Richard Rigby

Richard Rigby PC (February 1722 – 8 April 1788), 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.

Richard Rigby
Chief Secretary for Ireland
In office
Preceded byHenry Seymour Conway
Succeeded byWilliam Gerard Hamilton

Background and educationEdit

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.[1]

Political careerEdit

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".


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.


  1. ^ "Rigby, Richard (RGBY738R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.


  • Concise Dictionary of National Biography (1930)
  • Lewis Namier & John Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754–1790 (London: HMSO, 1964)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Viscount Andover
Charles Churchill
Member of Parliament for Castle Rising
1745 – 1747
With: Viscount Andover
Succeeded by
The Lord Luxborough
Thomas Howard
Preceded by
Thomas Fonnereau
Carteret Leathes
Member of Parliament for Sudbury
With: Thomas Fonnereau
Succeeded by
Thomas Fonnereau
Thomas Walpole
Preceded by
Thomas Brand
Sir Richard Wrottesley
Member of Parliament for Tavistock
With: Jeffrey French 1754
Richard Vernon 1754–1761
Richard Neville Aldworth 1761–1774
Richard Fitzpatrick 1774–1788
Succeeded by
Richard Fitzpatrick
Lord John Russell
Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Hon. Robert Jocelyn
Thomas Carter
Member of Parliament for Old Leighlin
With: Thomas Carter
Succeeded by
John Bourke
Francis Andrews
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Seymour Conway
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Succeeded by
William Gerard Hamilton
Preceded by
George Cooke
Thomas Townshend
Paymaster of the Forces
Succeeded by
Edmund Burke
Preceded by
Henry Singleton
Master of the Rolls in Ireland
Succeeded by
The Duke of Leinster