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), along with James (1808–26), both of whom were dear to John Ruskin. Jessie, who was nearer to John 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).
In the letters of John Jamesʼs mother, Catherine (1763–1817), she frequently mentions helping Jessie care for these children: “I have been a great deal at Perth and Jessy often here [in Edinburgh] since her Marriage” (for the Richardson residences in Perth, see Patrick Richardson). Catherine conveyed the appeal of Jessieʼs children to her “two darlings”, her son John James and his cousin, Margaret Cock. (John James had been making his way in London since 1801 at age sixteen, while in the same year Margaret had traveled from London to Edinburgh—and later, Perth—to live with her aunt and uncle and assist them.) Writing to John James about Jessieʼs eldest boy, John Ruskin Richardson (1807–74), she assured her son that he will admire a portrait of this “very fine engaging Child”, commissioned in watercolor from an artist “famous for doing Children” (probably William Douglas [1780–1832], well known as a miniaturist). When measles afflicted John James, Patrick (1810–18), and William (1811–75), Catherine was relieved to be “able to take some of the trouble from Jessy” but advised Margaret: “We ought to be very Carefull how we grieve for the death of an Infant” for “if they are taken we are sure they go to Eternal happiness and God only can tell whether they may be spared for A Blessing ar A Curse” (Catherine Ruskin to John Thomas Ruskin, 11 July 1809; Catherine Ruskin to John James Ruskin, 2 November 1807; Catherine Ruskin to Margaret Cock, 11 July 1812 in Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters 34, 33, 12, 50, 49; see 14 n. 3
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—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 1830John 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.
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