Richard Walker

9th Oct 1760 - 1801


Biography

Liverpool merchant, nephew and co-heir of Richard Watt I (q.v) and father of Richard Watt Walker (q.v.), John Walker (q.v.) and Elizabeth Watt Walker.

  1. Richard Walker was the son of Richard Watt I’s sister, Elizabeth (d.1800), and John Walker, a merchant, and was born on 9 October 1760 and baptised on 6 November at St Peter’s Church, Liverpool.

  2. His father died relatively young in March 1769, leaving Elizabeth as a widow with a young son. In 1772, Watt I wrote to his sister, ‘Fate has been a little hard on you, but still your situation in life is a most agreeable one. You have a son that would do honour to any mother and you have a most plentiful fortune both for yourself and your son. Only take care to give him an education equal to his capacity and he will be a blessing and a pleasure to you in your old age.’

  3. Although we don’t know about his early education, he matriculated from Hertford College, Oxford, on 9 February 1778. By the time he was 18, the young man was eager to enter the world of business but his uncle cautioned ‘he is noways qualified to go into a merchant’s counting house, if he goes into trade he must learn to write figures and bookkeeping first.’ When Watt was thoroughly frustrated with his older nephew, Richard junior, in 1781 he wrote to his other partner, Thomas Rawson, ‘pray get my nephew Walker forward in bookkeeping. I have ordered him to put himself under any clever Master to learn to write a good strong hand and bookkeeping with figures and accounts.’

  4. Walker clearly took his uncle’s advice and in 1784, aged 24, he was taken into the family firm. With the departure of Thomas Rawson in 1785 and the effective retirement to Yorkshire of his cousin, Richard Watt junior, a couple of years later, Walker became his uncle’s closest partner. The firm was renamed ‘Watt and Walker’ and he seems to have taken an increasingly active part in the business. This did not prevent him from engaging in other ventures and in November 1786 he was the largest shareholder in the ship Sarah, in conjunction with the captain of the vessel, Caleb Fletcher, and his cousin Richard Watt junior. Fletcher was to become a considerable merchant and ship owner in his own right and a regular partner of both Walker and Watt junior. Indeed, Fletcher is listed as the fourth largest ship owner in Liverpool between 1786 and 1804. Walker himself was listed in twenty-second place.

  5. Walker also established himself as a respected member within the Liverpool mercantile community. When Britain declared war on France in 1793, after the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, trade was disrupted and many ships were attacked and seized by French warships and privateers. In early 1795 Walker chaired a meeting of Liverpool merchants which called on the Mayor to send a petition to the government to sue for peace. Richard Watt senior headed the list of some 50 petitioners, most of whom were fellow merchants.

  6. After his uncle’s death in November 1796, Walker maintained the family business until his own early death in 1801. He continued to import large quantities of sugar and rum and increasing quantities of coffee and logwood. In the three years 1797 to 1799, the firm imported an average of 3100 hogsheads of sugar, 900 puncheons of rum and 85 tons of logwood a year, quantities comparable to the earlier years of the decade. In January 1800 he was offering between 100 and 200 hogsheads of Jamaican sugar for sale by auction and in May of the same year he had 522 bags of Carthagena cotton for sale at his warehouse in Hanover Street.

  7. Walker continued to invest in new ships. In February 1797, only a few months after his uncle’s death, he attended the launch at the yard of Edward Grayson of the Watt a ‘remarkably fine three-decker ship’, named in honour of his uncle. ‘The tide was very high, the launch very fine, and having a large band of military music on board, playing martial tunes, the whole proved highly gratifying to a vast concourse of spectators which had assembled on the occasion.’

  8. Like his uncle, Walker was also tempted to make a foray into the slave trade. In 1800, in conjunction with his cousin Richard Watt junior and Caleb Fletcher, he sent the Kenyon on two voyages to Bonny transporting 380 Africans to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and later 279 Africans to Martinique. He was to die before the vessel was shipwrecked on her way back to Liverpool in early 1802.

  9. Walker seems to have maintained some of his uncle’s connections in Jamaica for in October 1797 he advertised for ‘Several young men, to superintend the planting business, or what is called book-keepers’ for the estates of John and Charles Ellis.

  10. Walker married 19-year old Martha Wilson, the daughter of Edward Wilson, a Liverpool slave trader, on 10 December 1788 at St Anne’s Church, Liverpool. In the following September they had a daughter, Elizabeth Watt Walker, but his wife died the following month as a result of the birth. He remarried in June 1790 at St Mary’s Walton-on-the-hill, just outside Liverpool, taking as his wife Alethea James. She had been born in 1769 and was the daughter of William James, also a local merchant. They had two sons, Richard Watt Walker, who was born on 3 July 1792 and John Walker, born in July 1795.

