AustLit logo
NLA image of person
Henry Handel Richardson Henry Handel Richardson i(A36607 works by) (birth name: Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson) (a.k.a. Ethel Florence Lindesay Robertson; Ethel F. L. Robertson)
Also writes as: Ethel F. L. Robertson
Born: Established: 3 Jan 1870 East Melbourne, East Melbourne - Richmond area, Melbourne, Victoria, ; Died: Ceased: 20 Mar 1946 Hastings, East Sussex,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,

Gender: Female
Expatriate assertion
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.


'Henry Handel Richardson' is the pseudonym for Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson. Richardson was born in Melbourne in 1870, the daughter of Walter and Mary Richardson who had migrated from England in the early 1850s. Richardson's father's career as a doctor on the goldfields and her parents' interest in mining and the share market exposed her to the major social and economic developments of nineteenth century Australia, an experience that would inform her writing in later life. Richardson attended the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne, where she was an excellent student, particularly in music and composition.

Richardson's father died in 1879 and the family was supported by Mary Richardson's position as a postmistress. In 1888 they moved to Germany where Richardson enrolled at the Royal Conservatorium to study the piano. Here she met John George Robertson, a young Scottish philologist who was studying at Leipzig University. Richardson graduated from the conservatorium with honours in 1892. The couple were married in Dublin three years later before moving to Strasburg where Robertson had been appointed a university lecturer. This began his long and distinguished career in German and Scandinavian studies, enhanced by his appointment in 1903 as Chair of German literature at the University of London. The couple's intellectual compatibility and Richardson's freedom from family and professional responsibilities greatly assisted her career as a writer.

Richardson's first publications were translations of Scandinavian works from the German and were published in the first years of her marriage. Her first novel Maurice Guest (1908), set in turn-of-the-century Leipzig, was published by Heinemann in London and Duffield in New York. These firms also supported her next novel, The Getting of Wisdom (1910), which drew on her experience at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, initiating a testy relationship with the institution that was never resolved.

By this time Richardson had begun work on a project that would eventually become the trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony: Comprising Australia Felix, The Way Home, Ultima Thule, a series that drew on her family's experience of nineteenth century Australia. The first volume, Australia Felix, Volume I of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony(1917), was published in London and New York, but Richardson failed to attract American attention with the second volume The Way Home: Being the Second Part of the Chronicle of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony which was published by Heinemann in 1925. Commercial failure influenced Heinemann's rejection of Ultima Thule: Being the Third Part of the Chronicle of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, the final volume of the trilogy, but John Robertson's willingness to cover the costs of publication enabled a small, 1,000-copy edition to appear in January 1929.

Positive reviews and rapid sales saw the novel reprinted several times in subsequent months, attracting the attention of Elling Aanestäd, a representative of the New York publisher, W. W. Norton. Norton's subsequent involvement secured the acceptance of the novel by the Book-of-the-Month Club as a featured book, guaranteeing the sale of at least 80,000 copies. Norton reprinted the earlier volumes of the trilogy and also brought both Maurice Guest and the Getting of Wisdom back into print for Richardson's enthusiastic American audience. On the suggestion of a critic, Heinemann encouraged Richardson to revise the novel for publication in one volume. In doing so, she removed 12,000 words from Australia Felix and made thousands of changes to the other volumes. These new versions would provide the texts for the literary criticism that followed as Richardson was situated as a major figure in the history of Australian literature.

After the Mahony trilogy Richardson published The End of a Childhood and Other Stories (1934), a collection of stories and a brief addition to the Mahony story, andThe Young Cosima (1939), on Richard Wagner and his circle. Neither of these attracted the critical acclaim of the trilogy which was reprinted a number of times in subsequent decades. After Richardson's husband's death in 1933, she moved to Sussex with her secretary and companion Olga Roncoroni. She died in 1946 and her unfinished autobiography Myself When Young (1948) was published posthumously.



Most Referenced Works


  • Manuscripts, papers and letters by HHR are held at the National Library of Australia, The Mitchell Library, Sydney, and the State Library of Victoria (Latrobe Library). For more information see Dorothy Green's book HHR and Her Fiction, pp. 591-592.
  • See also the full Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry for Richardson, Ethel Florence Lindesay.
  • There is a blue commemorative plaque on the house at 90 Regent's Park Road, London, NW1 where HHR lived from 1910 to 1934 and where she wrote The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. It was unveiled on 7 May 1957. The London-based Society of Australian Writers was instrumental in its installation.

Awards for Works

y separately published work icon Ultima Thule : Being the Third Part of the Chronicle of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony London : Heinemann , 1929 Z430784 1929 single work novel historical fiction
1929 winner ASAL Awards ALS Gold Medal

Known archival holdings

Albinski 188
National Library of Australia (ACT)
State Library of Victoria (VIC)
State Library of NSW (NSW)
Last amended 27 Nov 2019 16:37:21
Other mentions of "" in AustLit: