King, Richard (1811?-1876) (DNB00)

KING, RICHARD (1811?–1876), arctic traveller and ethnologist, was born about 1811, and educated at Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospitals. He became M.R.C.S. on 29 June, L.S.A. 16 Aug. 1832, and obtained in the following year the honorary degree of M.D. of New York. He was subsequently made a member of the court of examiners of the Apothecaries' Society in London. Shortly after qualifying as a medical man he obtained the post of surgeon and naturalist in the expedition led by Captain (afterwards Sir) George Back [q. v.] to the mouth of the Great Fish River between 1833 and 1835, in search of Captain Ross. He took a prominent part in the expedition, and he is frequently mentioned in Back's ‘Narrative’ (1836), to which he contributed botanical and meteorological appendices. He subsequently published an independent account of the expedition, entitled ‘Narrative of a Journey to the Shore of the Arctic Ocean under command of Captain Back,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1836, in which he took a more sanguine view than his commander of the value of the Great Fish River as a basis for future arctic exploration. On 20 July 1842 King issued the prospectus which originated the Ethnological Society. He published an address to the society, of which he was the first secretary, in 1844 and when both it and its successor, the Anthropological Society, were in 1870 merged in the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, King became a member of the council of the institute. He was also a member of the general council of the British Association. When in 1845 the admiralty proposed the Franklin expedition, King wrote very strongly to Lord Derby, then colonial secretary, recommending, in lieu of the polar sea journey, a polar land journey by the Great Fish River, and proffering his services. The admiralty lent a cold ear both to this project and to those which King would have substituted for the measures proposed for the relief of Franklin in 1849. King was, however, in 1850 appointed assistant-surgeon to the Resolute, in the expedition sent out to search for Franklin under Captain Horatio Austin, and in 1857 he received the arctic medal for his services. In 1855 he drew up a summary of his correspondence with the admiralty on the subject, entitled ‘The Franklin Expedition from first to last,’ in which he animadverted very severely on the treatment he had undergone at the hands of the government. He received much sympathy in his grievances from the newspapers of the time, but his eccentricity and excitability were prejudicial to his advancement, and he died in obscurity at his residence in Blandford Street, Manchester Square, London, on 4 Feb. 1876. King was a copious contributor to the Ethnological and Statistical Societies' ‘Journals,’ to the ‘Medical Times,’ of which he was for some time editor, and to other papers. Besides the works mentioned above and two small medical books on the cause of death in still-born infants he published: 1. ‘The Physical and Intellectual Character and Industrial Arts of the Esquimaux,’ 1844. 2. ‘The Natives of Vancouver's Island and British Columbia,’ 1869. 3. ‘The Manx of the Isle of Man,’ 1870. 4. ‘The Laplanders,’ 1871. None of these works appears in the British Museum Library Catalogue.

[Medical Times, 12 Feb. 1876; Athenæum, 12 Feb. 1876; Medical Directory, 1875, and Obituary, 1876, where, however, the date of King's death is wrongly given as 18 Feb.; Markham's Arctic Navy List; information kindly supplied by J. B. Bailey, esq., Royal College of Surgeons; King's works in British Museum Library.]

T. S.