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Richardson, John, Sir, 1787-1865



Richardson was a surgeon, explorer, natural historian, and ichthyologist.

He attended the medical school of the University of Edinburgh from 1801 to 1804, studying botany, geology, and Greek in addition to the usual subjects: anatomy, chemistry, materia medica, and therapeutics. Richardson became a surgeon in the navy in 1807.

In 1819 Richardson was assigned to John Franklin’s first Arctic expedition as surgeon and naturalist. He wrote three sections of Franklin’s narrative of the expedition, the main one on zoology, and lesser ones on the geognostical material and the aurora.

In 1824 Richardson went on detached service as surgeon, naturalist, and second in command on Franklin’s second Arctic expedition; the group travelled overland from New York to Albany, Niagara, Fort William (Thunder Bay, Ont.), Fort Chipewyan, Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River, and Fort Franklin on Great Bear Lake, where they wintered. After the party’s return to England by way of New York, with important collections, Richardson was granted leave to work on the account of his part in Franklin’s expedition.

His greatest scientific book, the Fauna Boreali-Americana . . . , was published in four volumes, 1829–37, with William Swainson as collaborator on birds and the Reverend William Kirby on insects. Richardson was solely responsible for quadrupeds and fish. The work established him as one of the foremost biologists of his time.

In 1838 Richardson was assigned as senior physician to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth. In addition to his other duties Richardson had the responsibility for building up a library and museum at Haslar. The museum became well known in and outside navy circles as an important centre for research in natural history and comparative anatomy. The numbers of species described by Richardson, and the numbers of type specimens in the museum, were enormous. Although Richardson never held an academic post, his general influence on younger scientists was powerful, and his work in biology and geology has been considered important.

Richardson was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1846. He traveled with John Rae on an unsuccessful search for Franklin in 1848–49, describing it in An Arctic Searching Expedition (1851).

He retired to the Lake District in 1855.

He died at his home Lancrigg House north of Grasmere on 5 June 1865, and is buried at St Oswald's Church, Grasmere.


Dictionary of Canadian Biography. University of Toronto

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

John C. Warren papers

Identifier: VPA 116
Scope and Contents The collection consists of materials relating to the mastodon specimen bought by the museum from Dr. Warren's family in 1906. It consists of papers and illustrations. copies of correspondence between Warren and other researchers copies of pages from the Visitors' Book from the Warren Museum in Boston copy of a letter from Dr. Matthew sent to Frederic Augustus Lucas...
Dates: 1831-1963; 1968-1970; Majority of material found in 1831-1906