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Sir John Richardson fonds (P248)

1826-1912. - 15 cm of textual records.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

John Richardson, doctor, explorer, naturalist and ichthyologist, was born on 5 November 1787 in Dumfries, Scotland. He was the oldest son of Gabriel Richardson, a prosperous brewer, and Anne Mundell. Richardson studied medicine and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1807 and, shortly thereafter, volunteered to serve in the Royal Navy. During the Napoleonic Wars he served on six different ships and witnessed several naval battles. In 1814 he was appointed surgeon to the Royal Marines in North America and stationed in Halifax. When the War of 1812 ended, Richardson went on half-pay and returned to university to get a doctorate. He graduated an MD in 1816 and moved to Leith to set up practice.

In 1819 he was chosen, as a doctor and naturalist, to take part in the polar expedition led by John Franklin. This arduous land expedition ended in 1822; Richardson then wrote three sections of the report on the expedition, namely, those on zoology, geology and the auroras borealis. From 1825 to 1827 Richardson took part in Franklin's second land expedition as second-in-command. He, along with 11 men, explored the coast westward from the mouth of the Mackenzie River. Upon his return to England, Richardson again wrote an account of his participation in the expedition.

In 1828 Richardson was named chief medical officer of the Melville Hospital in Chatham, where he remained for 10 years before transferring, in 1838, to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth. Here he served for 17 years, several of them under William Edward Parry, another Arctic explorer. Richardson helped set up a library and natural history museum at the hospital.

In 1848-1849 Richardson took part in his last Arctic voyage, this one in search of John Franklin's party. Richardson commanded the land expedition with Dr. John Rae. Although it did not locate Franklin, the expedition did make several important scientific discoveries, which Richardson described in An Arctic searching expedition in 1851.

In 1855 Richardson left active service and settled in Grasmere with his family. Occasionally consulted for his expertise on the Arctic, he also sat on the Arctic Committee at the side of eminent colleagues such as Back and Parry. In addition, Richardson's reputation as an intellectual and his writings in natural history and medicine ensured his recognition as one of the most important scientists of his era. He was elected to the Royal Society in London in 1825, knighted in 1846, named a Companion of the Order of Bath in 1850 and awarded the royal medal by the Royal Society in 1856. Richardson died on 5 June 1865. He had married three times: in 1818 to Mary Stivens, in 1833 to Mary Booth (Franklin's niece) and in 1847 to Mary Fletcher. He fathered at least seven children.

(Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)

Scope and Content:

The Sir John Richardson fonds covers in particular the Arctic land expedition of 1848 that set out to discover what happened to Sir John Franklin's expedition. The fonds also covers the subsequent years, which Richardson spent in England.

The fonds consists of correspondence exchanged with British Admiralty officials, the directors and employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, as well as a variety of people involved in navigation and exploration. Also found in it are accounts, invoices and lists related to provisions and other materials purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company and to the costs of transporting them, as well as the salaries of the English and Canadian participants in the expedition.

In addition the fonds has an 11-page journal kept by Dr. John Rae, who commanded the recovery expedition with Richardson, and some letters exchanged between David Ross McCord and John Booth Richardson, a descendant of Sir John Richardson.

The fonds is divided into the following series and subseries:

  • P248/A: Sir John Richardson
    • P248/A.01: Correspondence
    • P248/A.02: Materials: Accounts, receipts, lists
  • P248/B: Journal, Dr. John Rae
  • P248/C: Major General John Booth Richardson