  11. He seems to have had interests outside commerce, however, and was an officer and trustee of the Liverpool Infirmary, a governor of the Dispensary and Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire in 1798. He also lived in some style. One of his obituaries commented, ‘Mr Walker’s style of living was equal, in splendor, to that of many noblemen, and exceeded by very few.’ He was particularly interested in horticulture and was the first President of the Liverpool Botanic Garden. After his death his ‘extensive and choice collection of stove and green house plants… and a quantity of fruiting and succession pine plants, with sundry garden utensils’ were sold by auction ‘on the 1st of April next, and following days.’ He had also taken up horse racing and a month after his death, there was a sale of some 10 thoroughbred horses, many with very distinguished pedigrees. His activities and interests extended outside Liverpool too, and he maintained a house in Stanhope Street in Mayfair, London. According to the diarist Hester Thrale, later Mrs Piozzi, his second wife Alethea was a noted society hostess and the fashionable landscape gardener Humphry Repton recalled how he fitted up their London house with ‘flowery garlands and coloured lamps’ for a masquerade attended by the Prince of Wales. The Staffordshire Advertiser also commented that his ‘hospitalities were well-known in the metropolis.’

  12. Walker and his family seem to have moved into his uncle’s old home at Oak Hill in 1796 and at the time of his death he was living there, presumably by arrangement with his cousin Richard Watt, whose youngest son Francis had inherited the property but was still a minor. In 1800, in the final year of his life, however, he had followed his uncle’s example and bought an estate at Michelgrove in Sussex, which included a fashionable castellated mansion. It cost the substantial sum of £115,000, more than Watt senior had paid for either Speke or Bishop Burton. He immediately instituted alterations to the house under the direction of the architect, George Byfield (c.1753-1801), adding a conservatory, a drawing room and dining room, though these seem not to have been completed by the time of his death in 1801. In a codicil to his will Walker asks his executors to complete the interior work in ‘a plain and neat’ way so that the house could become the residence of his wife. His executors were Thomas Rawson junior and Caleb Fletcher, two close business associates from Liverpool.

  13. Humphrey Repton had also been asked to prepare proposals for the grounds of Michelgrove but, because of Walker’s death, these were never carried out. Commenting on this, Repton gives us an interesting insight into the character of Walker: "The plate of Michel Grove house had been engraved when the death of its late possessor put a stop, for the present to these extensive plans of improvement, which from his perfect approbation and decisive rapidity would, probably by this time have been completed. Whatever disappointment I may feel from this melancholy interruption in my most favourite plan, I must still more keenly regret the loss of a valuable friend, and a man of true taste; for he had more celerity of conception, more method in decision, and more punctuality and liberality in execution, than any person I ever knew."

  14. Richard Walker died at Oak Hill, near Liverpool on 15 October 1801, but was buried in the church of St Mary the Virgin, in Clapham, near to his new Sussex home, a fortnight later on 29 October. A notice in the Hull Packet may, perhaps, sum up the feelings of the time ‘universally and deeply regretted Richard Walker Esqre who is believed to have united in as great a degree as any man of his age, the eminent merchant and the accomplished gentleman; distinguished alike in the commercial world, and in the world of fashion.’

  15. As well as bringing up their children, his wife, Alethea, continued her role as society hostess. In April 1805 the Morning Post reported that, ‘Mrs Walker opens her elegant house, in George Street, for the first time, in early May.’ Sadly, she died there on 10 June of that year. A marble mural monument was erected in the church at Clapham, near Michelgrove, commemorating Richard and Alethea and also his daughter, Elizabeth, who had died in 1804.

Sources

We are grateful to Anthony Tibbles for compiling this entry.

  1. Liverpool Record Office PET/3/1.

  2. John Walker was buried at St Peter’s, Liverpool, 2 April 1769, Drl/2/129; Richard Watt to Elizabeth Walker, 10 July 1772, John Rylands Library, Manchester, Ms 1390.

  3. Richard Walker, son of John, was aged 17, Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxoniensis (1715-1886) vol. 4, pp. 1886, 1486; Richard Watt to Richard Watt junior, 8 September 1780, LRO 920/WAT/1/2/1; Richard Walker to Thomas Rawson, 22 June 1781 LRO 920/WAT/1/2/1.

  4. Robert Craig and Rupert C. Jarvis (Liverpool Registry of Merchant Ships (1967), p. 45 and Table 20, p. 195.

  5. Manchester Mercury, 10 February 1795.

  6. Figures compiled from Manchester Mercury, 1 January 1797 - 31 December 1799; Gore’s General Advertiser 16 January 1800, Gore’s General Advertiser, 8 May 1800.

