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Tills, Richard Alfred (1860–1937)

by Helen M. Stallman

Richard Alfred Tills, politician and architect, was born on 12 June 1860 at Kingston upon Hull, England, eldest of three sons of Alfred Tills, a carpenter and newsagent, and Alice Harrison.  After training and working as a master joiner, he migrated to Australia, arriving in Mackay at the age of 22, on 2 Nov 1882, and moving to Cairns the following year.  Tills went on to play an active role in the politics and development of the Cairns district.

Establishing himself in business, politics and military operations, Tills worked on the construction of numerous buildings in the town. After a brief stint prospecting on the Mulgrave goldmine south of Cairns he established a saw-mill at Redlynch, on the Cairns–Mareeba railway line. At the age of 24, he was elected an alderman of the Cairns Divisional Board, which had jurisdiction over areas now under the control of the Cairns and Barron Shire Councils, and the Cairns Town Council.

Tills was a founding member of the Cairns Artillery Volunteer Corps in 1886, which was formed in response to the Russian Scare of 1885, after the Russians had moved into the Pacific and were believed to be interested in annexing New Guinea, much to the concern of the Queensland colonial government, which moved to consider colonial defense and the establishment of voluntary defense organisations. That year, he quickly rose from the rank of Sergeant to Lieutenant, becoming Commanding Officer of the Corp. In 1891, he was promoted to Captain.

Impressing the members of the Cairns Divisional Board with his practical knowledge and business tact, Tills he was elected chairman at the age of 30, a position he held until the body was dissolved and the Barron Divisional Board and the Cairns Municipal Council were established at the end of 1890. He was unanimously elected the first chairman of the Barron Divisional Board and held the position for a further two years. One of the most significant achievements during his time on the Barron Divisional Board was construction of the first link between Cairns and the back country, by extending the coach road from Kuranda to Mareeba. 

A strong advocate for education in North Queensland, Tills took a leading role in the establishment of the Cairns School of Arts Technical College and was its first president in 1899. The school started with classes in shorthand, bookkeeping and dressmaking. In 1904 when nominating as the member for Cairns in the Parliament of Queensland, he similarly campaigned for the establishment of a technical college in North Queensland to engage and train local boys to be good workmen and eliminate the need to import labour.

Tills was elected Mayor of Cairns in 1900, 1901 and 1907. In 1905, he was appointed a Licensing Justice for the Cairns district. He occupied many other positions in the community including being a member of the Cairns Hospital Committee, the first joint board for the prevention of epidemic diseases, Superintendent of the Cairns Fire Brigade Board, and President of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce. He was also a persistent advocate for the Cairns waterworks scheme. His appointment as Inspector of Public Works at Cairns in 1914 was a popular appointment given the widely held view of him as a practical man. He held that position for thirteen years until his retirement in 1927, and during that time was associated with the launching of the Federal government's soldier settlement and homes scheme in the district.

Active in many Cairns social groups, Tills was the founding president of a cricket club at Redlynch in 1898, an office bearer at St John's Church, and a founding member of the Cairns Masonic lodge. In 1896, he married Caroline Adelaide Anderson (1875 – 1915), the daughter of a Danish immigrant, Christian Peter Anderson, a fellow North Queensland pioneer and council member. They were to have two sons and three daughters. Caroline was admitted to the Toowoomba Hospital for the Insane in 1906, seven months after the birth of their youngest child. She died there nine years later. Richard died in Cairns on 7 June 1937 at the age of 76. He was the oldest member of the Gregory Masonic Lodge, and was accorded a Masonic funeral at the graveside in the Cairns Pioneer Cemetery.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

  • profile, Morning Post (Cairns, Qld), 11 May 1907, p 4
  • probate, Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld), 19 April 1938, p 10

Citation details

Helen M. Stallman, 'Tills, Richard Alfred (1860–1937)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 March 2023.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012