Sir Richmond Campbell Shakespear (1812-1861): His Life and Papers

Topics: William Makepeace Thackeray, British Raj, Charles Dickens Pages: 5 (1499 words) Published: May 23, 2008
Note by Dr. Omar Shakespear Pound of Princeton University who during two visits to London (1988 and 1990) gave freely of his valuable time to the classification and filing of the Society's Shakespear papers.

SIR RICHMOND CAMPBELL SHAKESPEAR was born in India on 11 May, 1812. His father was John Talbot Shakespear (1783-1825) of the Bengal Civil Service; his mother, Emily Thackeray, eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, also of the B.C.S. and father of the novelist. The Shakespears had a long tradition of military and civil service in India, Afghanistan, Burma, and later in Kuwait where Captain W.H.I. Shakespear was Political Agent until his death in 1915. originally they came from a family of ropemakers in Shadwell, east of the Tower of London, where until well into the 19th century there was still a ropewalk named after them - Shakespear's Walk. With the enormous growth of shipping and trade to and from India through the London docks at the end of the seventeenth century the Shakespears soon found their sons going out to India as " writers ", or through the military school at Addiscombe and into the Indian Army. Whole families of Shakespears were born and raised in India, their children being sent to England for school and then returning to India, either in the civil service or the army. There was much intermarrying among what were then called Anglo-Indians, creating close family ties with the Thackerays, Ricketts, Irvines, Grants, Crawfords and Lows.

Richmond's closest schoolboy friend was William Makepeace Thackeray the future novelist. They were sent to England together to go to school and Thackeray's later descriptions of his early boarding-school life with Richmond in Sussex aged about ten and then with him at Charterhouse are well known to readers of Thackeray. Richmond's brother, George Trant Shakespear, who committed suicide in Geneva in 1844, was also at Charterhouse, and was a friend of Thackeray's and the basis of one of his major characters, Joseph Sedley in Vanicy Fair, as documented by the late Thackeray scholar, Gordon N. Ray.

After Charterhouse Richmond went to Addiscombe, then entered the Bengal Artillery, and served under Sir Robert Sale, Lord Keane, D'Arcy Todd, and other distinguished officers of the period. He was also given political duties, including the task of convincing the Khan of Khiva to release 416 Russian prisoners whom Shakespear then led on a hazardous trip to St. Petersburg, an account of which is published in part in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for June, 1842 [51: 691-720]. From St. Petersburg he went to England where he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1841.

The Russians did not appreciate Richmond's success since it did away with any immediate excuse to follow up General Perovsky's disastrous march on the great slave centre at Khiva a year earlier. Some modern Russian historians charge that the motive for the rescue was essentially political and not humanitarian. This claim is substantiated in the wording of Palmerston's recommendation to Queen Victoria that Richmond Shakespear be knighted:

... as a Reward for the ability and success with which he performed the difficult and important duty with which he was charged in his mission to Khiva. The service which Captain Shakespear had to execute was laborious and dangerous; but by prevailing upon the Khan of Khiva to let free all the Russian Prisoners and by carrying those Prisoners back to Russia, Captain Shakespear deprived the Russian Government of all Pretence for the renewed attack upon Khiva, which that Government would otherwise have attempted, and thus Captain Shakespear has very especially promoted British interests in Asia...

I wish to thank Miss Allison Derrett, Assistant Archivist of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle for the text of the original recommendation, dated 21 June 1841, quoted here by gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Early in 1842 Shakespear, serving...
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