  7. Gomer Williams, History of the Liverpool privateers and letters of marque with an account of the Liverpool slave trade (1897), pp. 354-355.

  8. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database refs. 82123 and 82124.

  9. Chester Courant, 24 October 1797.

  10. First marriage: LRO 283 ANN/3/2 and relationship to Edward Wilson confirmed by his will, PRO11/1406/220. Elizabeth Watt Walker, born 29 September 1788, baptised 11 May 1790, St Thomas, Liverpool; Martha Walker buried 28 October 1788, St Thomas, Liverpool, LRO 283 THO/2/1. Second marriage: Parish register, 1 June 1790. Alethea James born 19 June, baptised 9 July 1769, daughter of William James of Rainsford Gardens, Liverpool, Merchant, LRO 283 NIC/1/5. Richard Watt Walker born 3 July, baptised 4 August 1792, St George, Liverpool, LRO 283 GEO/1/2.

  11. Universal British Directory of trade, commerce and manufactures (London, 1792-8)(newspaper). Obituary: Cumberland Pacquet, 6 October 1801. William Roscoe, 'An address delivered before the proprietors of the botanic garden in Liverpool, previous to opening the garden, 3rd May 1802' (1802), p. 7. Auction of his plants: Manchester Mercury, 23 March 1802. Sale of his horses: Chester Courant, 17 November 1801. House in Stanhope Street from his will, PROB11/1369. Edward and Lillian Bloom, eds., The Piozzi Letters: 1799-1804 (1992) p. 285n; Stephen Daniels ‘Scenic transformation and landscape improvement: temporalities in the garden design of Humphry Repton’ in Marc Treib, Representing landscape architecture (2005), p. 52. Staffordshire Advertiser, 24 October 1801.

  12. Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1801, p. 966; A. P. Baggs, C. R. J. Currie, C. R. Elrington, S. M. Keeling and A. M. Rowland, edited by T. P. Hudson, A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1, Bramber Rape (Southern Part) (1980), pp. 10-21; J. P. Neale, Views of the seats of noblemen and gentlemen (1828), vol. 5; Arundel Castle Archives, NRA 12614; PROB 11/1369.

  13. Baggs et al. (1980) pp. 10-21; John Claudius Loudon, The landscape gardening and landscape architecture of the late Humphry Repton, esq. (1840), p. 273.

  14. Hull Packet, 27 October 1801.

  15. Morning Post, 10 April 1805; Morning Post, 10 April 1805; Baggs et al. (1980), pp. 10-21; Robert Hutchinson, The brasses and monuments in St Mary the Virgin church, Clapham, West Sussex (1988), p. 25. Elizabeth Watt Walker died at her mother’s home in George Street, Hanover Square, London, in April 1804, Oxford Journal 21 April 1804.


Further Information

Absentee?
British/Irish
Spouse
[1] Martha Wilson [2] Alethea James
Children
With (1) Elizabeth Watt Walker (1789-1804); with [2] Richard Watt Walker (1792-), John (1795-)
Will

PROB 11/1369/75.

Will of Richard Walker of Oak Hill Lancashire proved 22/01/1802. In the will, made in 1801, he described himself as of Oak Hill and also of Stanhope Street, identifies his uncle as Richard Watt Esq., his eldest son as Richard Watt Walker and his daughter as Elizabeth Watt Walker, and refers to the purchase of an estate in Sussex (which later he referred to as 'Mitchell Grove'). He confirmed his marriage settlement under which he had pledged £30,000 to the younger children of his marriage to his 'present wife' (later identified as Alethea) and an annuity of £1500 p.a. to her, and he left £20,000 to John, the only younger son 'by my present wife', over and above the £30,000. He urged that his two partners in Richard Walker & Co. - Richard Pillfold and Thomas Rawson junior - continue the business '(except the shipping)' until his son John reached the age of 21, and authorised his executors to leave £50,000 in the business.

University
Oxford (Hertford) [1778 ]
Occupation
Merchant

Legacies Summary

Cultural (1)

Officer and trustee
Liverpool Infirmary and Dispensary...... 

Physical (1)

Country house
Michelgrove [Purchased] 
description →
Bought by Richard Walker in 1800. He immediately instituted alterations to the house under the direction of the architect, George Byfield (c.1753-1801), adding a conservatory, a drawing room and...

Political (1)

Local Government
 
office →
Deputy-Lieutenant
1798 -

Relationships (3)

Father → Son
Father → Son
Nephew → Uncle

Addresses (3)

Michelgrove, Arun, Sussex, South-east England, England
Notes →

Bought in 1800, ordered renovations but died before the work was finished.

Oak Hill House, Old Swan, Liverpool, Lancashire, Merseyside, North-west England, England
Stanhope Street, London, Middlesex, London, England