seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Richard Robert Madden, Historian & Abolitionist

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Richard Robert Madden, Irish doctor, writer, abolitionist and historian of the Society of United Irishmen, is born on August 22, 1798. He takes an active role in trying to impose anti-slavery rules in Jamaica on behalf of the British government.

Madden is born at Wormwood Gate, Dublin to Edward Madden, a silk manufacturer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Corey). His father has married twice and fathered twenty-one children. Luckily for young Richard his father is still affluent enough by the time he is reaching adolescence to afford him a top quality education. This means private schools and a medical apprenticeship in Athboy, County Meath. He studies medicine in Paris, Italy, and St. George’s Hospital, London. While in Naples he becomes acquainted with Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington and her circle.

In 1828 Madden marries Harriet Elmslie, herself coincidentally the youngest of twenty one children. Born in Marylebone in 1801 and baptised there into the Church of England, she is the last child of John Elmslie, a Scot who owns hundreds of slaves on his plantations in Jamaica, and his wife Jane Wallace. Both Harriet’s parents are of Quaker stock, but while living in Cuba she converts to Roman Catholicism. On marriage, Madden stops travelling and practises medicine for five years.

Eventually he realises that he needs to contribute to the abolitionist cause. The slave trade has been illegal in the empire since 1807, but slaves still exist. Abolishing slavery is a popular cause and it is obvious that the trading of slaves is still in progress and many are not actively involved but they are complicit with the activity.

Madden is employed in the British civil service from 1833, first as a justice of the peace in Jamaica, where he is one of six Special Magistrates sent to oversee the eventual liberation of Jamaica’s slave population, according to the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. From 1835 he is Superintendent of the freed Africans in Havana. His son, Thomas More Madden, who later becomes a surgeon and writer, is born there. In 1839 he becomes the investigating officer into the slave trade on the west coast of Africa and, in 1847, the secretary for the West Australian colonies. He returns to Dublin and in 1850 is named secretary of the Office for Loan Funds in Dublin.

Richard Madden dies at his home in Booterstown, just south of Dublin, on February 5, 1886 and is interred in Donnybrook Cemetery.

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