Richardsons in Scotland and Ireland


The Richardsons in Scotland

Richardson is also a Scottish Lowland family name, with a large number to be found in Dumfries near the English border.  English Richardsons had a family home at Knockshinnock near Dumfries.  They intermarried with the Scottish Stewarts and had ties with the Buchanan and Ogilvie clans.  At the time of the English Civil War, Robert Richardson was one of the Dumfries city leaders who, as Covenanters, formed an alliance with the English Puritans.  From these roots, a century later, came William Richardson, a Presbyterian missionary, and his nephew, William Richardson Davie, whose lives were to be shaped in America.

The Robert Burns Connection.  The Richardson style in Dumfries was quite different from the Quaker soberness of NE England.  Gabriel Richardson was a brewer in the town in the 1780’s who produced a well-regarded porter.  His house on Nith Place has stayed in the family until recently

He was a good friend of the poet Robert Burns and Burns once petitioned for a tax adjustment on his behalf.

“Your brewers here, the Richardsons, one of whom, Gabriel, I survey, pay annually in ‘twa pennies’ about thirty pounds; and they complain, with great justice, of the unfair balance against them in their competition with the Bridgend, Annan and English traders.  As they are respectable characters, both as citizens and men of business, I am sure they will meet with every encouragement from the Magistracy of Dumfries.”

The tax was adjusted and Burns wrote a mock-epitaph on the episode which was inscribed onto a glass goblet:

"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.”

There were many Richardson tradesmen in the town at that time, including Joseph Richardson and the auctioneer John Richardson who sold the effects of Burns’s wife following her death in 1834.

Gabriel’s son, John, was educated at Dumfries Academy along with Burns’s eldest son.  Apparently, Burns once speculated: “I wonder which of them will be the greater man?”

It turned out to be John.  He trained as a doctor and joined the Royal Navy as a ship’s surgeon.  He made three journeys of exploration to the Arctic Ocean and then published his studies on the animals he discovered there.  Afterwards, he became a mentor and advisor to younger naturalists such as Darwin and Huxley.  Later, he was appointed Surgeon General to the Royal Navy and was a friend to Florence Nightingale during the Crimean campaign.

Elsewhere.  The Richardson name was to be found in other Border counties and elsewhere in Scotland by the late 1700's. 


Richardson Distribution in Scotland in the Late 1700's
(according to parish records)
Dumfries                                         15%
Other Border counties                       25%
Edinburgh                                       15%
Perth                                             10%
Elsewhere                                       35%

The Richardsons in Edinburgh were initially most evident in the publishing business.  Archibald Richardson had moved from the Borthwick valley to Edinburgh in the 1760's to become apprenticed as a bookbinder.  Around the same time, John Richardson had allied himself with the scholarly Ruddiman family to publish The Caledonian Mercury, a newspaper which catered to the well-read middle-class Scots of the day.

The Richardson presence in Edinburgh and Glasgow became stronger in the early 1800’s as James Richardson built up his sugar importing business there.   He was one of the five or six merchants who sourced supplies from producers in the British West Indies and fixed shipping to bring the sugars to Scottish refiners.   He was a trader through and through.  “Tell me, “ he used to say, “ any general article of commerce that I have not bought or sold.”

The 1891 census listed 4,300 Richardsons living in Scotland.

And Richardsons in Ireland

The Richardsons in Ireland were a Protestant import.  They were to be found mainly in county Armagh.  They arrived there in the early 1600’s and settled
in Loughgall, apparently from Worcestershire.  A local grandee was Edward Richardson who was an MP between 1655 and 1696 and built Richhill castle, a Dutch-style manor house just outside Armagh city.

Some Richardsons adapted well to the Irish environment.  John Richardson, ordained as the rector of Armagh in 1693, was involved in a project for the printing and distribution of a Gaelic translation of the Bible.  Others adapted less well and were involved in the sectarian strife.  Many emigrated to America.  Early emigrants included Quakers such as John Richardson who set sail for Pennsylvania in 1684.  Most Protestants, however, stayed, and they responded to the rallying call of the Orange order.  As such, these Richardsons would have to deal with the ongoing problem of sectarian violence in the following years. 

The Quakers and the Linen Industry.  The linen industry had been started by Huguenot immigrants in the Lagan valley in the eighteenth century.  It became a major industry in the nineteenth.  Quaker families were prominent.  Early Quaker linen families included the Nicholsons, Christys, and Greers.  As industrialization of the linen industry progressed, Quaker families such as the Richardsons and the Bells developed large spinning and weaving factories in the area.

Jonathan Richardson was a linen merchant in Lisburn in the early 1800's who, with a colleague, pioneered the techniques for keeping a bleach-green going throughout the year.  His son, James Nicholson Richardson, built up the firm of JN Richardson Sons and Owden to a workforce of 7,000, plants in Armagh, Antrim, and Down, and offices in Belfast and London.  As the nineteenth century proceeded, these Richardsons became one of the wealthiest families in Northern Ireland.

They, like other Quaker families, are buried in the Friends' modest graveyard in Moyallon, County Down, but with some special treatment:

"Although all Quakers are considered equal in the eyes of God, the Richardsons had their own private burial plot, hedged off from the main burial ground; thus prompting the saying that although all Quakers are equal, some are more equal than others!"

In 1845, the son John Grubb Richardson conceived the idea of a model village when he and his family bought the Bessbrook linen mill near Newry.  For a working population of 4,000, they built schools, a butcher’s shop, a dairy, a savings bank, and a number of churches.  They refused, however, any building permission for pubs or to sell alcohol.  To this day there are still no licensed buildings in Bessbrook and it is probably the only dry town or village in Ireland.

John Richardson died in 1891, after having turned down a baronetcy for his charitable works.  He said he had devoted his life to his childhood ambition to "caring for the welfare of the people around him."