Janet (“Jessie”) Richardson (1783–1828)
John Ruskinʼs aunt, sister of John James Ruskin, married in 1804 to Patrick Richardson (1774–1824) of Perth, Scotland. She was the mother of ten children. By the time Jessie herself died on 18 May 1828, six of the ten children had also died, including her namesake Janet (“Jessie”, 1820–27) and James (1808–26). Jessie, near to John Ruskin in age, was a playmate when the Ruskins visited the family in Perth; and James was an older youth, to whom Ruskin looked up in boyhood, when James resided at Herne Hill. In Praeterita, Ruskin frames his account of his aunt in terms of child deaths (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 1:xlviii–xlix, 8 n. 1; Viljoen, Ruskinʼs Scottish Heritage, 183, 185, 157; Ruskin, Works, 35:65).
When Jessie died on 18 May, the Ruskins were embarked on the Tour of 1828, where they received the news of her death on 24 May. John James acted immediately to make arrangements for the now orphaned, surviving children of Jessie and Patrick—the sons John Ruskin Richardson (1807–74), William Richardson (1811–75), and Andrew Richardson (b. 1817); and the daughter Mary Richardson (1815–49). John James was one of five trustees of a settlement by Jessieʼs husband, Patrick (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 1:197–98 n. 1).
John Jamesʼs household accounts show that, before 1828, he had already been supporting Maryʼs and Williamʼs educations, as well as sending money to his sister. In 1828 the headings of the expense lists for family charity change from “Mrs Richardson my Sister at Perth" to “John, Mary, Andw & Willm Richardson” in 1829, and then to “Mary, Willm & Andw Richardson” in 1830—John Ruskin Richardson being old enough, by that time, to be self‐supporting, although John James probably continued to lend support by helping him break into the wine business (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 1:14–15 n. 3; John James Ruskin, Account Book [1827–45], 4v, 13v, 18r, 23r).
The Ruskin family library included a tale, The Widow of Roseneath, which, published in 1822, might have been acquired for John as “A Lesson of Piety Affectionately Dedicated to the Young” to contemplate the consequences of the deaths of his Uncle Patrick, his cousins Jessie and James, and/or his Aunt Jessie. The tale relates the fate of a Scottish widow who (like Jessie Richardson) was reduced in circumstances by the death of her husband, and who must part with her two sons. One son emigrates to America and prospers, and the other son resorts to crime. The successful son is supported in America (as was the Richardson family in Perth) by his kindly uncle, who, like John James Ruskin, is a prudent merchant. The book might even have been shared between John and his cousins James and Mary, when the latter were living at Herne Hill and dependent on John Jamesʼs charity (see Books Used by Ruskin in His Youth; and for a plot summary of the tale and a brief commentary from an 1823 review, see Anonymous, The Widow of Roseneath (1822).
John James Ruskin, Account Book (1827–45), © The Ruskin, Lancaster University.