Richard Watkins Richards – The man behind Dunedin’s Underground Conveniences

Richard Watkins Richards held the dual position of Town Clerk and City Engineer at Dunedin City Council from 1904-1911. He put forward a report in 1905 to Council outlining the benefits of the new, modern underground conveniences that were popular around the world.

Evening Star, 5 July 1907, Issue 12706

He designed the first underground structures in Dunedin – the Gentleman’s and Ladies in the Octagon, and the Gentlemen’s only in Custom House Square.

DCC Archives, CE 14/2/2b

He could report with some expertise – he had designed the first one in Sydney on Moore Street (now Martin Place) in 1901. He did battle with the Dunedin councillors on the issue of cost. An underground convenience was estimated at £1500 – compared to an above ground urinal at £20 this was a huge cost to a local authority. Richards argued that they could be built cheaper and still meet all the needs.

Richard Watkins Richards, 1863-1920 (City of Sydney Archives)

He was sent away to design the first ones for Dunedin with a budget of £1200. It was put on hold until Council came up with the money – they created a special fund in 1909 for the cause and the first undergrounds were opened in November and December 1910.

The Town Clerk Richard Richards and his Staff 1910, Otago Witness, 22/6/1910

Richards returned to Council service in Sydney in 1912 and became Lord Mayor of Sydney from 1914-1915 and again in 1919-1920 until his death in 1920. He was created a Knight Bachelor in 1920. For more on Richard Richards see the City of Sydney Aldermen website .

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