DARCEY, Richard John (1870–1944)
Senator for Tasmania, 1938–44 (Australian Labor Party)

Richard John Darcey was born on 26 February 1870 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of Thomas, a shoemaker, and Catherine, née Lane. After primary school, he was apprenticed to the Launceston jewellers, F. and W. Stewart, with whom he worked for eighteen years. He then moved to Hobart, where he worked for a time with Golding and Son before setting up his own jeweller’s shop in about 1911. He also had some business as an optician. He became federal president of the Retail Jewellers’ Association and a member of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce and of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

Darcey also took up Labor politics. He provided financial help for the Labor Daily Post, and helped to maintain it until the early 1920s, becoming an admirer and ally of its editor, Edmund Dwyer-Gray (later treasurer and premier of Tasmania). In the federal election of 1934 Darcey stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives seat of Denison—he was one of four Labor candidates involved in a concerted and successful attempt to unseat the UAP sitting member. In the 1930s Darcey was, like many other Labor men, attracted to the ideas of Social Credit and agitated for it within the Labor Party. In 1937 he was elected to the Senate, where he served a single term.[1]

In 1940 Darcey made clear his position on Social Credit:

I entered this chamber as a missionary in the banking field, but I must confess that I did not expect to find so much paganism on finance. Apparently I shall be obliged to continue to exercise the missionary spirit. I thought I had spoken enough on this subject last year to convert anybody who was open to conviction, but apparently, in the manner of a missionary handling blackfellows, I shall have to talk and talk until what I am saying becomes fixed in the heads of my listeners.

Darcey certainly maintained his self-imposed task, speaking at great length and often repetitively on Social Credit, so much so that, as he admitted, he sometimes emptied the chamber. His basic theme was an attack on the banks, whose role he compared to that of Ned Kelly: ‘In effect, the banks create credit out of nothing and lend it to the Government at 3½ per cent’. The Depression, he considered, had been caused by the banks collectively refusing to provide credit. The answer, reiterated by Darcey, was to create national credit through the Commonwealth Bank:

The world to-day is suffering from money disease, and the symptoms of that disease are continuous borrowing and high taxation in order to pay the interest bill. Yet the Government, if it desire to do so, could issue through the Commonwealth Bank millions of pounds by way of loan, free of interest.

When war came he insisted that ‘we cannot fight a war unless we have interest-free money’. Postwar reconstruction also required the elimination of interest. Though he had once been a student of Professor D. B. Copland at the University of Tasmania, Darcey liked to attack the economist as an inadequate adviser to the Government. Similarly, he crossed swords with Professor Lyndhurst Giblin. On the other hand, he claimed endorsement by King O’Malley, founder of the Commonwealth Bank, and remained an admirer of Dwyer‑Gray, also a keen supporter of national credit. Darcey hardly ever missed an opportunity to speak on community control of credit. Despite his radical views on finance he did not advocate the closing down of private banks or the nationalisation of banking. He believed that the utilisation of national credit would make such measures unnecessary. To some of his colleagues he appeared to be the prophet of the new social order, though in 1942 he was unable to persuade the federal Caucus to vote for its implementation.[2]

Darcey was defeated at the general election of August 1943, after being placed fourth on Labor’s Senate ticket. His place was taken by N. E. McKenna. The photograph on Darcey’s campaign advertisement portrays a refined-looking gentleman with finger outstretched. Underneath are the words: ‘Now, about finance . . .’ Reviewing his time in the Senate at the end of his term, Darcey stated:

I came here for one purpose, and have driven at it for six years, but I have not succeeded in converting every member of the chamber. I have, however, set a seed that will produce a good crop later on. This is the first time that I have failed to reach any objective which I set myself, and I have set myself some difficult jobs in my time, although nothing so difficult as trying to convert the Senate to new ideas.

Shortly before leaving the Senate, Darcey visited New Zealand where he angered the Labour Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, by appearing on the platform of John Hogan, a social creditor at odds with the government. The Voice, edited by Dwyer-Gray, lamented that Darcey, the staunchest supporter of monetary reform, had been the only Tasmanian senator to lose his seat.[3]

Darcey was still a resident of Swan Street, North Hobart, when he died on 26 July 1944, aged seventy-four, at the Mater Misericordia Private Hospital in North Sydney, a few weeks after surrendering his seat. He was buried privately in Sydney. On 27 September 1905 he had married Blanche Mabel Kelly at St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart. Blanche had died in October 1943. He was survived by the five children of the marriage—Mary, Leonard, John, Marjorie and Richard. The youngest son, Richard (known as Dick), a flight lieutenant in the RAAF and an experienced fighter pilot, was killed in a flying accident on 6 October 1944. Darcey was well remembered by former Senate colleagues, both for his great industry and regularity of attendance as a senator, and the courage and determination with which he presented his views.

Apart from his political interests, Darcey was involved for twenty-five years in social work. As a Catholic, he became president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, Hobart, and was a prominent member of the St Joseph’s branch of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society. He represented the Archbishop and the Catholic community on the United Social Services Committee. He was also president and a life member of the Tasmanian Amateur Athletic Association.[4]

Richard Davis

[1] Examiner (Launc.), 28 July 1944, p. 4; Mercury (Hob.), 28 July 1944, p. 4, 22 Aug. 1934, p. 7, 23 Aug. 1934, p. 9, 13 Sept. 1934, p. 11, 17 Sept. 1934, p. 7, 16 Oct. 1937, p. 17.

[2] Richard Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor: The ALP in Tasmania, 1903–1983, Sassafras Books and the University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1983, pp. 11, 25–38; CPD, 18 Apr. 1940, pp. 77–93, 12 Nov. 1941, p. 261, 11 Sept. 1942, pp. 235–46, 26 Sept. 1938, p. 171, 3 Mar. 1944, pp. 963, 972, 31 Mar. 1944, p. 2519; Mercury (Hob.), 28 July 1944, p. 4; Patrick Weller (ed.), Caucus Minutes 1901–1949, vol. 3, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1975, p. 281; Voice (Hob.), 26 Dec. 1942.

[3] Davis, Eighty Years’ Labor, pp. 40–1; Mercury (Hob.), 23 Aug. 1943, p. 6, 21 Aug. 1943, p. 10; CPD, 30 Mar. 1944, p. 2327; Voice (Hob.), 22 Apr. 1942.

[4] Mercury (Hob.), 28 July 1944, p. 4; Examiner (Launc.), 28 July 1944, p. 4; Mercury (Hob.), 11 Oct. 1944, p. 4; CPD, 30 Aug. 1944, pp. 381-2, 393-4.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 210-212.

DARCEY, Richard John (1870–1944)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Tas., 1938–44

Senate Committee Service

Standing Orders Committee, 1938–44

Joint Committee on War Expenditure, 1941–43

Joint Standing Committee on Broadcasting, 1943–44