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May, Richard John (1883–1927)

by Chris Cunneen

Richard John May  (1883-1927) baker, gaoled rioter and soldier

Birth: 28 March 1883 in Gladstone, South Australia. Son of William John May and Elizabeth May, née Freeman. Death: 29 January 1927 at Myrtle Bank, Adelaide, South Australia. Religion: Anglican. 

  • John, as he was generally known, was apprenticed to a baker in Gladstone for two years. In 1909, however, he was a miner in Broken Hill during a five-month lockout and was arrested on 9 January.
  • Moved to Albury. He was charged and convicted of inciting a riot during the lockout. He pleaded for leniency, stating “I have never been convicted before, and never locked up I have a mother, and help to keep her. I have done so since I was 15 years of age . . . I don’t think I would have been there that day only for going to work. I was in none of the other troubles.” Despite the jury’s request for leniency, Judge Pring sentenced May to two years hard labour. He told the defendant “There is no doubt you have been misled by an agitator [Tom Mann].  I must pass a sentence on you as will show other people that the law marks this offence as a very grave and very serious one”.
  • Fellow defendants were Tom Mann, Walter Stokes and Henry Holland. Mann was acquitted. Stokes and Holland were convicted and also sentenced to gaol.
  • After imprisonment at Goulburn May was released in May 1910 “in view of the special nature of the offences, and the accession of King George V”.
  • Rejected as medically unfit on his first attempt to enlist in the Australian Infantry Force, he succeeded in joining the 2nd Depot battalion at Adelaide on 16 February 1916. He was 5 feet 3¾ inches in height, weighed 142 lbs, with a fresh complexion, brown eyes, dark brown hair, and had a tattoo “Bird” on his upper left arm.
  • Transferring to the 10th Battalion, AIF, he embarked in the Afric from Adelaide on 7 November and reached Plymouth on 9 January 1917 and proceeded to France in April. Admitted, sick (VD) to Norfolk Hospital, Norwich, on 6 August that year he transferred to ADH Bulford in October. He was discharged in December, and returned to his battalion in France in February 1918. Suffering from influenza and trench fever, he was invalided, then returned to Australia on the Lancashire and was discharged in Adelaide on 3 May 1919.
  • In 1924 he was living in Port Pirie. He was buried at the AIF Cemetery, West Terrace, Adelaide; the headstone reads: “His weary hours, days of pain, his troubled nights are passed”.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'May, Richard John (1883–1927)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/may-richard-john-32143/text39719, accessed 20 October 2021.

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