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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grice, Richard (1813–1882)

by J. S. Legge

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

Richard Grice (1813-1882), pastoralist, businessman, philanthropist and churchman, was born on 30 October 1813 at Bootle, Cumberland, England, son of William Grice and his wife Sarah, née Parke. For many generations his family had been farmers and businessmen in Cumberland and conducted a private family bank. He was educated at Walker's School, Whitehaven, and gained early farming experience on a family property. At 25 he decided that England held little future for him and he was encouraged to try his fortune in the Port Phillip District. Amply supplied with funds by his family, he sailed with his equal partner Benjamin Heape and two shepherds from Liverpool in the Alice Brooks and arrived at Adelaide in September 1839. A few weeks later the party went on to Melbourne where the partners immediately set up in business, Grice investigating pastoral opportunities and Heape managing the import and export of a wide variety of goods; they also financed other business ventures.

Grice explored the Western District by bullock dray and then went to Van Diemen's Land where he bought 2168 ewes and 8 Leicester rams. Within a few years, both singly and in partnership, he had become one of the principal pastoralists in the colony. He also held pastoral properties in Queensland. One of his early holdings was the Mount Alexander run near Castlemaine. Despite being speared in the back by a marauding party of Aboriginals, Grice admired the local tribesmen and described those on the Goulburn River as the tallest and finest looking men he had seen in the country. His first homestead at Mount Alexander was a hut made of slabs between which the fingers could be pushed; he commented that it would not be good enough for a cow-house in England. In 1842 he wrote to his father that it was wrong to believe that Australian beef and mutton would be poor and light: 'We can challenge the world almost in either'. On 21 August 1844 he married Anne Lavinia, daughter of James Hibberson, proprietor of a Derbyshire posting establishment. In 1847 they visited Europe and then settled in Melbourne. After Heape returned to England in 1852, Grice admitted into partnership T. J. Sumner, who had been a clerk with the firm. Sumner's eldest daughter, Annie Ruth, married Grice's eldest son, James, and the firm became known as Grice, Sumner & Co. It was by then one of the oldest and foremost mercantile houses in the Australian colonies. By 1874 the firm also held large stations in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland and shipped guano from Malden Island until 1914.

Grice was a director of the Union Bank. In 1859 he was chairman of a royal commission into the public service which condemned the 'degrading system of patronage and the absence of any rules for appointment, dismissal, leave or superannuation'. He died at his home in Fitzroy on 4 November 1882, survived by his wife and by three sons and four daughters of their twelve children. He left an estate valued at £320,000.

In 1850-63 Grice had anonymously given £1000 a year to cover almost the total cost of building St Mark's Church, Fitzroy. For many years he provided £1000 for the maintenance of home missionaries and £1000 for the general needs of the church. The Church of England Messenger estimated his gifts to the church at nearly £40,000. After Grice died the dean of Melbourne recalled that he arranged his benefactions with such modesty that practically nobody who enjoyed the fruits of his generosity ever knew their source. Archbishop Henry Lowther Clarke said that 'no one else had assisted the Church of England in such a princely way'. The sacred communion vessels at St Paul's Cathedral were given in his memory. His name is also commemorated in several buildings at the Old Colonists' Homes. He had been a vice-president of the Melbourne Hospital and one of the principal supporters of the Melbourne Benevolent Home.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Goodman, The Church in Victoria During the Episcopate of the Rt Rev. Charles Perry (Melb, 1892)
  • I. Selby, History of Melbourne (Melb, 1924)
  • R. V. Billis and A. S. Kenyon, Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip (Melb, 1932)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Nov 1882
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Nov 1882
  • family papers (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

J. S. Legge, 'Grice, Richard (1813–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 September 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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