RICHARDSON, HUGH, shipowner and captain, and office-holder; b. 12 June 1784 in London, England, second son of Thomas Richardson, a West Indies merchant; d. 2 Aug. 1870 at Toronto, Ont.
Hugh Richardson left school and went to sea in 1798, serving with distinction until he was taken captive by the French in 1810. Imprisoned at Verdun, Arras, and Paris, he was not released until 1818. He married that year and in the spring of 1821 he and his wife Frances came to Canada; they were to have a large family.
In 1823 he became a captain in the 2nd Regiment of militia at York (Toronto), under the command of John Beverley Robinson, was promoted major in 1830, and transferred to the reserve in 1831. Richardson was appointed a district coroner for Niagara in 1824, Newcastle in 1828, and Home in 1830. In 1825 he organized the construction of the steamer Canada, designed for the York–Hamilton–Niagara run. Its maiden voyage was on 7 Aug. 1826. Richardson went to England in 1827 to raise money to make himself managing-owner, but the purchase put him in financial difficulties. In 1832, although he had paid off £1,040 in interest and £300 in principal on his debts and had a net profit of £1,946, he was not prospering. “Sink I often think I shall – founder in the midst of a mine of gold, with a millstone about my neck,” he wrote J. B. Robinson. Nevertheless, in 1835 he purchased the steamer Constitution, renamed Transit, operated that year on a semi-weekly circuit with stops at Toronto, Port Hope, Cobourg, Rochester, Hamilton, and Oakville. The next year the Transit took over the Canada’s Toronto–Niagara–Lewiston itinerary and the latter ship was sold for £1,400.
Deeply interested in the improvement of Toronto harbour, Richardson in 1833 had published a pamphlet, York harbour, which advocated several improvements. At his own expense he had lighted the harbour entrance until 1833 and provided buoys and beacons until 1837. In 1833 Richardson, J. G. Chewett, and William Chisholm* had been appointed commissioners to improve the harbour with a £2,000 grant, and in 1837–38 he and George Gurnett sat on another commission which for £2,375 extended the government wharf and built a new lighthouse.
Richardson supported the Church of England and had his sons educated at Upper Canada College. He was appointed a magistrate of the Home District in 1837. When the rebellion broke out that December, Lady Head, the Robinson family, and the wives and children of officials took refuge on Richardson’s Transit in Toronto harbour at Archdeacon John Strachan’s suggestion. On 7 December the Transit sailed to Niagara to warn that town of the rebellion, and in 1838 it was sometimes used to transport troops. Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head* appointed Richardson to a special magistracy in 1838.
Apparently hoping to improve his finances by expansion, Richardson purchased the Queen Victoria from James Lockhart for £7,000 in 1839; in 1842 he had the Chief Justice Robinson constructed. Both ships joined the Transit on the Toronto–Niagara route, but rival American lines pushed Richardson into a disastrous rate-cutting war with a Canadian competitor, Donald Bethune. In 1846 Richardson declared bankruptcy, and in 1847 his fleet and other assets were sold at what he considered a poor price. Richardson moved to Montreal and captained the John Munn, plying between Montreal and Quebec. In 1849 he was captain of his former Transit, which was running as a ferry in the Montreal area.
Richardson was appointed first harbourmaster of Toronto in 1850. The post gave him an important social position in the city; by the 1860s it paid a salary of $1,600 and $300 for rent. The first board of harbour commissioners included his old colleagues, Gurnett and Chewett, as well as Thomas Clarkson* and Peter Paterson* representing the Board of Trade. With their cooperation Richardson began work on the harbour, which he felt was in an advanced state of decay. The Queen’s Wharf was improved and extended, Kivas Tully* superintending much of the work. In addition the Western Gap was widened and repaired and the Eastern Gap (created by storms in 1858) came into use.
Though paralysed for about the last three years of his life, Richardson retained his office until his death. He was described by Henry Scadding* as “a man of chivalrous temperament. His outward physique, moreover, corresponded with his character. His form was lithe, graceful and officer-like.” A popular figure in 19th-century Toronto, he probably did more than anyone else to develop its facilities as a lake port.
Hugh Richardson, York harbour (York [Toronto], 1833). MTCL, Vaughan Maurice Roberts papers, 3, pp.1–112; 6, pp.43, 90; 15, pp.7–8. PAC, RG 1, E3, 89, pp.212, 214–17. PAO, Robinson (John Beverley) papers, 13 Jan. 1833, 22 March 1847, 29 March 1848, 1 Dec. 1849; Street (Samuel) papers, 3 May 1839. Daily Telegraph (Toronto), 3 Aug. 1870. Globe, 3 Aug. 1870. Scadding, Toronto of old (1873), 548, 550–55, 558–63, 565, 572, 575–76. Erik Heyl, Early American steamers (6v., Buffalo, N.Y., 1953–67), II, 23, 37, 215; VI, 53, 70–71, 264–65. Landmarks of Can., I, nos.517, 589, 2544. Middleton, Municipality of Toronto, I, 169, 440, 444–45, 460. Robertson’s landmarks of Toronto, II, 850, 852–53, 856–57, 860–61, 864, 871–72, 878, 880–81, 888, 938.