Death of John Lewis Ricardo, Esq., M.P. (The Gentleman’s Magazine)


Aug. 20. In Lowndes-square, aged 50, John Lewis Ricardo, Esq., M.P. for Stoke-upon-Trent.

The deceased was the son of Mr. Jacob Ricardo, the financier, and nephew of David Ricardo, the political economist. He was born in 1812. He entered Parliament in 1841 as member for Stoke, which place he represented until his decease. He was one of the earliest advocates of free trade, in connection with Mr. C. P. Villiers, and he aided materially in carrying the repeal of the Corn Laws. He made the Navigation Laws his particular study, and in 1847 he moved for a committee on the subject, and warmly supported the repeal of the restrictions on shipping. He was the author of a well-known work on that subject, “The History and Anatomy of the Navigation Laws,” and devoted much attention to the question of maritime rights in time of war. But he is more particularly to be noticed for his public services in connection with the electric telegraph, concerning which we borrow the following statement from “The Electrician:”—

“Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to whom is due the practical adaptation of electricity to the purposes of telegraphy, there can be no question that Mr. Ricardo it was who first succeeded in establishing tho electric telegraph on a firm and successful footing in this country. As is invariably the case with all undertakings containing any element of scientific novelty, there were difficulties raised, both real and imaginary, and objections made, by the sceptical as well as by the timid, at the outset of the Electric Telegraph Company, enough to discourage any but the most undaunted, far-sighted, and energetic; such a man Mr. Ricardo undoubtedly proved himself to be, by the manner in which he grappled with and overcame all these impediments, and eventually established the Telegraph Company on a firm basis, as an important commercial undertaking of the utmost possible value to the country at large.

“That rival companies have since been established, and vast improvements made in every department of telegraphy, does not, in our opinion, detract one iota from the credit of him to whose sagacity and perseverance is due the ‘planting’ if we may so term it, of the parent Company in this country, since it is impossible to say for how long a period the general use of this invaluable invention might have been delayed if Mr. Ricardo had been less persevering or less determined in carrying out the enterprise in question.* But he not only founded the Electric Telegraph Company, he watched over it, in his capacity of Chairman, with untiring care for upwards of ten years, seizing upon every opportunity of developing its resources, and of rendering it of greater benefit to the civilized world; and we believe we are safe in asserting that no public company ever received from its Chairman more constant and unwearied attention than was bestowed by Mr. Ricardo upon the affairs of the Electric and International Telegraph Company. As a commercial undertaking he raised it to considerable eminence; and such was the appreciation, by the shareholders, of his talented administration of their affairs, and such the attachment and respect felt by the officers and employees of the Company, that, on his retirement from the chair, they presented to him the very valuable addition to his library of upwards of 1,000 volumes, the selection of which was, with great delicacy and discretion, left to himself.

“Among the improvements introduced in the system of the Telegraph Company by him, may be mentioned the plan of franks, or franked message papers, by which much time and trouble were saved to the public; and also the employment of female clerks, an innovation of considerable importance in a social point of view.

“Mr. Ricardo was connected with many other important and useful undertakings. He was Chairman of the North Staffordshire Railway, from its first construction to the time of his decease; he was also Chairman of the Norwegian Trunk Railway, for the construction of which, for the Norwegian Government, he had contracted jointly with Sir Morton Peto and Mr. Brassey.

He was at one time Chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, and had been for many years a Director of the London and Westminster Bank.

“The great administrative powers and general aptitude for business which Mr. Ricardo displayed in his management of these various undertakings, was the more remarkable from the circumstance of his not having been originally educated or trained with a view to his becoming a man of business. It is, perhaps, scarcely within our province to enter upon any particulars of his early life, but we may be allowed to remind those of our readers, to whom the deceased gentleman was only known as a man of distinction in the political and commercial world, that Mr. Ricardo was once pre-eminent in every athletic sport and every daring amusement of a period when high spirit shewed itself in ways which would scarcely be appreciated or understood in these more sober times; and some of those with whom he was associated in business of late years will not have failed to perceive in the bold policy which Mr. Ricardo adopted on many trying occasions, a trace of that same dashing courage and fearlessness which prompted him on one occasion to perform the daring feat of riding a spirited horse, bare-backed, up a staircase and into a dining-room at Aylesbury.

“No thoughts of business had then been entertained by him. He had chosen the army for his profession, and was, it is said, actually gazetted to a commission in the Life Guards, when the death of his father, Mr. Jacob Ricardo, entirely changed his intended career, and he was induced to take up and carry out several of the large financial operations in which that gentleman had been engaged, amongst which was the Spanish Loan. From that time he appears to have become gradually engrossed with political and commercial affairs. It was greatly owing to his exertions that the Stade Tolls, a vexatious duty imposed by Hanover upon shipping ascending the Elbe, were recently abolished; and during the session just closed a notice of motion was given by him in respect to a revision of the Patent Laws, an important matter to which he had, on a former occasion, paid much attention.

“Mr. Ricardo was a man of refined taste and a great lover of the arts. He possessed a particularly fine collection of watercolour drawings and was himself no mean artist, having a remarkable talent for rapid and vigorous sketching.

“The illness, which has ended so fatally, commenced in February last, but it was only within a week of his decease that any alarming symptoms had manifested themselves. He had for many years been a terrible sufferer from gout, and it was often cause for surprise to those associated with him that he was able to attend, with so little remission, to the important interests entrusted to his management.”

In 1841 Mr. Ricardo married Lady Catherine, daughter of General the Hon. Sir Alexander Duff, of Dalgetty, Morayshire, and sister to the present Earl of Fife. He became possessed of consider-able property in Morayshire through his wife, and had been one of the Deputy-Lieutenants of that county since 1848.

“John Lewis Ricardo, Esq., M.P. Obituary.” 1862. The Gentleman's Magazine. Vol 213, October 1862, pp. 495-497. Web. 24 Jul. 2014.