Wolverhampton BTW

Claudius James Rich

Rich, Claudius James, c.1786—1821

by Benjamin Colbert

Claudius James Rich was born near Dijon, Burgundy, on 28 March 1786 or 1787, probably the illegitimate son of Colonel Sir James Cockburn, fifth baronet (1723-1809; ODNB) and an unknown mother. Rich was Cockburn’s mother’s maiden name. He grew up in Bristol and Kilkenny and evinced at an early age a facility with ancient and modern languages, including Arabic and Persian.

In 1803, he became a cadet in the East India Company (EIC) service, and was soon recommended to the Bombay civil service by the EIC librarian, Charles Wilkins. He embarked early in 1804 for Egypt to improve his Arabic and Turkish, visiting Italy en route long enough to acquire Italian and gain the EIC directors permission to continue his studies in Constantinople and Smyrna. Over the next two years he travelled widely in Syria and Palestine, sometimes passing as a Mamlûk. In 1807, he made his way to Bombay, travelling overland as far as Baghdad and by sea from Basrah, arriving on 1 September. There he resided with the East India Company recorder, Sir James Mackintosh, with whom he had previously corresponded and whose eldest daughter, Mary Mackintosh (1789-1876), he married on 22 January 1808.

Shortly thereafter he took up an appointment as the EIC’s resident at Baghdad, which he held until 1821. He was not overly taxed with company affairs during these years and found time to amass an extensive collection of oriental manuscripts, coins, and other historical materials, some of which were purchased after his death by the British Library. In 1811 he visited Babylon, but delayed publishing an account, Memoirs on the Ruins of Babylon, until 1815. In the meantime, he had from October 1813 to May 1816 taken leave from his duties on account of ill health and sought a change of air in Europe, travelling with his wife overland to Constantinople, and from there to Vienna and Paris. Upon his return, a second trip to Babylon resulted in his Second Memoir on Babylon (1818), and both excursions were memorialized in his posthumously published Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon (1839).

In 1820, he took leave again to recuperate from ill health through change of scene. This time he and Mary Rich travelled to Kurdistan, returning by sites at Nineveh and Persia. It was the account of this journey that Mary Rich first edited and published after his death as Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan (1836). Soon after their return to Baghdad, Claudius Rich was recalled to India before redeployment, but he was delayed by an armed attack on the Residency that he managed to repel. After this, he removed to Bussora and in the interlude, while waiting for instructions from his superiors, he passed his time on a solitary excursion to Shiraz. This proved to be ill timed as Rich contracted cholera during an outbreak of the disease. He died near Shiraz on 5 October 1821.


Anon. ‘Brief Notice of the Life of Mr. Rich’. Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan. By Claudius James Rich. Ed. Mary Rich. London: James Duncan, 1836. 1: [xv]-xxxiii. 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


Title Published
Narrative of a Residence in Koordistan 1836
Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon 1839

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