JOHNSON, Richard (1753-1807), of 104 Pall Mall, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



14 June 1791 - Feb. 1794

Family and Education

b. 1753, yr. s. of Dr Johnson of The Hague, Holland; bro. of Thomas Johnson (1744-1817) and of Mary (1749-1827), wife of Alexander Blair of Castle Bromwich, Warws. m. 1 Mar. 1792, Sophia, da. of John Courtenay*, 1s. 4da.

Offices Held

Writer E. I. Co. (Bengal) 1769; asst. accountant’s office 1771; asst. to gov. 1772-3, 1779-80; dep. accountant, board of revenue 1774; factor 1775, jun. merchant 1779, sen. merchant 1782; judge adv.-gen. 1775; asst. resident, Lucknow 1780-2, Hyderabad 1784-5; accountant-gen. 1785; chairman, Bank of India 1786; supernumerary, board of revenue 1789; home 1790.


Johnson is not to be confused with Sir Joshua Reynolds’s nephew of the same name.1 He had a chequered career in India, though his administrative ability was unquestionable.2 Warren Hastings, whose confidence he at first enjoyed, was dissatisfied with his ‘endeavouring to accumulate his own personal fortune’ as an official at Lucknow. He was recalled, but denied the charges and resumed his career. Until 1785 he was also in partnership with Charles Croftes, dealing in real estate at Calcutta, but Croftes ruined the business during his absence. The same year he was recalled from Hyderabad both as a result of charges brought against him by his successor at Lucknow and for exceeding his brief with the nizam. He nevertheless resumed his career in financial administration. Nor did he mean to quit the service when, for health and family reasons, he proceeded to England in June 1790. He had made an ample fortune. He obtained, but did not avail himself of, leave to return privately to Bengal in 1791. Late in 1792 he became a partner in a London bank (with his former associates in India, Nathaniel Middleton and George Templer*). Warren Hastings, despite his mistrust of him, left his financial affairs in his hands.3 Between 1790 and 1801 he corresponded with Henry Dundas on Indian affairs, mostly on finance, on which he compiled memoranda.

In June 1791 Johnson entered Parliament as a guest of Thomas Hutchings Medlycott at Milborne Port. He spoke once, 28 Mar. 1792, at Lord Cornwallis’s request, in defence of the war against Tipu, which he denied was aggressive and described as ‘advantageous in its probable issue’. This was on the eve of his marriage, which was followed by an Italian tour. In May 1793 he informed Dundas from Florence that he was unable to attend the forthcoming debate on Indian affairs, so he submitted his proposals for the management of East India Company possessions to him instead.4 In February 1794 he resigned his seat in favour of another nabob, Mark Wood.

By 1800 Johnson was in financial difficulties. A year later he drew up a ‘plan for liquidating the Indian debt’, but he was sinking under his own. In 1807, ailing in health, he began to wind up his affairs in England with a view to returning to India. His banking partners were reduced to a similar plight. His unique collection of oriental paintings and manuscripts was thus acquired by the directors of the East India Company for only £3,150. He died at Brighton, 19 Aug. 1807, before he was ready for his voyage: the fact was that he was insolvent. His brother-in-law, Alexander Blair, pointed out that he had absorbed his family’s endowment into his banking business. As a co-trustee of Johnson’s marriage settlement he was obliged to find £300 p.a. for the widow and £8,000 for the children on her death, although he had already restored to Johnson Mrs Blair’s dowry with interest and lately supplied him with credits of £4,100, including £1,500 for his return to India.5

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. W. Anderson


  • 1. Susan M. Radcliffe, Sir Joshua’s Nephew 1769-78, p. 119.
  • 2. Papers of his, mostly of Indian interest, are in the John Rylands Lib. Eng. mss 173, 177-9, 181, 183, 185, 188-196.
  • 3. Add. 29154, f. 428; Bengal Past and Present, xxvii. 162; Som. RO, Dickinson mss DD264, Templer to Dickinson, 1 Oct. 1792; S. C. Grier, Letters of W. Hastings to his Wife, 308.
  • 4. India Office mss, Home misc. H/435.
  • 5. Grier, 264; Blair Adam mss, Johnson to Adam, 28 Apr. 1807, 5 Apr. 1808; India Office Lib. ‘Richard Johnson (1753-1807), Nabob, Collector and Scholar’ (exhibition cat. 1973); Gent. Mag. (1807), ii. 890.