Australia, 1870 - 1888
Childhood in Victoria
For the first 18 years of her life HHR lived in various parts of the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia, except for a family trip to England and Ireland in 1873-4.
She was born on 3 January, 1870, the first child of Mary and Walter Richardson at Blanche Terrace, 139 (now 179) Victoria Parade, Fitzroy, Melbourne. Her parents had recently returned from one of their many trips to England.
Walter was a retired doctor and the family were able to live very comfortably off their investments. They lived in Blanche Terrace only for a few months.
In 1973 the Fellowship of Australian Writers installed a commemorative plaque beside the front door. In 2008 the owners of the house (who are HHRSA members) hosted a visit by the Society as part of a trip to several HHR sites in Victoria.
In 2020 at the other end of Blanche Terrace a long panel depicting the life and works of HHR was installed in the foyer of the medical rooms there.
In October 1870 the family moved to a large house called Springfield, Chapel Street St Kilda (later registered as Brighton Road). HHR’s sister, Ada Lillian Richardson was born there on 28 April 1871.
In April 1873 the family left on a trip to England and Ireland but returned early in December 1874 following news of financial problems. HHR’s father was forced to resume medical practice in 1875 and they rented in Sydney Terrace, 2 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne.
In 1875 the family, now in debt, moved to their newly constructed home in Burwood Road, Hawthorn (the current site of the Glenferrie Hotel).
HHR with her mother and sister spent summer with the Graham family at the Grahams’ seaside home in Blairgowrie, Victoria in 1875.
A move to the country
The family lived in Lake View in Chiltern from 1876-77, though Mary and the two girls spent two months of the hot summer of 1876-77 in Melbourne, Sorrento and Queenscliff.
HHR wrote about Lake View with its long verandahs and the French windows looking out to the lake in Myself When Young (MWY), and details of the house and town can be readily identified with those of the house the Mahony family occupy in Ultima Thule, the third volume of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. The town is recognisable as the fictional town of Barambogie.
Lake View is now a National Trust property, open to visitors, thanks to the determinedg efforts of several Chiltern residents and other HHR admirers to save it from demolition in the late 1960s. Every year, since 1970 HHR’s birthday has been celebrated at Lake View with a picnic tea, readings and talks, music. It was after the picnic tea in 2008 that the HHRSA was formed.
The Athenaeum in Chiltern has an HHR display, including one of her desks, donated by her great niece, Angela Neustatter in 2009.
HHR’s father moved to Lake View ahead of his wife and children and you can read the letters her parents wrote to each other with their observations about the house and the town in the collection edited by Meg Probyn, Marriage Lines.
For a virtual walk around Chiltern as HHR knew it download the app under the heading, ‘Henry Handel Richardson Walking tours’ available through the Apple Store and Google Play Store.
A move to the seaside
After Walter Richardson’s medical practice failed in Chiltern the family moved to Queenscliff in 1877 and lived at 26 Mercer Street. Walter worked as Health Officer and had to climb the rope ladders of ships entering the Bay to make quarantine checks, but eventually his deteriorating physical and mental health had him relieved of all duties. He was placed in medical care in Richmond and Mary began training as a postmistress to support the family.
For HHR and her sister the sea baths were a source of joy and relief from family stress as she writes in Myself When Young: Set free we clutched bathing-gowns and towels, and scampered across the Bluff and down through the tea-tree scrub, to the wooden gangway that ran out to the Baths…Among the habitués we were known as ‘the little fishes’.
In Ultima Thule Queenscliff is identifiable as Shortlands Bluff.
At the Queenscliffe Historical Museum you can see photos and other material depicting the work of the Health Officers as well as photos of the sea baths and the Telegraph Office where Mary Richardson trained as postmistress.
Several events such as talks, tours, reenactments and readings commemorating HHR have been held in Queenscliff by the Museum and/or the HHR Society.
In 2019 Society member and noted Australian writer, Dorothy Johnston published a mystery novel – Gerard Hardy's Misfortune – about the murder of an HHR academic in the town!
A country Post Office
In 1878 HHR’s mother took up her first position as postmistress at Koroit and lived with her two daughters in the small Post Office at 98 Commercial Road. In February 1879 Walter Richardson came home from the Kew Asylum and died in August.
Richardson depicts this time as traumatic in MWY, seemingly oblivious to the charms of this small town, Koroit. The town is recognisable as Gymgurra in Ultima Thule.
Details of the town in the memoir and Ultima Thule are readily identifiable, including the Post Office and the hotel (now Mickey Bourke’s Hotel) where the guards stayed when they brought Walter Richardson home from the asylum.
