Richardson, Sir John
b. 1787-11-05
d. 1865-06-05
Sir John Richardson was a surgeon, explorer, natural historian, and ichthyologist.1 He was born in Dumfries, Scotland, on 5 November 1787, and began his colourful career at age 14 as an [apprentice] to his uncle James Mundell, a surgeon in Dumfries.2 From 1801 to 1804, Richardson studied various subjects at the University of Edinburgh then became a house surgeon at the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary for the following two years.3 He completed his medical degree in 1816 with a thesis on yellow fever.4 From 1828 to 1838, he was the chief medical officer in Chatham at the Melville Hospital.5 After his time in Chatham, Richardson was assigned as senior physician to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth, where he lived for the remainder of his naval career.6
Richardson began his Arctic service in 1819 when he joined John Franklin’s first expedition as surgeon and naturalist.7 By the time the team returned to England, roughly three years later, they had travelled some 5,500 miles in North America, much of it through unexplored country.8 Richardson’s second Arctic journey was in 1824 where he joined Franklin once again as second in command, in addition to his previous roles.9 His final trip to the Canadian Arctic began in 1848 to command a search party with Dr. John Rae to look for Franklin who had gone missing during an Arctic expedition that began in 1845.10 Their mission was unsuccessful and Franklin’s death wasn’t confirmed until Rae discovered the first definite relics of the expedition in 1853.11 Richardson was included in the high ranks of explorers in Canada due to his strong physical and mental qualities, even towards the end of his life.12
Richardson published several books about his Arctic explorations and biological discoveries including his greatest scientific book, the Fauna Boreali-Americana… [that] was published in four volumes.13 The book earned him recognition as one of the foremost biologists of his time.14 He also advised Charles Darwin on matters of Arctic ecology and the taxonomy of Arctic animals while Darwin was writing the zoology of the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle.15 Richardson was knighted in 1846 and made a cb in 1850.16 Several animal and plant species have been named after him, as well as a Canadian river, lake, bay, and mountain.17 He retired from active duty as a naval surgeon in 1855, and moved his family to a farmhouse in Grasmere.18 In 1857, Richardson acted as an expert witness on the geography of the Arctic, its past governance, and its future in agriculture and industry during discussions by a parliamentary committee on the future of the Hudson’s Bay Company.19 He died on 5 June 1865 at Grasmere.20
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People in this document

Franklin, John

Rae, John

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Portsmouth

The Colonial Despatches Team. Richardson, Sir John. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/richardson.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)