Alnwick and District Local History Society, October meeting

At the October meeting of the Alnwick and District Local History Society, Jane Bowen talked about The Life and Times of Dr Henry Richardson – a Very Busy Man! Not only busy, but he had led a fascinating life.

Jane showed us his photograph, taken in 1884 shortly before he died, which he particularly liked.

He was then 64, having been born in 1817. His father, also called Henry, had come from London to start work as an apprentice to a printer. He must have had local links, as he was able to set up his own printing business in 1807, and found the Berwick Advertiser.

In 1812, he married Catherine, a grocer’s widow with one son, Andrew. She had three more children.

Tragedy struck when Henry was only six, his father died, and his mother took over the management of their businesses. Money was short, however, and the two eldest children went out to work.

Henry was fortunate to receive a free education, because his father was a Freeman of the town.

He went to the Corporation Academy, then the Grammar School. At 14, he went to the Edinburgh Royal High School for two years, and then spent a year at Edinburgh University.

After this, he wanted to become assistant to the editor at the newspaper, but this fell through.Law was next considered, but, probably for financial reasons, he trained as a doctor at Edinburgh.

In 1839/40 he become a Medical Officer in the Navy, as an Assistant Surgeon. He went to Hong Kong at the outset of the Opium Wars, and later to Africa where the Navy was blockading the coast against the slave trade. Here, they started using quinine as a preventative, as well as a treatment, for malaria.

He had short periods in England between these long postings, and then, in April 1859, he joined a convict ship travelling to Australia.

He clearly did a good job on the ship, as they arrived with two more passengers than they had started out with, two babies having been delivered at sea!

He returned again to England, intending another voyage. However, he stayed in Berwick in charge of training ships, and was promoted to Senior Surgeon.

The boys were poor and undernourished. Many had chilblains, and there were many accidents, some fatal.

Jane Bowen thought it likely that he only took this job to stay in Berwick, as he could see that his half-brother Andrew, who managed the newspaper, was terminally ill. When he died, Henry did not leave his naval post for a year, while suitable arrangements for his replacement were made.

He took charge of the newspaper, the job he had really wanted to do nearly 30 years before.

He was at last in a position to marry, and chose Margaret Crossman, the daughter of a brewer in her 30s.

He threw himself into the life of the town, serving as Sheriff for a year, becoming a JP, governor of the school etc.

Henry’s diaries of 1884-5, which are the only ones now extant, reveal a happy married life, though this was marred as his wife got on badly with his sister.

The couple had four children. Henry died in October 1885. His funeral was very well attended, and his obituary was full of praise of his cheerfulness, his kind heart, and of his work as JP.

There was no mention of his extensive travels around the world. Presumably this was a part of his life he never talked about – it had been interesting, but probably rather harrowing at times. Did he want to forget it?

The next meeting of the Society will be at 7.30pm on Tuesday, November 25, when Mike Thompson will be talking about the Empire of the Britons - the Remnants of Rome.