Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Richardson, James

RICHARDSON, JAMES (1806–1851), African traveller, was born in 1806 in Lincolnshire, and was educated for the evangelical ministry. His early training and enterprising temper produced in adult life an ambition to propagate Christianity and suppress the slave trade in Africa. He attached himself to the English Anti-Slavery Society, and under its auspices went out to Malta, where he took part in the editing of a newspaper and also engaged in the study of the Arabic language and of geography, with a view to systematic exploration. His first attempt to penetrate into North Africa was by Morocco, but here his resources were unequal to the enterprise, and, after visiting the chief coast towns of that district during a stay of some months, he gave up the project. His next effort was by way of Algiers and Tripoli in the spring of 1845. On this side he reached Ghadames and Ghat (by the end of October 1845), where he made a stay of some weeks and recorded many interesting but not very original observations. He tried to penetrate still further south, but was forced to be content with what had been already done. Returning by Fezzan, he re-entered Tripoli on 18 April 1847, and made his way back to England [cf. art. Lyon, George Francis]. He contrived to enlist the sympathies of Lord Palmerston, who supported his scheme for a government exploration of the Sahara and Soudan. To this plan he tried hard to give an international character, first visiting Paris in September 1849 and attempting to gain the help of the president of the republic through the mediation of Walckenaer, Jomard, and other savants, but without success; and finally obtaining, with the aid of Bunsen, then Prussian ambassador in London, the co-operation of two Germans, Barth and Overweg, who accompanied him at the expense and under the direction of the English government. The especial object of this expedition was to explore Lake Tchad, which, in spite of the visits of Oudney, Denham, and Clapperton (1822–4), still remained on the horizon of European knowledge. Richardson's wife, whom he had married shortly before his start on this his third and final venture, went with him as far as Tripoli, and was left there to wait for his return. On 23 March 1850 the three explorers set out from Tripoli, arriving at Ghat on 24 July. They reached Aheer, or Asben, on the southern edge of the Sahara, on 4 Sept., and Damerghou in December of the same year. At this point they were delayed some time, and at last decided to take different ways to Lake Tchad, their rendezvous. Richardson went straight by Zinder, Barth by Kanou and Kouka, Overweg by Tesaoua and Maradi. This last part of the journey, however, prostrated Richardson, whose constitution had already been undermined by the African climate. With great exertions he advanced to Ungouratona, about twelve or fifteen days' journey from Lake Tchad, and here, on 4 March 1851, he succumbed to the heat of the sun, which brought on fever, and to injudicious use of medicines. The people of the village buried him with honour. His notes and papers were collected and brought to England. Richardson had kept his journal down to 21 Feb.

He is best known by his three larger works: (1) ‘Travels in Morocco,’ the record of his earliest journey, but the last to be published, nine years after his death, by his widow, who edited the book and wrote a short preface, London, 2 vols. 1860; (2) ‘Travels in the Desert of Sahara, 1845–6,’ &c. 2 vols. London, 1848; (3) ‘Mission to Central Africa, 1850–1, under the order of Her Majesty's Government,’ a narrative which, like that of the Moroccan journey, was published posthumously, 2 vols. London, 1853, with a preface by Mr. Bayle St. John.

Of these, the last is the most valuable. In his Morocco travels Richardson borrows at length from the writings of previous travellers, the older Leo Africanus, as well as the more modern Keating, Durrieu, Jackson, Hay, Lemprière, Denham, Clapperton, and others. In his Saharan and Central African journeys he traversed a great deal of ground then very slightly known, and a considerable tract that had never been described, even if visited, by any earlier European. He undertook his travels largely to find out the causes and remedies of slave traffic. The blame he attributes chiefly to European raiders. His account of Mussulman society, manners, and religion is fair and appreciative.

Besides these longer treatises, Richardson also wrote: 4. ‘A Transcript and edition of the Touarick Alphabet, with Native Drawings,’ London, 1847. 5. A pamphlet called ‘The Cruisers, being a Letter to the Marquis of Lansdowne in Defence of Armed Coercion for the Extinction of the Slave Trade,’ London, 1849. This repeated and enlarged the advice given in the postscript (p. xxxi) of the introduction to the ‘Sahara Travels,’ not to withdraw the British cruisers from the west coast of Africa, which he regarded as equivalent to letting loose upon the negro a ‘legion of pirates and murderers.’ He further composed (6) ‘Dialogues in the English, Arabic, Haussa, and Bornu Languages,’ and translated a small part of the New Testament for the same parallel use, 1853. A portrait of Richardson in Ghadamese costume is engraved as the frontispiece to vol. i. of his ‘Sahara Travels.’

[Richardson's six works as cited above; Allibone's Dict. Brit. and Amer. Authors, ii. 1793; Times, 20 Sept. 1851; Athenæum, 1848 p. 103, 1859 ii. 769, 1860 i. 245; Bayard Taylor's Cycl. of Mod. Travel, pp. 871, 885; Annals of our Time, 1837–71, p. 321, for 4 March 1851, the date of the traveller's death; Alfred Maury in Nouvelle Biogr. Générale, xlii, 196–7; Michaud's Biogr. Univ. ed. of 1842–66.]

C. R. B.