top of page
Search

A Skater’s Sins – How Frederick Richardson danced in and out of marriages, divorces, and fatherhood

Parmida Beedle and Joseph Manley in collaboration with Mélanie Méthot



Image Frederick Richardson on roller skates at the Crystal Palace Skating Rink, captioned: “Fred Richardson, World’s Champion Long Distance Skater. At the finish of 430 Miles - W. Hamilton - trainer at Richmond, VIC, Dec 1909.” Crystal Palace Skating Rink, Richmond, Victoria, Dec 1909. Source: Photo by, F. Schmidt, Hampton. https://icelegendsaustralia.com/1stIceChampions-builders1.html.  



Six children, four marriages, a fling with a fifteen-year-old that led to  a seventh child, two divorces, one bigamy prosecution, a charge for wife desertion, and another for child maintenance: with such a long list of marital offences, one wonders on earth why Frederick Stephen Richardson lamented over Truth’s commentary about his record of womanising. The surviving legal case files [1], as well as the extensive media coverage (62 articles!), open a window on gender roles in marriage and the importance of a nuclear family.


The Bigamy Case:


In May 1901, Amelia Bertha Guy became Frederick Richardson’s first wife. On the surface, the two of them appeared to be the perfect picture of Australian marriage, with Amelia producing four healthy children, and Frederick maintaining fame as a “handsome” roller-skater. In reality, show performances and long-distance skating competitions often kept the couple apart, forcing them to live in different cities without a consistently stable source of income. Far from his wife and surrounded by a swarm of swooning girls, even W.H. Jones, the prosecutor for Frederick’s bigamy case could understand how the celebrity fell victim to temptation: “a man who instructs girls in a skating rink was in a position in which he was likely to be shot at by anyone,” he said according to Truth. [3]



With four children in tow (all under the age of eight), Amelia returned home to Brisbane in 1909 to be closer to her two sisters and parents. Physically and emotionally, the couple had grown too far apart. Their farewell on that occasion marked the very last time they would see each other until Frederick’s bigamous second marriage came to light in 1912. Nor did they exchange heart-warming missives. After saying their goodbyes, Amelia received only one letter from her husband and in it, he begged for money to pay his board. She complied without complaint. Note the unusual role-reversal: Amelia provided for the family, and that included her husband. 





Letter from Frederick Richardson to Amelia Richardson sent in 1910. Source: PROV, 30/PO/1619, Frederick Stephen Richardson. 














Two years after abandoning his first wife, our skater went through a form of marriage with 20-something- Claudina Jenkins, who fell pregnant shortly after the nuptials. Like most bigamists, Frederick lied about his bachelor status and had little defence in court for his actions. Initially, he claimed that Amelia had divorced him, but ultimately could not explain why he believed that. He also mentioned that while he had limited ability to support his legal wife during the time they spent together, his second wife lived “comfortably enough” with him. [4] Such arguments did not typically warrant a lenient sentence, though they might have helped portray the bigamist in a slightly more positive light. 







Rather than Frederick’s jeremiad, the “get out of jail free” stemmed from Amelia’s selfless letter to the judge. As The Argus journalist reported, the Judge “proposed to adopt an unusual course” due to the fact that Mrs. Richardson had “contemplated divorce proceedings, and she felt that if any sentence were imposed, it would be to throw a burden upon the young woman whom he had married and who she understood was expecting to become a mother.” [5] Amelia even encouraged her husband to marry Claudina in order that she become the legal “Mrs. Richardson.” 






Sketch of Amelia Richardson published in Truth on the 20th April, 1913.

 

The sentiments of the letter aligned with the mainstream perspective of judges, who also identified the second wife as the main victim of Frederick’s actions. Unlike a legal spouse, the second woman did not have legitimate status and could not be compensated in the event of desertion. [6] Newspapers emphasised Amelia’s unique and generous disposition. Did Amelia’s actions reflect thoughtfulness and caring towards an expecting mother, or did her words to the judge derive from the knowledge that she would have to take care of “loving [(and needy)] Fred”?[7]

 

No matter her  motives, Justice Hood felt moved by Amelia’s letter. Despite finding the bigamist’s actions “the cruellest wrong a man can do to a woman,” [8] Hood took the wife’s recommendation seriously and demanded that Frederick divorce Amelia, marry Claudina, and support his new family. The judge’s response highlights the state’s determination to build nuclear families and maintain a man’s role as a breadwinner. Fred understood these priorities since he made a point about maintaining Claudina’s comfort, just enough. Given Amelia’s apparent independence, she seemingly did not need a provider.

 

Frederick’s “Gay Time with Giddy Girls” continues [9]


To avoid prison, Frederick happily married and cared for Claudina and their two toddlers. Within months of their marriage, though, he again skated away into the arms of other women – most notably, fifteen-year-old fan Gladys Dyson and fellow roller-rink performer Mabel Jenkins.

