Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson was born into an affluent Melbourne family in 1870. After the death of her father, Richardson’s mother took her children to Maldon where she worked as the postmistress.Richardson was sent to board at the Presbyterian Ladies College in 1883—an experience that provided material for her novel The Getting of Wisdom.
In 1888, she travelled to Europe with her mother and studied at the Leipzig Conservatorium where she met John George Robertson, a Scottish expert in German literature. The pair married and settled in London.
Richardson published her first novel, Maurice Guest, in 1908. She made her only journey back to Australia in 1912 to complete her research for the trilogy that would become The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. Her final novel The Young Cosima appeared in 1939.