Wolverhampton BTW

Mary Rich

Rich, Mary née Mackintosh, 1789—1876

by Benjamin Colbert

Mary Rich, née Mackintosh, was born in late 1789, possibly near Liège, the eldest child of James Mackintosh (1765-1832; ODNB), political writer and politician, and Catherine Mackintosh, née Stuart (d. 1797). At the time of her birth, her newly married parents were touring the Low Countries where her father collected the information on the French Revolution that would make him a leading reformist political writer in the 1790s, years in which his family were based in London.

Mary Mackintosh and her younger sister Maitland (1792-1861), with whom she was particularly close, lost their mother in April 1797. A year later, their father married Catherine Allen (d. 1830), sister-in-law of Josiah and John Wedgwood. His drift away from radical politics disillusioned friends but made possible his appointment in 1803 to a judgeship in Bombay, which came with a knighthood. On 14 February 1804, the Mackintosh family sailed for Bombay via the Cape of Good Hope, and Sir James Mackintosh began his duties as recorder on 27 May 1804. At Bombay, Mary Mackintosh’s Anglo-Indian adolescence took place within an apparently tight-knit, affectionate, and literary household (though she later admitted that her step-mother ‘never loved me, nor could I … gain her good opinion’ [MS letter, 29 Dec. 1809]).

On 1 September 1807, the young Oriental scholar Claudius James Rich (1786/7-1821; ODNB) arrived at Bombay to take up an East India Company writership, and was taken in by Sir James Mackintosh, with whom he had previously corresponded. Mackintosh’s protégé soon became his son-in-law, as he and Mary Mackintosh were married 22 January 1808. Claudius Rich had in the meantime been appointed East India Company resident at Bagdad, and Mary Rich spent her first two months of marriage on shipboard as they made their way from Bombay via the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates. Her letters home show a knack for descriptive and entertaining travel writing, developed in her first year by a pact with her sister Maitland to send each other journal ‘books’ of their respective experiences.

In Baghdad, Mary Rich made a point of adopting Islamic customs and dress, including the veil, a respect which she found greatly improved her acceptance and allowed her to develop friendships with local women. She applied her penmanship to helping her husband write dispatches and, for leisure, occupied herself with reading (she kept abreast of Maria Graham’s publications on India, but found them wanting). She also willingly joined her husband on archaeological excursions, including Babylon and Seleucia in 1811.

In 1811, Mary Rich’s father resigned his post at Bombay and returned to England to recuperate his health. Mary Rich’s husband, for health reasons, similarly took leave in 1813-16 and she travelled overland with him to Constantinople and from there to Bucharest, Vienna, and Paris, where she met Germaine de Staël, whose novels she had admired in Baghdad. She met her father, too, on an excursion to Basle, and returned with him to England in Spring 1815, while her husband remained in Paris. She rejoined him just before the battle of Waterloo, which they heard about at Venice as they began the return journey, again largely overland. Both she and her husband kept copious journals of these travels, all of which remain in manuscript. On their return to Baghdad, ill health dogged her husband, necessitating a second recuperative journey in 1820, when they visited Kurdistan, returning by sites at Nineveh and Persia. Mary Rich would later edit her husband’s account of this journey in Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan (1836), including in an appendix a very substantial ‘Fragment of a Journal from Bagdad to Sulimania, by Mrs. Rich’, the only publication of her own travel writings in her lifetime.

Her own health suffering, Mary Rich sailed for Bombay on 26 June 1821 while her husband, awaiting orders for his redeployment, undertook an excursion to Shirauz during which he died of cholera. After his death, Mary Rich left India for England where she stayed with family, keeping house for her father during the final years of his life and then residing from the 1830s with her half sister, Frances Wedgwood. In the 1820s she was instrumental in organising the Rich Collection, her husband’s extensive collection of oriental manuscripts, coins, and artefacts, for the sale to the British Museum (she received the £7,500 voted by Parliament in 1826). In the 1830s she published some of his own manuscripts in the Narrative of a Residence, already mentioned, and Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811 (1839).

In after years, Mary Rich formed many friendships in her association with the Wedgwood circle and was much regarded in company; on one occasion in 1852, Elizabeth Gaskell recalled how Mary Rich spent several days at her house ‘charming us all’ with her ‘never-ending accounts of her life’ (212). She lived until the age of 86 and died at Dorking, Surrey, on 19 September 1876.


Finlay, Christopher J. 'Mackintosh, Sir James, of Kyllachy (1765–1832), political writer and politician'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 7 Jan. 2010. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 Jan. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/17620

Gaskell, Elizabeth. Letter 141: To Marianne Gaskell [22 Nov. 1852], The Letters of Mrs Gaskell. Ed. J. A. V. Chapple and Arthur Pollard. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1966. 211-13. Print.

Lane-Poole, Stanley, and Elizabeth Baigent. 'Rich, Claudius James (1786/7–1821), traveller and collector of manuscripts and antiquities'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 3 Jan. 2008. Oxford University Press. Web. 10 Jan. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23483

Rich, Claudius James, and Mary Rich. Claudius James Rich Papers. Add MS 80751-80762: 1808-1825. British Lib., London.


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Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan 1836 Editor
Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon 1839 Editor
Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan 1836 Contributor

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