Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson (1870–1946) was born in Melbourne and later lived in a number of small Victorian towns: Chiltern, Koroit and Maldon. Her father, Walter Richardson, who had been a doctor at Ballarat and Melbourne, died in 1879. In 1883 she was sent to the Presbyterian Ladies’ College in Melbourne, where she excelled in music. In 1888 her mother took her two daughters to Europe and they both enrolled at the Royal Conservatorium in Leipzig. Ethel graduated with honours in 1892. Three years later she married George Robertson, a Scottish philologist whom she had met in Leipzig. They lived in Germany until he became Professor of German at the University of London in 1903.

Richardson’s first book was a translation of a Danish novel, Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen, published in 1896 with the title Siren Voices. She first used the pseudonym ‘Henry Handel Richardson’ in her novel Maurice Guest (1908), followed by the school story The Getting of Wisdom (1910). In 1912 she visited Australia and undertook research on Melbourne and the Victorian goldfields for her next novel. One of the greatest works in Australian literature, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony appeared in three parts in 1917, 1925 and 1929. Richardson was awarded the Australian Literature Society gold medal for the best novel in 1929. Her later books were a volume of short stories, The End of a Childhood (1934), a historical novel, The Young Cosima (1939), and an autobiography, Myself when Young (1948).

George Robertson died in 1933. Since 1921 a young teacher and musician, Olga Roncoroni, had lived in the Robertson household. In 1934 Richardson and Roncoroni moved from London to Fairlight, on the Sussex coast and remained there through the German bombing raids in World War II. Richardson died in 1946. Roncoroni lived until 1982 and in her last years was cared for by Margaret Capon, who was also a teacher.


The literary manuscripts of Henry Handel Richardson were purchased from Olga Roncoroni in 1946 and 1948. They constituted the first major literary collection to be acquired by the Library. In 1971 an important collection of family papers, including diaries and letters of Walter Richardson, were sold to the Library by Walter Neustatter, the nephew of Richardson. In 1972 Roncoroni donated further manuscripts and documents and in 1983 Margaret Capon presented the diaries, cutting books and annotated publications of Richardson. Some additional letters were acquired from Angela Neustatter in 1996.

The original music scores composed by Richardson were donated by Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele under the Cultural Gifts Program in 2001. Many of the photographs of Richardson and her family were received with the papers, while Dorothy Green lent about 30 photographs for copying. A collection of books used by Richardson when writing The Young Cosima was sold to the Library by the University of Tasmania Library in 1993. They had originally been purchased by E. Morris Miller in 1947.


Papers of Henry Handel Richardson

The collection contains typescripts with handwritten alterations of Maurice Guest, The Getting of Wisdom, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, The Young Cosima, Myself when Young and most of the short stories. In addition, there are handwritten drafts of The Young Cosima, Myself when Young and the translation of Niels Lyhne. There are also a number of notebooks Richardson used when writing The Fortunes of Richard Mahony and The Young Cosima.

Richardson composed the music of many songs, the words of which were written by English and German poets. The original manuscripts of these songs are held in series 7 of the Richardson papers.

The collection is extremely strong in personal and family papers. The papers of Walter and Mary Richardson date from 1854 to 1895 and include letters from family, friends and patients, diaries, notebooks, medical records, a scrapbook and autobiographical notes. Richardson’s own papers include correspondence with her mother, sister and husband, correspondence with Paul Solanges, Oliver Stonor and Jacob Schwartz, diaries (1897–1946), music programs, personal documents and cutting books compiled by Richardson, Roncoroni and Capon (1908–81). There are also some papers of John Robertson and Roncoroni.

There is a good selection of photographs in the collection, including several cartes de visite of Richardson’s parents, photographs of Richardson and her sister in Germany, and photographs of Robertson.

Other Manuscript Collections

The following collections contain letters of Richardson or papers relating to her life and work:

MS 1174 Papers of Vance and Nettie Palmer

MS 1945 Papers of Frank Dalby Davison

MS 3871 Letters to Mrs Eves

MS 3925 Papers of H.M. Green

MS 5156 Letters to R. Toole Stott

MS 5678 Papers of Dorothy Green

mfm G 27744–47 Letters to Mary Kernot

The Palmer papers contain the most substantial group of Richardson material, including 64 letters from Richardson to Nettie Palmer (1927–45), 21 letters from Roncoroni (1946–63), manuscript and typescript notes, articles, broadcasts, cuttings and drafts of Palmer’s book, Henry Handel Richardson: A Study (1950).


