At a time when the entire façade of the Library can be bathed in coloured light or submerged beneath digital projections, the humble lamp posts on either side of Redmond Barry’s statue might tend to be overlooked, but they are hardy survivors. Created in 1891 they are the work of F. C. W. Richard, an ornamental metal worker whose workshop was in Howard Street, North Melbourne.
The posts originally held three gas lamps each (shown below in 1901, wrapped in black mourning for Queen Victoria), but were converted soon after to a single electric lamp.
F. C. W. Richard was born in Prussia, but became a naturalized British citizen in 1870. Migrating to Australia he at one point had workshops in both Melbourne and Sydney and exhibited a pair of wrought iron gates at the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne in 1888, which were highly praised. We have his photograph among the identity photos which were made of all the exhibitors at the 1888 Exhibition, surely one of the earliest examples of a photo ID.
He was also responsible for the gas lamps and brasswork in St. Paul’s cathedral, completed in 1891.
Perhaps affected by the economic slump of the 1890s, Richard put his Melbourne workshop and its contents up for sale in December 1894 and announced his intention of leaving the colony. Something must have intervened however, as the sale appears not to have gone ahead and he continued trading from the Howard Street address until 1901. He died in Marrickville, New South Wales, in 1917 at the age of 83.
The Library’s Conservation team are currently treating the lamp posts, which at 124 years must be amongst Melbourne’s oldest working street fixtures.
(Credit for most of this information goes to Robin Vowels’ two-volume history Victoria’s Iron Lacework: the founders (2014))