Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rich, Claudius James

659959Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48 — Rich, Claudius James1896Stanley Lane-Poole

RICH, CLAUDIUS JAMES (1787–1820), traveller, was born on 28 March 1787, ‘of a good family,’ at Dijon in Burgundy, but passed his childhood at Bristol. As early as the age of nine his curiosity was aroused by some Arabic manuscripts, and he applied himself with eagerness to various oriental languages. In 1803, by the influence of friends, he was appointed a cadet in the East India Company's service. At the time he was described by Robert Hall (1764–1831) [q. v.], in a letter to Sir James Mackintosh (‘Notice of Mr. Rich’ prefixed to Koordistan, vol. i. p. xviii), as ‘a most extraordinary young man. With little or no assistance he has made himself acquainted with many languages, particularly with the languages of the East. Besides Latin, Greek, and many of the modern languages, he has made himself master of the Hebrew, Chaldee, Persian, Arabic, and is not without some knowledge of the Chinese, which he began to decipher when he was but fourteen. … He is a young man of good family, and of most engaging person and address.’

The directors were so much impressed by Rich's linguistic attainments that they presented him with a writership on the Bombay establishment, and thus changed his career from the military to the civil side. At the same time he was provisionally attached as secretary to Mr. Lock, who was proceeding to Egypt as consul-general, in order that he might improve his Arabic and Turkish under the consul's direction. Rich embarked early in 1804 in the Hindostan, which was burnt in the Bay of Rosas, when Rich escaped to the Catalonian coast. Thence he made his way to Malta, after some stay in Italy, where he learnt to speak Italian, and devoted himself to music, of which he was passionately fond. Mr. Lock died before Rich could reach Egypt, and Rich, by permission of the directors, prosecuted his oriental studies at Constantinople and Smyrna.

After several journeys into the interior of Asia Minor he was appointed assistant to Colonel Missett, the new consul-general in Egypt, and in this post perfected himself in Arabic, and amused himself by acquiring the skill in horsemanship and the use of the lance and scimitar in which the Mamlûks were past masters. From Egypt he travelled in Mamlûk disguise over a great part of Syria and Palestine, visited Damascus in the pilgrimage time, and even ventured to enter the great mosque, undetected. Thence by Mardîn and Baghdad, he journeyed to Basra, where he took ship for Bombay, arriving on 1 Sept. 1807. Here he resided with the governor, Sir James Mackintosh, who fully endorsed Hall's eulogy (‘Notice,’ p. xxiii). Soon afterwards, on 22 Jan. 1808, Rich married Sir James's eldest daughter, and before he was twenty-four was appointed the East India Company's resident at Baghdad, ‘by mere merit.’

In his new and responsible position Rich's high character and knowledge of the native mind enabled him to exercise a very beneficial influence in times of disturbance and revolution. He frequently gave asylum to those whose lives were endangered by political changes, and his uniform justice and good faith exerted a powerful influence. For six years he lived at Baghdad, collecting materials in his leisure time for a history and statistical account of the Pashalik. Some of his researches may be traced in papers contributed to the ‘Mines d'Orient’, at Vienna. An excursion to Babylon in 1811 bore fruit in the ‘Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon,’ originally contributed to the ‘Mines d'Orient,’ but reprinted at London in 1815 (3rd edit. 1818), and amplified, after a second visit to the site, in the ‘Second Memoir on Babylon’ (London, 1818).

In 1813 ill-health compelled Rich and his wife to go for change of air to Constantinople, where he stayed with Sir Robert Liston [q. v.], the ambassador, and in 1814 he prolonged his journey through the Balkan provinces to Vienna, and thence to Paris, then in the hands of the allies. Upon his return through Asia Minor and Mesopotamia to Baghdad, he resumed his studies and collections, made his second visit to Babylon, and in 1820, being again in bad health, travelled in Kurdistan. This tour is the subject of his most important and notable work, ‘Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan and on the site of Ancient Nineveh, with Journal of a Voyage down the Tigris to Bagdad, and an Account of a Visit to Shirauz and Persepolis’ (London, 2 vols. 1836). The work is still valuable, not merely as the first geographical and archæological account of the region in the present century, but as an interesting and suggestive narrative of travel. It is stated that Rich had been appointed to an important office at Bombay by Mountstuart Elphinstone, when he was attacked by cholera, during a visit to Shirâz, while exerting himself to help the sick and allay the panic among the inhabitants. His promising career was thus cut short at the age of thirty-three, on 5 Oct. 1820. He lies in the Jân Numâ, one of the royal gardens at Shirâz, in which he was living at the time of his death.

His collections were purchased by the trustees of the British Museum, and consisted of ‘about nine hundred volumes of manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, and a great number in Chaldee and Syriac … highly rated by Mr. Colebrooke and Dr. Wilkins’ (Trustees' Original Letters, Brit. Mus. vol. v.); a large collection of coins, Greek and oriental; gems, and antiquities dug up at Babylon and Nineveh, including the first cuneiform inscriptions ever brought to Europe. Rich's portrait, presented by his widow, hangs in the students' room of the manuscript department in the British Museum.

[Authorities cited above.]

S. L-P.