Walter’s grave is in Tower Hill cemetery, Koroit. This is the setting for the final stirring scene in Ultima Thule.
The happiest days of my childhood
HHR’s mother took up the position of Post Mistress in Maldon in 1881. The family relished the large garden with its abundant fruits that came with the house, and also the company of another ‘musical’ family in the Calders from across the road. HHR writes glowingly and at length of this time in Myself When Young, and of the characters in the town who helped to nourish the imagination of the future storywriter.
In The Getting of Wisdom HHR draws directly on details of Maldon for the fictional town of Warrenega, and in The End of a Childhood on details of the Maldon Post Office garden for the fictional Post Office in Yerambah.
HHR events have been held in Maldon several times, especially from 2008-11.
In 2010 the booklet Henry Handel Richardson in Maldon was produced by a Maldon HHR group and won a prize in the category ‘Best Walk or Tour’ in the Victorian Community History Award in 2011. The booklet includes self-guided walks following the lives of the Richardson family, and of the fictional Laura in The Getting of Wisdom.
An HHR franking stamp is available for your mail at the Maldon Post Office on request.
Presbyterian Ladies College
To boarding school at PLC
Presbyterian Ladies College
HHR went to the Ladies College (Presbyterian Ladies College) in Albert Street, East Melbourne as a boarder in 1883, returning home to Maldon for the holidays.
In Myself When Young she maintained of her experience at PLC: I cannot remember ever being really happy at school. None the less I should have been sorry to miss a day of the four to five years I spent there.
Only when she went to England did she realise what a superior education she had been offered, one that strove to provide an education for girls to match that offered to boys at Scotch College in Melbourne at the time.
In her memoir she said of her novel, The Getting of Wisdom that it contained a very fair account of my doings at school.
In 2018 and 2019 PLC, now greatly expanded and situated in Burwood, hosted the HHR Society’s annual orations and provided an exhibition of material on HHR from their remarkable archives.
We look forward to continuing fruitful and enjoyable relations with the school when the pandemic allows.
In January 1887 HHR’s family moved from Maldon to the Post Ofice in Swan Street, Richmond South, which they found dark and dingy after the luxuriant garden of Maldon. In May 1887 they moved to East Melbourne. HHR finished at PLC at the end of 1887 with first class honours in History. The family moved to Kambrook Road, Caulfield and HHR worked for 6 months in the first half of 1888 as a ‘morning governess’ in a private school at Toorak,
With the sale of the Hawthorn house Mary Richardson determined to take her girls ‘back home’ to England. They arrived in England in August 1888 and moved to Leipzig in the new year of 1889.
HHR was admitted to the Leipzig Conservatorium as a young student in January 1889, but by the time she left Germany fourteen years later, having lived in Leipzig, Munich and Strassburg, she was deep in the writing of her first novel, Maurice Guest and would continue on the writing path for the rest of her life.
HHR began her music studies at Leipzig Conservatorium in 1889 and completed her Hauptufrung (final examination) in March 1892.
HHR with her mother and Lil lived in ‘two successive pensions’ (MWY) in their first year in Leipzig. The first was at 2 Lehmanns Garten, run by two elderly sisters, one of whom assisted HHR with German lessons, and also in her becoming a private pupil of Johannes Weidenbach at the Conservatorium. However the sisters were bad financial managers and in April 1889 the family moved to another pension at 4/3 Gottschedstrasse.
In this pension, also run by two elderly sisters and less than five minutes’ walk from Bach’s church, Thomaskirche, HHR met and befriended the owners’ niece, Elisabeth Morsbach, a gifted pianist. However it was this that led to a further change in accommodation. ‘The din of two grands going hard all day long, in a smallish etage, ultimately proved too much for Mother who, poor thing, had to share a sitting-room with me and mine.’ (MWY, 106)
At the end of 1889 the family moved to a flat at 13/3 Mozartstrasse (now replaced by a cement block building from GDR times) ‘in one of the new streets that had sprung up round Conservatorium and Gewandhaus’ (MWY, 106). They were joined there by Scottish cello student, Mat Main. HHR’s mother now had charge of her own household again and also the sound of three instruments playing – HHR on the grand piano, Lil on violin and Mat on cello.
In the same building as the Richardson household was another old PLC girl, Marie Hansen who remained a close friend of HHR until her death and was the subject of the HHR Annual Oration in 2018 by Dr Rachel Solomon at PLC.
In 1891 HHR was engaged to John George Robertson (JGR).
While JGR applied for work in British universities HHR and her mother and Lil returned to England living in Hampstead, Brixton, Northamptonshire and Cambridge. In this time she began to write articles and translated the Danish novel, Neils Lyhne into English. With the end of the lease on the house in Cambridge the family decided to move back to Germany in 1895.
