Archibald Richardson (1767-1846)

Archibald Richardson was the son of John Richardson (b. 1722 – probably: he was baptized on 6 January 1723) and Mary Hendry.

Probably not for the first time in Richardson family history, and certainly not for the last, this couple had ‘misbehaved’ together while still unmarried. In 1750 they had to suffer the humiliation not only of a stern telling off one Sunday in church, but also of appearing before the Kirk Session, a parish tribunal:

This day compeared [i.e. appeared] John Richardson and Mary Hendry his wife the first time before the congregation and were rebuked for their sin and scandal of fornication before marriage and also were rebuked and exhorted before the Session.1

Their elder son, born in 1759, was Gabriel Richardson, the Dumfries brewer about whom the poet Robert Burns wrote this mock-epitaph:

Here brewer Gabriel’s fire’s extinct,
And empty all his barrels:
He’s blest – if as he brew’d, he drink –
In upright, virtuous morals

Gabriel’s son John Richardson, later Sir John, was a noted naval surgeon and Arctic explorer.

Archibald was born in 1766 or 1767, and baptized on 7 February 1767 at Kirkpatrick Juxta, Dumfries.3  Both Gabriel and Archibald were in business as brewers in Dumfries, and both were friends of Burns, who moved to the town in 1791.

Some time after Burns’s death, Archibald reminisced about a sad experience he and his brother had shared with the poet in 1794:

Burns, accompanied by his friends, the Richardsons of Dumfries, went to Moffat, a distance of fifteen miles, to spend the day and dine. The morning was rough and cold; the bridge, too, over the Kinnel was tottering and unsafe, and they were obliged to pass the flooded water, which they accomplished not without difficulty and danger; the Poet was in one of his sunniest moods, and laughed alike at storm and stream, and in this temper the party sat down to dinner. ‘We were all in high spirits,’ said Archibald Richardson, ‘and were waited on by a young man not unknown to us, of the name of Glendinning, who said he was to be married in a day or two. This gave a new turn to the conversation. Burns descanted with much humour and uttered many merry jokes on matrimony: the bridegroom smiled, and was pleased to be noticed, and we were in the full tide of enjoyment, when, on removing the last dish, he took a step towards the door, dropped down at our feet, and died without uttering a word. I never saw a man so affected as the Poet was; the brightness of his eye was gone at once: his face darkened; he rose and he sat down: he looked at my brother and he looked at me; he refused wine, nor did he speak above his breath for the remainder of the evening: he seemed afraid of offending the spirit of the dead. In this mood we journeyed home: and Burns afterwards observed to me, that the death of Glendinning coloured with sadness some of his best compositions.’4

Although Gabriel remained in Dumfries – becoming Provost of the town in 1801 – Archibald seems to have spread his business interests much further afield. In the Edinburgh parish register recording his marriage to Margaret Grierson on 15 April 1791, he is described as ‘a merchant in New Grayfriars parish’.5 Their first daughter Mary, nevertheless, was baptized in Dumfries on 20 August 1792.6 A second daughter, Margaret, was born shortly afterwards, though her place and precise date of birth is obscure at the time of writing.

By 1795 Archibald was running a brewery in Newton Douglas (as the town of Newton Stewart was known at the time).7 Business seems not to have gone well there: in May 1799 Archibald was in the process of sequestration and his creditors met to vote on a compensation deal amounting to 10s in the pound.8

Archibald appears in an Edinburgh directory of 1807, described as a brewer and living at Croftangry.9 By 1809, when Mary Richardson married Peter Couper, a Writer to the Signet, Archibald had apparently relocated and diversified, his occupation in the notice of Mary’s marriage being given as a merchant in the port of Leith, to the north of Edinburgh.10 A subsequent directory, published in 1824, lists Archibald as a rectifier (essentially the same as a distiller) and gives his address as Cassell’s Place, Leith.11

The 1820s were not a happy decade for Archibald. Mary Couper died on 17 January 1823. Archibald’s wife, Margaret Grierson, died at Cassell Street on 15 February that same year.12 Archibald and Margaret’s second daughter, also called Margaret, had married a surgeon working for the East India Company in 1821. She died suddenly in Calcutta in May 1827.13

At some point during the 1820s, Archibald moved again, this time to Liverpool where he entered a partnership with the brothers William and Robert Preston, along with George Maxwell, operating the Vauxhall Distillery. Possibly it was in Liverpool that Archibald met his second wife, Margaret Robertson. At any rate they were married, on 10 October 1826, at Christchurch in Hunter Street, Liverpool.14 By now Archibald was at least 60 years old. His wife was about 33 years younger.15

Their son, Archibald Robertson Richardson, was born some nine or ten months later and christened at St Matthew’s, Liverpool, on 13 August 1827.16 He must have died sometime in the next nine years, since Archibald’s second son, born in 1836, was given the same first name. In 1828 or 1829 they had a daughter, again called Margaret.17

The distillery partnership, operating under the name William Preston & Co., survived until 1829, when the death of William Preston himself precipitated its dissolution. Archibald and Robert Preston continued in business together for another two years, but their partnership was in turn dissolved in 1831.18 Robert Preston continued in business as a distiller, founding his own firm, Robert Preston & Co. His nephew, another William Preston, inherited the family business following Robert’s death and became a respected Liberal member of the town council. When he died his estate was valued at a quarter of a million pounds.19

Archibald’s fortunes, in contrast, were on the decline.

