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Rigby, Richard, 1722-1788



Richard Rigby PC was an English civil servant and politician who sat in the British House of Commons for 43 years from 1745 to 1788. He served as Chief Secretary for Ireland and Paymaster of the Forces. Rigby accumulated a fortune serving the Crown and politician wheeler-dealers in the dynamic 18th century parliament, and this money eventually ended up endowing the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Background and education

The Rigby family took Mistley Hall in Essex as the site of their manor, but was descended from the Rigby of Burgh family. Rigby's father and immediate ancestors made a fortune as merchant drapers in the City of London, as merchants and colonial officers in the West Indies, and as speculators in the South Sea Bubble. Richard Rigby's father also had the same name, and was significant in the history of Jamaica, serving as its Secretary, the Provost Marshal, and a member of the Royal Assembly in the late 17th and early 18th century.

He was also part-owner of a plantation in Antigua and a slave trader. His elder brother James also served as a colonial officer on the island. Richard and James Rigby were sons of Edward Rigby of Mistley Hall, a London draper and landowner based in Covent Garden, and Anne Hyde, a close cousin of Queen Anne (Hyde), Queen Anne, Queen Mary, and the Earl of Clarendon. Edward and Ann had a London town house in the parish of St Andrews High Holborn. Rigby was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the Middle Temple.

Political career

Rigby was elected Member of Parliament for Castle Rising in 1745, transferring to Sudbury at the next general election, and was initially a partisan of Frederick, Prince of Wales. Subsequently, he transferred his allegiance to the Duke of Bedford, sitting as Member of Parliament (MP) for the Bedford pocket borough of Tavistock and eventually becoming the Bedford Whigs' permanent "man of business" in the House of Commons.

In December 1755 he became a junior minister as one of the Lords of Trade and in 1757, he retained a seat in the Irish House of Commons for Old Leighlin, which he held until 1761. When Bedford was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1758, in a time of relative peace, Rigby accompanied him as Secretary; the following year he was appointed Master of the Rolls in Ireland. In theory this was a senior judicial office, but in practice it was then a sinecure and Rigby is said never to have sat as a judge. In 1762 Rigby was seriously considered for promotion to Secretary at War, but he preferred to remain in lucrative sinecures rather than to accept more substantive office, and instead was made in 1765 joint Vice Treasurer of Ireland.

In 1768, Rigby was transferred to the perhaps the most lucrative of all government posts, Paymaster of the Forces, which he held for the next 16 years. He took a prominent part in opposing John Wilkes, and later led objections to a public funeral for Pitt the Elder. When he died in 1788, he was said to have left "nearly half a million of public money".

Wealth Rigby spent much of his fortune reinvesting in the family seats of Mistley and Manningtree, employing the top architects and landscape artists of the day to build a port and a spa. The latter endeavour failed, but the ruins of Mistley Towers survive as a tourist destination. Though other members of the family continued to bear the Rigby name and arms, the bulk of Richard Rigby's wealth fell to his sister who married General Hale, and ultimately to the Pitt-Rivers family, whose members endowed the museum of that name, a treasurehouse of anthropological exotica, at Oxford University. Richard had an illegitimate daughter called Sarah by Sarah Lucas (widow of Ipswich)

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

George III, King of Great Britain document

Identifier: Mss 772325
Mss 772325
Date(s): 1772-05-25
Scope and Contents

George III, King of Great Britain document addressed to Richard Rigby authorising allowance for one year to certain officers and men of the Horse Guard the Court at St. James in [London, England]. Signed by Charles Jenkinsn, Charles Townshed and on other.

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