In May 1895 the family moved to Akademistrasse in Munich where Lil was able to study violin at the Conservatorium. HHR taught English to make money until her mother offered the wedding gift money for HHR and JGR to marry. They married in Dublin on 30 December 1895 and settled at 33/3 Thorwaldsenstrasse in the Nymphenburg district in Munich in January 1896.
While living here HHR translated Bjornson’s Norwegian novel, Fiskerjenten (The Fisher Lass) into English, wrote an article on Jacobsen and began writing her first novel, Maurice Guest. The Robertsons left Munich in September, 1896 for JGR to take up the position of Lector Publicus at the University of Strassburg.
HHR’s mother died in Munich on 26 November, 1896.
In October 1896 the Robertsons moved to Sternwartstrasse 6, Strassburg,
The building, comparatively new at the time, looks across to the Botanical Gardens and is close to the University. Here she wrote articles, worked on Maurice Guest and at various times travelled to Italy, Germany and Switzerland.
In April 1900 the Robertsons moved to Twingerstrasse 5, Strassburg
HHR spent the summer of 1900 in the Bavarian Highlands near Marquartstein. From 1901-1903 she worked on Maurice Guest and in January 1904 travelled with Irene Stumpp to London where JGR had taken the position of Chair at the University of London.
HHR lived in England from 1903 until her death in 1946, though she made many trips to Europe - to Germany, Italy and Switzerland. In 1912 she made her only return trip to Australia to do research for The Fortunes of Richard Mahony.
1904 - 1915
1904 - 1915
The Robertsons lived in 5 Lyon Road, Harrow-on-the-Hill from 1904-1910 and in this time HHR missed the easy access to theatre and concert and friends she had enjoyed in Strassburg.
Her husband wrote: ‘These unsympathetic surroundings and conditions had perhaps one good result: that in Harrow Henry buried herself as never before in her book.’ By 1910 she had completed Maurice Guest and The Getting of Wisdom and worked with Lil's husband, Otto Neustatter on a translation of Maurice Guest into German.
In March 1910 the Robertsons moved to 90 Regent's Park Road,(now demolished) in London.
Her nephew, Walter Lindesay Neustatter writes of this time: ‘My knowledge of HHR dates from living in her house from the age of nine [around 1911] till I had qualified as a doctor, and of visits before and after. She lived in a Georgian house of five storeys; the establishment was herself, my uncle, a housekeeper-secretary, three maids, and later Miss Roncoroni. We lived to a strict routine.’ (Impressions, 28) Needless to say that routine revolved around HHR’s writing, but there were also a dog and four cats in the house, and music and bridge and tennis were played regularly.
Westfield, Lyme Regis
HHR and her husband spent a number of holidays in Lyme Regis and in May 1915 they rented the house, Westfield, for three years so that HHR could write in peace away from the London bombing.
It was here that she met Olga Roncoroni, the pianist at the local cinema and began a life long friendship with her. The Robertsons purchased Westfield in 1918.
Green Ridges Fairlight, Hastings
Green Ridges Fairlight, Hastings
In 1934 HHR moved with Olga Roncoroni to the house, Green Ridges in Fairlight, inland from Hastings in East Sussex after the death of her husband in London in May 1933.
Here she wrote short pieces, a novel, The Young Cosima, and began her memoir, Myself When Young (published posthumously in 1948). She died at Green Ridges on March 20th, 1946, and was cremated at Golders Green. Her ashes, along with her husband’s were scattered at sea off Hastings on 6th April 1946
People – mini portraits of a few people of significance in HHR’s life
1825 - 1879
Walter Lindesay Richardson
1825 - 1879
Walter Lindesay Richardson
Dr Walter Lindesay Richardson (WLR) is best known as HHR’s father and the model for the eponymous hero of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. In the early days of Victoria, however, he was recognised in his own right as an eminent medical professional and a public intellectual. According to Australian Medical Journal obituary, he was a man of elevated ‘literary qualifications’ and ‘a fluent and impressive speaker.’
Before coming to Australia in 1852, WLR earned a degree in Medicine and Surgery in Edinburgh and served for a time as a medical practitioner. On the goldfields of Ballarat, he operated a store and was a sometime doctor. Following his marriage to Mary Bailey in 1855, he resumed his medical profession in earnest. As he built up a respected and busy practice in Ballarat, his standing in public and social life became more conspicuous.