His old premises in Leith were put up for sale or, failing that, to be rented out. In Archibald’s absence the sale was handled by his widowed son-in-law, Peter Couper.20 Archibald was bankrupt again by 1835.21 He was back in Leith again in 1836, and apparently retired from business, when his youngest child, Archibald John, was born. This Archibald was the only one of his children to survive beyond the age of about 35. Archibald senior was by now about 70 years of age.

Soon after this the family moved from Edinburgh to the East End of London. Their reason for making such a radical move is not clear: it may be, though, that Archibald wished to make a fresh start somewhere where his name – and his bad credit history – were not so well known. Misfortune followed them even here, however: Margaret senior was to die on 29 October 1838, when young Archibald was not yet two years old.22

Census records don’t shed any real light on the whereabouts in 1841 of either Archibald junior or Margaret junior, who by this time were aged about five and 12 respectively. There is a slim possibility that an Archibald Richardson aged 75 and recorded as an inmate of the Mile End Workhouse might be Archibald senior: the age and locality are right. On the other hand the workhouse Archibald’s origin is given as Irish and his profession as carpenter. Mistaking a Scottish accent for an Irish one might be an easy mistake to make, but Archibald’s abrupt change of career is harder to swallow. And there is no record of Archibald junior or Margaret junior in any of the local children’s workhouses at the time, as far as I can tell.

In any case, by 1846, the family had settled at Woodland Cottage, Old Ford, on the border between Hackney and Bow. It was here that Archibald, who was working again, this time as a wine dealer, died. Like his life, his death was not without points of interest. A report of the inquest into his death read as follows:

Before Mr Baker, at the White Hart, Old Ford, on the body of Archibald Richardson, aged 79, a British wine dealer, residing at Woodland Cottage, Old Ford. The deceased frequently complained of pains internally, but was able to perform his duties. On Monday last he appeared in excellent spirits, and sat down to dinner with his family. After partaking of some boiled beef, he suddenly exclaimed, ‘I am gone,’ and fell back and expired. Mr Baker, a surgeon, attended him, and was of the opinion that he died from a diseased heart. A verdict was returned accordingly.23

Exactly who constituted ‘his family’ is open to speculation, but the phrase can probably be assumed to refer to the only surviving members of his immediate family, Margaret, 17, and Archibald, 10.

The following year, young Margaret too was dead.24 Archibald junior seems to have come under the care of his explorer cousin Sir John Richardson (at this time a surgeon at the Haslar Hospital in Hampshire) and later did some exploring of his own in Australia, before settling down in a respectable profession and raising a large family.

Archibald’s life was in many ways a tragic one – how well he must have understood, by the time he related the story in the late 1830s, the sadness Burns had felt at poor Glendinning’s abrupt death. He had touched success, but it had ultimately eluded him, while death had pursued him relentlessly. What kind of man he was, we can only guess. But to survive the blows fate dealt him in such rapid succession throughout his life he must have been made of pretty stern stuff.

  1. Parish records from Kirkpatrick Juxta, Dumfries, dated 1 October 1750. []
  2. []
  3. Parish record, Kirkpatrick Juxta. []
  4. Robert Burns, The Works of Robert Burns with Life by Alan Cunningham (London: Thomas Tegg & Charles Daly, 1840), p. 119; []

  5. Edinburgh parish record, 1791. []
  6. Parish register entry, Dumfries, 20 August 1792. []
  7. Robert Burns, John De Lancey Ferguson, The Letters of Robert Burns (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931) Vol. II p. 370; on the history of Newton Stewart and its change of name, see []
  8. Edinburgh Advertiser, 7 May 1799, p. 294. []
  9. Post Office Annual Directory from Whitsunday 1807 to Whitsunday 1808; containing an alphabetical arrangement of the noblemen, private gentlemen, merchants, traders, and others, in the city and suburbs of Edinburgh and Leith, with their residence, Edinburgh, 1807. []
  10. Caledonian Mercury, 30 March 1809. []
  11. New and Improved Directory for Edinburgh, Leith and Suburbs, Edinburgh, 1824. []
  12. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. XXI (January-June 1823), p. 503. []
  13. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. XIII (1823), p. 503; Asiatic Journal and Monthly, July 1827, p. 605. []
  14. Genealogical Society of Utah. British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah. Liverpool, Lancashire, England; Collection: Christchurch-Hunter St; Film Number: 1068893. []
  15. A burial record from 1838, the year of her death, from the church of St Clement, Eastcheap, probably relates to Archibald’s second wife, and gives her birth year as about 1800. The family had by this time moved to the East End of London. []
  16. Genealogical Society of Utah. British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition. Salt Lake City, Utah. Liverpool, Lancashire, England; Collection: St Matthew; Film Number: 1068954. []
  17. Known only from a record of her death: ‘At Rose Bank, Melrose, on 13 [August 1847], in her 19th year, Margaret, only surviving daughter of the deceased Mr Archibald Richardson, formerly of Leith.’ – The Scotsman, Saturday 21 August 1847, p. 3. []
  18. London Gazette, 24 March 1829, p. 5; 4 October 1831, p. 6. []
  19. Liverpool Mercury, 25 July 1856; Manchester Times, 23 September 1871. []
  20. The Scotsman, Wednesday 13 April 1831, p. 1. []
  21. Alexander Dunlop, J. M. Bell and John Murray, Cases Decided in the Court of Session, Nov 12 1835 to July 27 1836 (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1836), p. 552. []
  22. Caledonian Mercury, 17 November 1838. []
  23. Lloyds Weekly London Newspaper, 18 October 1846. []
  24. See  note 17. []