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Richard Speight

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Richard Speight (1838-1901)


1903 Obituary [1]

RICHARD SPEIGHT died at Perth, Western Australia, on the 19th September, 1901.

He was born in England on the 2nd December, 1838, and when his father, who was in the service of the Midland Railway Company, died in 1851, that Company placed the son in one of its offices. There he showed remarkable aptitude for railway work, and his capacity was recognised by his transfer from one position to another, until in 1860, after nine years' experience, he was taken into the office of the General Manager, Mr. (subsequently Sir James) Allport.

Under the eye of his chief, he rendered such good service to the Company that when Mr. Allport retired in 1877 and Mr. Noble, the Assistant General Manager succeeded him, Mr. Speight was chosen without hesitation to fill the post vacated by Mr. Noble.

During the years that succeeded, his capacity as a railway administrator impressed itself so strongly on the British railway world that, when, towards the end of the year 1883, the Government of Victoria was on the look-out for a man to place at the head of its railway system, to introduce new methods of expert management, Mr. Speight was strongly recommended, and finally, after due inquiry, was offered the position of Chairman of the Victorian Railway Commissioners.

He accepted the offer, and arrived in Victoria with his family in February, 1884, under a seven years' engagement. The period after his accession to office was one of great activity in railway construction; and the traffic expanded considerably. Mr. Speight and his colleagues adopted a policy of improving the permanent way, rolling stock, station accommodation, etc., and generally increased the facilities for the transport of passengers and goods traffic throughout the whole system.

About the year 1890 a wave of depression swept over the Colony and continued for some years afterwards. Difficulties arose between the Commissioners and the Government, which resulted in an Act being passed, removing the control of construction from the purview of the Commissioners, and giving to the Minister of the day greater power than formerly in regard to matters of administration. Finally these difficulties culminated in Mr. Speight's retirement in 1892, and the payment to him of a considerable sum of money as compensation for loss of office. The severance of his connection with the Victorian railways was keenly regretted by the staff under his control, by whom he was very highly esteemed, and by a large proportion of the public with whom he was personally very popular. During his term of administration the railway mileage increased from 1864 to 2,863 miles, and the revenue from £1,898,311 to £2,925,948.

On his retirement from the railway service Mr. Speight entered business life in Melbourne, but subsequently, in the year 1898, he removed to Perth, Western Australia. There he rendered valuable service in important arbitration cases, and as Chairman of Railway Inquiry Boards, and rapidly became well known.

In the early part of the year 1901 he offered himself as a candidate for the representation of the constituency of North Perth in the State Parliament, and was returned by an overwhelming majority.

Mr. Speight was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 19th May, 1856.



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