In 1867, WLR and Mary returned to England to holiday and catch up with family and friends. During this time, WLR made visits to several hospitals and continued to write on medical issues. Before deciding to return to Australia, he spent some time working in a practice as he sought a suitable practice of his own.
With investments doing well, WLR retired from professional life. The couple moved to Fitzroy and WLR immersed himself in the intellectual life of the city. He became a member of the artistic and intellectual Yorick Club and the Progressive Spiritualists as well as a range of recreational groups. In 1870, HHR was born in Fitzroy and the following year, Lil was born at the family’s new home in St Kilda.
In 1873, WLR took his young family to England. With growing renown on the speaking circuit, he reported on and participated in Spiritualist activities. In 1874, his trip was cut short by dramatic news concerning his investments.
His attempts to return to medical practice in Hawthorn, followed by Chiltern and Queenscliff were unsuccessful, probably due to the decline in his mental and physical health. By mid-1878, it was clear that WLR’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. After some time at the private Cremorne Hospital, he was removed to the Yarra Bend Asylum. Mary was compelled to make ends meet. After intense training, she was employed as postmistress at Koroit. It was here that WLR came home to die in 1879. He was buried in the Tower Hill, Koroit cemetery. (Rachel Solomon)
For the life of WLR see Bruce Steele, Walter Lindesay Richardson MD: A Victorian Seeker (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013).
1871 - 1944
Ada Lillian Richardson
1871 - 1944
Ada Lillian Richardson
Fifteen months after HHR entered the world, her only sibling, always known as Lil, was born in Melbourne. Despite HHR's resentment of their mother's obvious preference for the somewhat softer Lil, the sisters maintained a close lifelong relationship. According to Lil's daughter-in-law, there was a close emotional bond between the sisters, a bond that she ascribed to their having to rely so much on their own resources as little children, a period where their father's gradual mental and physical decline made life exceedingly confusing and difficult for them. This bond lasted with unusual intensity long after they were both married. In 1973, Dorothy Green wrote, ‘the question of the relationship between the sisters is clearly a study on its own.’
Along with her mother and HHR, Lil left Australia for Leipzig at the age of 17, and returned only once to Australia, in 1912, when she accompanied HHR on a short visit to the country of their birth. Lil was an accomplished violinist and was later tutored in Munich. HHR said of Lil ‘I have always considered my sister the more genuinely musical of us two. What barred her way, both in childhood and afterwards, was her lack of self-confidence.’
Lil married Otto Neustatter in Germany and they had one son, Walter Neustatter. The outbreak of World War 1 caused severe problems for them and their marriage gradually dissolved. In the meantime, Lil had met A S Neill, of Summerhill school fame, and despite a significant difference in their ages, they teamed-up. Together, they established Summerhill, originally in Dresden, Germany before shifting to Lyme Regis, and finally Leiston, Suffolk, where the school still exists to this day.
During World War 2 the school community relocated to northern Wales, but Lil's health deteriorated so badly that she was placed in a nursing home and died there in 1946. She was buried in Llanfairfechan, Wales. (Graeme Charles)
1893 - 1982
1893 - 1982
HHR and Olga Roncoroni first met in the Spring of 1919 at the Assembly Rooms Cinema in Lyme Regis, where Olga played piano accompaniment to the silent movies. The two found immediate rapport in their shared love of music and sense of fun.
At their first meeting, Olga was forced to disclose that she suffered from an acute nervous condition that prevented her from leaving one or other of her parents’ sides. According to Olga’s account in Henry Handel Richardson: Some Personal Impressions, HHR was the first person to offer ‘sympathetic understanding’ of her condition.
With Olga’s parents’ approval, HHR assisted her in being admitted to the Medico-Psychological Clinic in London. After only three months of treatment, the clinic was forced to close its residential wing. The Robertsons generously offered Olga to join their household in London, alongside Walter and Lillian Neustatter, to continue her treatment. Olga stayed on at 90 Regent’s Park Road as she embarked on the teacher training course at the London School of Dalcroze Eurhythmics and went on to pursue a teaching career. During this time, she often joined HHR and JGR, or just HHR, travelling in England and abroad.
After JGR’s death in 1933, Olga suspended her career to repay the generosity and sacrifice HHR had offered to her, most notably in the early years of their friendship. For some time, she was HHR’s secretary, and for thirteen years, she was HHR’s lively and devoted companion. HHR wrote: ‘Where shd I be, J.G.R. gone, without her? That I cannot answer. She is a girl in a thousand. Full of life, energy, brains, very musical, & as vivid & entertaining as her Italian name promises’ (Letters 986).
When HHR died in 1946, Olga became HHR’s faithful and valiant ‘keeper of the flame.’ (Rachel Solomon.