 

Quickly failing in his manly duties, the Neglected Children’s Department stepped in for Frederick’s two toddlers while his father-in-law took care of Claudina. Meanwhile, Fred charmed a teenager and got her “into trouble”. [10] In desperation, the Don Juan subjected the young girl to various abortion tactics that only took a toll on her mind and body. By the time Gladys realised the inefficacy of her boyfriend’s illicit schemes, he had already moved on, leaving her merely as a secret mistress. At least  he intended it that way, but as an acquaintance of theirs testified in court, Gladys would find a way to “get even with him.” [11]

 

Some time in spring of 1915, Mabel became the latest woman to hold Frederick’s well-travelled heart. Against his wife’s wishes, the enamoured man wanted to travel out of Victoria for a show tour with Mabel, insisting that their relationship would remain purely professional.  

 

Evidently, “professional” referred to Fred’s hard work as a womaniser. Not only did he rent a room for his co-worker, he introduced her to new friends as “Mrs. Richardson” and lived with her periodically ––bold moves for someone whose new girlfriend knew his ex-mistress as well as his wife! The abandoned teenage mother objected to the false title of Fred’s newest paramour.  When she found Mabel,  Gladys shouted: “You are a dirty, filthy thing to be living with him.”[12] The young mother could certainly not be described as shy. Gladys did everything she could to ensure that Australians knew Frederick Richardson as a scoundrel.   


In November 1915, Gladys saw  Frederick in the Richmond Court to extract financial  support for their child, Leila May Dyson. The Court directed the man to provide 10 shillings a week, and he did so until December that same year. By August 15th, 1916, Frederick faced charges not only for arrears in maintenance but also for leaving Victoria. Claudina too, had a complaint against her husband.  Weary of securing support from others, she pursued Frederick legally since he had an obligation to maintain her.  

 

Unlike the 1912 bigamy proceedings, Frederick could not escape prison. Justice Hood remembered the sneaky skater who broke his promise to provide for the woman he loved and considered the man’s actions as aggravating offences. After a ten-minute deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict for wife desertion, which resulted in a sentence of 12 months hard labour. The deserter also served 12 months of hard labour concurrently for child maintenance arrears. The judges’ response to the 1916 cases further reinforces the notion that the primary duty of a married man consisted of providing his dependents with financial support. Frederick Richardson’s story reveals  how marriage legislation intended to protect women from a partner’s actions if those actions led to financial instability.


 



Photos of Frederick Richardson provided in his prison file, dated August 1916. Source: PROV, Gaol Registry, 1916, no34405.

 

With Frederick in Pentridge Gaol, Claudina divorced her husband and later married someone else. Meanwhile, almost immediately after his release, Frederick decided to marry Mabel. In 1916, Truth described him as “well known throughout the Commonwealth as a champion skater” and “still better known on account of his womanising”[13] but despite his fame and previous infidelity, the dancing couple stayed together without any children until death parted them, leaving Frederick a very lonely man. Truth sensational reporting had not help Frederick's cause. When arrested in Sydney in 1916, Frederick told the constable that he moved to New South Wales because his contract in Victoria was cancelled because of the crude newspaper article. [14]


In 1940, the 64-year-old passed away and was buried in an unmarked plot (which he himself paid for) in Randwick, New South Wales.




Image of Richardson’s burial plot, in between two stone-marked graves. Photo taken: July 2023. 




References

We want to thank Marian Lorrison for her helpful comments.

[1] Public Record of Victoria [PROV], VPRS 30/PO/1619, Frederick Stephen Richardson;, PROV, VPRS 30/PO/ 1916/353-354,   PROV, VPRS, 5335/P0/283, 1916/225, Claudina Rose Alice Richardson.

[2] “Skating and Salacity - Richardson’s Romantic Role at the Richmond Rink,” Truth, 20 November 1915. 

[3] “Skating and Salacity - Richardson’s Romantic Role at the Richmond Rink,” Truth, 20 November 1915.  

[4] “Bigamists’ Bonds - Duty to Girl Victim - Generous First Wife,” The Argus, 22 June 1912. 

[5] “Bigamists’ Bonds - Duty to Girl Victim - Generous First Wife,” The Argus, 22 June 1912. 

[6] Deserted Wives and Children Act 1840, s. 4, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/num_act/dwaca1840n10274.pdf

[7] PROV, 30/PO/1619, Frederick Stephen Richardson.

[8] “Rorty Richardson - Champion Skater’s Womanising Ways,” Truth, 19 August 1916. 

[9] “Skating and Salacity - Richardson’s Romantic Role at the Richmond Rink,” Truth, 20 November 1915. 

[10] “Skating and Salacity - Richardson’s Romantic Role at the Richmond Rink,” Truth, 20 November 1915.  

[11] “Skating and Salacity - Richardson’s Romantic Role at the Richmond Rink,” Truth, 20 November 1915. 

[12]“Skating and Salacity - Richardson’s Romantic Role at the Richmond Rink,” Truth, 20 November 1915. 

[13] “Rorty Richardson - Wife and Child Deserter - Receives the Maximum Penalty” Truth, 26 August 1916. 

[14] PROV, VPRS 30/PO/ 1916/353, "Deposition of William Adamson, police constable, 15 August 1916".


73 views0 comments

Comentários


bottom of page