The Library holds three oil portraits of Richardson by the Australian expatriate artist Rupert Bunny. They are undated, but were probably painted in the period 1910–30.

In addition to the photographs held with the Richardson papers, there are about 50 photographs of Henry Handel Richardson, her father Walter Richardson, her sister Lilian, George Robertson, Olga Roncoroni and various houses in Victoria and England associated with the family. They date from 1885 to 1940. The gold medal awarded to Richardson by the Australian Literature Society in 1929 is also held.

Published Materials


Howells, Gay, Henry Handel Richardson 1870–1946: A Bibliography to Commemorate the Centenary of her Birth, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1970

Scholarly Editions

Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele of Monash University have edited all of Richardson’s major writings:

Maurice Guest (1998)

The Getting of Wisdom (2001)

Niels Lyhne (2003)

The Young Cosima (2004)

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (2007)

Bruce Steele and Richard Divall edited A Collection of Songs by Henry Handel Richardson (2000)


Probyn, Clive and Steele, Bruce, (eds), Henry Handel Richardson: The Letters, 3 vols, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2000

Webby, Elizabeth and Sykes, Gillian (eds), Walter and Mary: The Letters of Walter and Mary Richardson, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2000

Biographical and Critical Works

Ackland, Michael, Henry Handel Richardson: A Life, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2004

Buckley, Vincent, Henry Handel Richardson, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1961

Clark, Axel, Finding Herself in Fiction: Henry Handel Richardson 1896–1910, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2001

Clark, Axel, Henry Handel Richardson: Fiction in the Making, Simon & Schuster, Sydney, 1990

Green, Dorothy, Ulysses Bound: Henry Handel Richardson and her Fiction, ANU Press, Canberra, 1973

National Library of Australia, Henry Handel Richardson 1870–1946: Papers Presented at a Centenary Seminar, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1972

Hewitt, Karen, Henry Handel Richardson: A Critical Study, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985

Corones, Eva Jarring, The Portrayal of Women in the Fiction of Henry Handel Richardson, CWK Gleerup, [Lund], [1983]

Kramer, Leonie, Henry Handel Richardson and Some of her Sources, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1954

Palmer, Nettie, Henry Handel Richardson: A Study, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1950

Pratt, Catherine, Resisting Fiction: The Novels of Henry Handel Richardson, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1999

Purdie, Edna and Roncoroni, Olga M. (eds), Henry Handel Richardson: Some Personal Impressions, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1957

The Young Cosima books

The collection of books acquired by Richardson when writing The Young Cosima totals 72 titles (98 volumes). They are mostly in German and include many biographies of Richard Wagner, as well as books on Cosima Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Franz Liszt and other nineteenth-century musicians.


The Richardson papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 133. A finding aid, which includes a name index to the correspondence, is available online at With a few exceptions, the papers have all been microfilmed (reels mfm G 22962-22986).

The portraits are held in the Pictures Collection (R4000, R9593 and R11131). They have been catalogued individually and also digitised. The collection of photographs, which is also held in the Pictures Collection, has been catalogued at the collection level.

A collection of early editions of Richardson’s books, including several proof copies, is held with the Richardson papers in the Manuscripts Collection. The books used by Richardson in the writing of The Young Cosima are also held in the Manuscripts Collection. All the books in these two collections are listed in the finding aid. The other publications listed above are held in the Australian Collection.


Green, Dorothy, Richardson, Ethel Florence Lindesay (Henry Handel) (1870–1946), Australian Dictionary of Biography online

Powell, Graeme, Building an Archive: The H.H. Richardson Papers in the National Library of Australia, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18 (3), May 1998, pp. 213–18.

Triebel, L.A., Source Material for The Young Cosima, Meanjin, vol. 14 (2), 1955, pp. 200–2.

Webby, Elizabeth, Walter and Mary Richardson’s Letters and The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18 (3), May 1998, pp. 219–27.

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)