Lord Richard Gavin Gardiner Casey [1890-1976]

By February 14th, 2011


Richard Gardiner Casey was elected to the Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in 1966 in recognition of his conspicuous service to the cause of science. Early in his career he became interested in the influence of science and technology on national and international progress and development. His undergraduate days at Cambridge may have provided the initial stimulus; the Department of Engineering there was large and very active in research and teaching, led by the young Professor Bertrand Hopkinson. Casey acquired a mature understanding of and sympathy with science and scientists through his prolific reading, his natural curiosity of the world around him, and from the ever increasing number of scientists who became his friends.

Initially trained as an engineer, he began, upon his return from the 1914-18 War, to practise the profession of mining geologist. Early in his life he was diverted from this occupation and, after a short period as a political representative of the Australian Government in London, entered Federal politics as a Member of Parliament.

First as a representative of the United Australia Party, and later as a Liberal, he held important portfolios. In the years between 1950 and 1960, he became a patron and advocate for CSIRO to a degree quite beyond that normally to be expected of a Minister. In the intervening war years CSIR had been transformed to CSIRO, the old Executive Committee and Council had gone to be replaced by the Executive as the governing body with an Advisory Council. Many new ventures, initiated in the immediate pre-war period, had grown extensively. The National Standards Laboratory and the Radiophysics Laboratory were well established. The Divisions of Industrial Chemistry and Tribophysics, each of which had been started just prior to or during the war, were in full flight. Many post-war ventures were to grow in strength during this period together with those that were begun before the war. These included Meteorological Physics, Land Research, Wildlife Research, Dairy, Wool, Textile, Coal and Building Research. The older activities concerned with the pastoral and agricultural industries, food, forestry, minerals and fisheries were still very active and were to grow extensively. The staff number grew from 3333 to 4146 and the total expenditure from $5.88 to $19.54 million.

The political climate of that period was propitious. RG Menzies, the Prime Minister of the Liberal-Country Party Government, was himself a political patron of scholarship and science. Other members of this Government, Earle Page, for example, were traditionally CSIRO supporters and had been from the early days of CSIR. This must have been helpful to Casey but it was not the crucial factor in his success in winning support for this great growth. Casey’s own conviction of the need for an effective contribution from science to national affairs, his understanding of science itself and his ability to hold frank and informed discussions with the Executive and senior scientists were important factors. He welcomed frequent discussion involving a penetrating inquiry on his part into the details of any activity or proposal of the Executive. As a result, he was always able to describe the work of CSIRO, in his own words but accurately to his political colleagues and to his many acquaintances and friends in the rural and manufacturing industries.

He resigned from political life in 1960 and in 1965 was appointed to his last active post, Governor-General of Australia, at the age of 75 years.

Career history

1966 Fellow, Australian Academy of Science
1965 – 69 Governor-General of Australia
1951 – 60 Minister for External Affairs
1950 – 60 Minister in charge of CSIRO
1949 – 51 Minister for Supply and Development (National Development from 1950)
1949 – 51 Minister for Works & Housing
1949 – 60 Member of the House of Representatives for Latrobe
1947 – 49 Federal President, Liberal Party of Australia
1944 – 46 Governor of Bengal
1942 – 43 UK Minister of State for Middle East and member of British War Cabinet
1940 – 42 First Australian Minister to USA
1939 – 40 Minister for Supply & Development
1939 Australian Representative, Imperial Conference on Conduct of War
1939 Privy Councillor
1937 – 39 Minister in charge of Development & Scientific & Industrial Research
1937 Member, Australian Delegation, Imperial Conference & Coronation
1935 – 39 Treasurer
1933 – 35 Assistant Federal Treasurer
1931 – 40 Member of the House of Representatives for Corio
1924 – 31 Australian political liaison officer, London
1919 – 24 Various company boards, including Mount Morgan, small steel-manufacturing firm, unsuccessfully tried to sell a new kind of car engine designed by AGM Michell (q.v.)
1919 Master of Arts, Cambridge
1914 – 19 War service, chiefly as a Staff Officer
1914 Mount Morgan Company
1913 Bachelor of Arts, Cambridge
1909 Studied engineering at University of Melbourne

Honours and awards

Richard Casey was also the recipient of a number of honours, including:

1969 Knight of the Garter
1965 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
1960 Baron
1944 Companion of Honour
1918 Distinguished Service Order
1917 Military Cross

A full account of the life and achievements of Lord Casey can be found by following the link in the Biographical memoirs of the Australian Academy of Science and other links listed in the Sources below.