Richard HARRIS
Father Henry HARRIS b. m. d.
Mother Sarah HUGHES1 b. m. d.
Brother Matthew Hughes HARRIS b.c. 1805 m. Catherine Mary MOORE2 d. 18693
Employee Richard HARRIS b.c. 18064 m. d. 18875
Sister Sarah HARRIS b.c. 1808 m. William Disney FAYLE6 d. 18507
Brother Henry HARRIS b.c. 1810 m. Mary Ann HURLEY8 d. 18879
Wife unknown b. m. d.

In his obituaries Dr. Richard HARRIS, was described as a well-known and highly-respected resident of Newcastle. He was born in the county of Wexford, Ireland, in 1806 and was the son of Captain Henry HARRIS, of the 14th Light Dragoons and Sarah HUGHES.10 HARRIS was one of seven brothers who were all British officers. At sixteen HARRIS was apprenticed to a local surgeon and attended the Wexford Infirmary for five years. He worked in the Meath Hospital (1828-9) and then Mercer’s Hospital (1829-30). HARRIS attended lectures in the theory and practice of surgery, anatomy and physiology between 1829 and 1830 at the School of Surgery, Royal College of Surgery, Ireland. In 1830 he obtained a Diploma in Obstetrics in Dublin. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in London the same year. He arrived in Sydney in 1839 on the Abbotsford,11 and applied to the Medical Board for registration as a medical practitioner in NSW.12 He was practising medicine in Parramatta before moving to Mudgee as a squatter. His brother, Henry, settled there in 1839 and was still living near O'Connell near Bathurst at the time of his death.13 In 1861 HARRIS arrived in Newcastle to take up the position of the Government Inspector of Coal Mines and Examiner of Coal Fields. After finding that medicine was more lucrative, HARRIS started his profession again in Market Square, Newcastle, and eventually to the corner of Hunter Street and Market Lane. In 1870 he established himself in the house erected by himself in Watt Street. In 1873 was appointed Health Officer and Government medical officer for Newcastle and held that position until his death.

On 11 November 1867, HARRIS was appointed the visiting surgeon to the Industrial School for Girls, Newcastle,14 and during that year proved very supportive of the Matron-Superintendent, Agnes KING. After the dismissal of KING in November 1868, the new superintendent, Joseph Hines CLARKE, was appointed and HARRIS continued to maintain the procedures he had established but within days there was disagreement when those procedures were found to be lacking by CLARKE. Enmity between the two men became an issue for the remainder of CLARKE's time as Superintendent. Three main objections were made by CLARKE and by October 1869 he was requesting that an inquiry be made into HARRIS as the Medical Attendant. CLARKE, in his letter to the Colonial Secretary on 20 October 1869,15 stated

When I first came to this Institution I observed too much [unclear] on the part of the officer16 to expose their17 antecedence and to bring them forward as very bad characters which I felt to be my duty to put a stop to – up to that time and no prescription book, no entry was made of any medicine that might be sent to the institution, the only medical journal that was kept was one in which there are eighty five (85) names entered and the principal object of this book would appear to be to record the Signs of Virginity of each girl – so that it would seem from this Journal that all those girls, who were sent here for protection, varying in age from five (5) to sixteen (16) years of age even in the first instance subjected to the gross indignity of undergoing this examination, in the presence of the then Matron Superintendant, and if everything was not to the satisfaction of the Medical Superintendant their characters were blown about and the poor girl disgraced in the place.
A few days after my arrival the Institution was visited by the Honble the Colonial Treasurer, when I placed the medical Journal in question before that minister, and with the sanction of Mr. Samuel, I gave instructions that this kind of examination should be discontinued. Doctor Harris clearly understood this and it was, as far as I know, discontinued until the last six girls that came to the Institution were brought before the Doctor, about the 12th of this month, when, it is reported to me, they were subjected to this degradation, in the presence of Mrs. Polack (assistant) and in direct violation of my instructions. Those six girls, who are fourteen (14) and fifteen (15) years of age, complained very much to Mrs Clarke about the way they were treated, and the circumstance having been reported to me, I have further to request that this too may be made the subject of inquiry.

HARRIS refused to maintain a medicine book as requested by CLARKE who then refused to sign vouchers for the medicine prescribed until directed to by the Colonial Secretary. CLARKE maintained that the costs for medicine didn't add up and some girls for whom medicine had been prescribed had never received that prescription.18 HARRIS was criticised for his inability to treat a skin condition which spread through the school. At the inquest into the death of Margaret Hughes ELLIS, CLARKE enumerated the number of unsuccessful requests made to HARRIS to attend the sick girl.19

After the Industrial School closed in 1871, HARRIS maintained his practice and was appointed visiting surgeon to the Hospital for the Insane, and surgeon to the Permanent Artillery Force. He was the founder of the Bethel Mission at Bullock Island,20 and he and built the Mission Reading-room and Chapel for Seamen on the Island. He was also the first president of the Y. M. C. Association and of the Newcastle branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He contributed largely to the local charities and played a prominent part in Newcastle philanthropic and social movements.

HARRIS was married but had no family of his own. He was very involved in the education of his nieces and nephews and his nephew, Dr John HARRIS was also a prominent Newcastle doctor. At the time of his death he had been a widower for some years but no wife has yet been identified. HARRIS died on November 3, 1887, in his house in Watt Street, Newcastle. His obituary reported that he was eighty-one but his headstone recorded that he was seventy-nine. HARRIS was buried in the Presbyterian section of Sandgate Cemetery on 5 November 1887.21 His niece, Sarah FAYLE, who died at the age of 90, shares his grave.


Richard's headstone at Sandgate Cemetery, Newcastle
Photograph Jane ISON, 2014

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