequent visiting professor to universities in Britain and the US, and to Scotland in particular, where most recently he was the Carnegie Trust centenary professor at the University of the Highlands and Islands. He and his second wife, Ngaire Naffine, Bonython law professor at Adelaide University, formed a wonderful academic team whose intellect, mutual delight and compassion stimulated discussion and affection in universities (and among their friends) round the world.
Eric is survived by Ngaire; by two daughters, Louise and Sally, from his first marriage, to Jane (nee Pollard), which ended in divorce; by two grandchildren, Stephanie and Bodie; and by his sister Marian. His eldest daughter, Cindy, died in 2012.
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