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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Driver, Richard (1829–1880)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Richard Driver (1829-1880), by unknown photographer, 1878

Richard Driver (1829-1880), by unknown photographer, 1878

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/531

Richard Driver (1829-1880), solicitor and politician, was born on 16 September 1829 at Cabramatta, New South Wales, son of Richard Driver, hotel-keeper, and his wife Elizabeth, née Powell, both of whom were born in New South Wales. He was articled to George Nichols and J. Williams and admitted as a solicitor in 1856. In 1859 he became solicitor to the Corporation of Sydney and began what soon grew into an extensive practice in the police courts. His fervour for reform of court procedures led to the important Holt, Dalgleish case in 1865. Influenced by William Charles Wentworth's patriotism, Driver determined on a political career based on the rights of the native-born. At the 1858 general elections he failed in three seats and his views provoked the Southern Cross, 5 November 1859, to ask whether he sought to represent the 'cricketing clubs or the cabbage-tree mob?' Claiming that 'the natives of this country had never had a fair share of representation, either in the government … or in … patronage', he ran for East Sydney in 1859 on an avant-garde policy featuring the abolition of the Legislative Council and the need for a national bank. Failure did not reduce his radicalism, but when he won West Macquarie next year he was prepared to accept those 'who had adopted Australia as their Country'.

In 1860-80 Driver emerged as one of the chief law reformers in parliament and probably the most effective improver concerned with the development of Sydney. He also sought changes in the police force. He introduced about fifty bills, notably the criminal evidence amendment (1865) and the Sydney Common improvement (1866). An independent liberal in the 1860s, who in 1869 tried to remove two 'obnoxious clauses' from the Treason Felony Act, he was a circumspect supporter of Henry Parkes in the 1870s and, after declining the mines portfolio in Parkes's 1872-74 ministry, became minister for lands in his 1877 government. Driver was chairman of committees in 1872-76 and in 1878. His skill at and love for cricket sharpened his interest in the preservation of the Sydney Common (Moore Park) and while minister he provided £700 for improvements to the Sydney Cricket Ground; he also vested the ground in trustees and became one himself, representing the New South Wales Cricket Association.

In 1868 Driver became foundation president of the Australian Patriotic Association. Through his appreciation and encouragement of sport his intense nationalism widened beyond its Sydney confines; in 1860-80 he was a chief organizer of the visits of English cricket teams and of intercolonial matches, aware of their significance in the growth of an Australian identity. He drew up the first regulations of Tattersall's Club and was chairman in the 1860s and in 1875-80; a councillor of the Agricultural Society and a member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Club he was active in the administration of rowing, sailing and horse-racing. Before he died on 7 July 1880 he had become one of the most popular men in Sydney. Survived by his wife Elizabeth Margaret, née Marlow, whom he had married on 7 February 1871, he was buried with Masonic honours in the Anglican section of the Waverley cemetery. Driver Avenue, on the west side of the Sydney Cricket Ground, is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1880
  • Town and Country Journal, 10 July 1880
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/542.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Driver, Richard (1829–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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