Richards was a hydrographer of the Royal Navy from 1864 to 1874. He was the second British commissioner to the San Juan Islands Boundary Commission and a hydrographer on the coast of British Columbia in from 1857–1862. He was responsible for the selection and designation of dozens of place names along the British Columbia coast. In 1864 he was appointed hydrographer and held that position until 1874 when he retired.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1866, knighted in 1877, made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1881 and became an admiral in 1884.
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