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Richardson, John (1787–1865)

Born in Dumfries, Scotland on November 5, 1787, Richardson studied medicine at Edinburgh. As surgeon to John Franklin’s first Land Arctic Expedition, he collected natural history specimens in present-day Saskatchewan from October 23, 1819 to July 10, 1820, and from June 12–20, 1822. During the second expedition, he passed through this area from June 15 to July 23, 1825. After mapping much of Great Bear Lake and the Arctic Ocean shore from the mouth of the Mackenzie to the mouth of the Coppermine, he walked to Carlton to be in time for the 1827 spring bird migration. He left Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake on Christmas day 1826, entered Saskatchewan at Methye Portage in late January, and arrived at Carlton on February 12, 1827, where he stayed until May 21. He was at Cumberland House from May 24 to June 18. His assistant naturalist on the second expedition was Thomas Drummond. As surgeon with John Franklin’s two Land Arctic expeditions, Richardson in 1819–22 and 1825–27 described many new species or subspecies of plants, birds and Mammals, and one new species of fish from the Saskatchewan River. This inventory of local natural history, published in five volumes, was more complete than for any other “pre-settlement” area in North America, and led to Richardson’s recognition as the greatest surgeon-naturalist in the history of the British Empire. In 1848, he came through Saskatchewan in the fastest canoe travel recorded, en route to the Arctic to search for his missing former chief, John Franklin. In later life he was physician in charge at Haslar Hospital (England), then the largest brick building in the empire and the largest hospital in the world. He retired to Grasmere, in the English lake country, where he died on June 5, 1865.

C. Stuart Houston

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Further Reading

Houston, C.S. 1999. “List of New Species Added to North American Natural History, 1825–1827, by Surgeon-Naturalist John Richardson.” Pp. 391–400 in R.C. Davis (ed.), Sir John Franklin’s Journals and Correspondence: The Second Arctic Land Expedition. Toronto: Champlain Society.
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