Page 1: Biography
Richardson, George Edward Gordon
Merchant, ship owner
This biography, written by Gavin McLean, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
George Edward Gordon Richardson, known as Geordie, was born at Hampton Wick, Middlesex, England, and baptised there on 5 February 1835. He was the second child of Jane Douglas McWilliam and her husband, Thomas Henry Richardson. His father, formerly a Scottish corn merchant, died while Geordie and his sister Hannah were young. His mother later married a Selkirk landowner, Thomas Alfred Thomson.
Richardson worked for a period as a clerk for a London shipping agency before sailing for New Zealand on the barque Southern Cross. By the time the ship anchored at Wellington on 21 September 1857, Richardson had already set himself up for trading by buying coal and goods from the barque's holds. He headed for Napier later that year or early the following year and entered into partnership with the master of the Southern Cross, Captain George Charlton; by March 1858 the pair owned a public house and store at Port Ahuriri. Richardson's mother and sister followed him to Napier, arriving in 1859; and in 1860 Hannah married J. D. Ormond, later to be superintendent of Hawke's Bay.
As the merchandising business began to grow, Richardson diversified into other activities. A cautious man, he usually entered into partnerships rather than stand the entire risk himself. He invested in land throughout the district, and by the late 1860s his stakes in Hawke's Bay included Petane, Hurumua and Wai stations as well as land at Mahia Peninsula. His biggest real estate coup came in 1889 when for £85,000 he and two others bought a vast tract of land in the Riverslea area from its struggling owner. They later subdivided it into hundreds of small farm sections.
By the 1870s Geordie Richardson's position was well established. He audited the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council accounts from 1860 until 1876, when the council was abolished. He became a ship owner in 1873 by loaning money to a lighterman, John Campbell, who was struggling to pay off his new steamer, Fairy. Campbell had started in 1859 with the small open-decked boat Hero but lacked the capital to sustain an expansion programme. Richardson's money gave him that. In 1875 the partners celebrated the registration of their business as Richardson and Company by taking delivery of the large steamer Jane Douglas (named after Richardson's mother). Thereafter the firm grew modestly, dominating the lighterage trade at Port Ahuriri as well as the Hawke's Bay and Poverty Bay coastal routes.
The company was to bear Richardson's name for more than a century; he was, however, less influential than Campbell, who controlled the shipping side and left his partner to supply the necessary cash and accounting skills. Richardson retired from the company in 1895; when it became a limited liability firm in 1899, he took only 50 of the 3,000 shares. He was no longer interested in new ventures, although he did put his name forward as a provisional director of a new woollen mill in 1901. The shipping company he founded was partially taken over by the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand in 1912, and was finally wound up by it in 1978.
Roughly dressed, usually without a tie, the corpulent, black-bearded Richardson was no stranger to the rough and tumble of Port Ahuriri's wharf pubs. His short, squat figure eventually weighed more than 20 stone. A bachelor and only a nominal Presbyterian, Geordie Richardson was likeable if not always respectable in the Victorian middle-class mould. His idea of a good Sunday was playing whist or games of chance at his home; a shipment of liquor from Portugal might also be tested. He was a founding member of the Hawke's Bay Club and remained a member of the Hawke's Bay Jockey Club until his death at his Napier Terrace home on 14 February 1905.