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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hooper, Richard (1846–1909)

by Ron Slee

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Richard Hooper (1846-1909), miner, trade unionist and politician, was born on 4 May 1846 at Wheal Hope, Cornwall, England, son of Francis Hooper, farmer, and his wife Matilda, née Boundy. The family migrated to South Australia in 1858 and settled at Burra Burra. In 1860 they moved to Kadina and two years later to Moonta. Hooper worked as a miner from 1859 until his election to parliament at the Wallaroo by-election on 23 May 1891 with an absolute majority over four opponents.

Hooper was the first Labor member of the South Australian House of Assembly, but was not a member of the newly formed United Labor Party. His electoral success followed his trade union work at Moonta where the copper industry had been in jeopardy since the 1870s. In 1889 when the Moonta Miners' Association re-formed to become a branch of the Amalgamated Miners' Association, Hooper was made president. Next year he was also first president of the Colonial District A.M.A. He contested the 1891 by-election as the A.M.A. candidate and was re-elected as an Independent Labor member in 1893, 1896 and 1899; although he attended caucus meetings he never joined the United Labor Party.

A small, sprucely dressed man sporting a trimmed billy-goat beard, he was an active and popular local politician who gained for his electorate a water-reticulation scheme, a railway connexion to Adelaide and a horse-tram service between Moonta and its outlying townships; these gains surpassed anything Wallaroo had previously obtained. On wider issues Hooper supported the development and regulation of mining and the establishment of a board of conciliation; he opposed Federation and free trade.

Hooper's union support eventually dwindled because, it is said, the miners detected cultivated affectation in his speech. His new accent was certainly not developed in the assembly itself since 'Dicky Hooper, the silent member' made only one speech in the House during his decade as a politician. In 1902 the Wallaroo electorate was given an extra member and the boundaries were redrawn to include an agricultural area south of Moonta. The A.M.A. pledged support for John Verran and Hooper failed in his bid to gain the farmers' vote.

Bereft of income Hooper moved to Perth where he worked as a night-watchman and where he died in poverty of cancer on 24 July 1909. His first wife Eliza Jane, née Williams, whom he married on 8 June 1866 at Moonta, had died in childbirth in 1867. He was survived by his second wife Josephine, née Lean, whom he married at Moonta on 12 April 1870, and by their five daughters and three sons. An area of scrub in the Murray Mallee, the Hundred of Hooper, was named after him. Many agreed with the official who lamented after Hooper's death: 'We should have found Dicky Hooper a job. He would have earned his salary'.

Select Bibliography

  • O. Pryor, Australia's Little Cornwall (Adel, 1962)
  • J. B. Hirst, Adelaide and the Country, 1870-1917 (Melb, 1973)
  • Pictorial Australia, May 1891
  • Observer (Adelaide), 29 Aug 1891, 10 June 1893, 31 July 1909
  • L. L. Kiek, The History of the South Australian Labour Unions (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1948).

Citation details

Ron Slee, 'Hooper, Richard (1846–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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