Richard Henry Major

Birth: 1818


Richard Henry Major (1818-1891), geographer, was born on 3 Oct. 1818 in London. His father, Richard Henry Major, belonged to an old Jersey family, and, after studying medicine under Abernethy, practised his profession in Handworth parish, Jersey. In January 1844 he was appointed an assistant in the department of printed books in the British Museum, in charge of the maps and charts, and in January 1867 he became keeper of the newly created department of printed maps and plans.

Major was hon. secretary to the Hakluyt Society, 1849-1858, for which he edited several accounts of travels. He was also from 1861 to 1881 hon. secretary, and from 1881 to 1884 vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society. He received from Pedro V of Portugal the knighthood of the Tower and Sword, from Luis I of Portugal the companionship of the same order and the knighthood of the order of Santiago, from the emperor of Brazil the knighthood of the order of the Rose of Brazil, and from the king of Italy the knight commandership of the Crown of Italy, all which honors were bestowed on him in recognition of his publications on the early geographical discoveries of the Portuguese and Italians. He resigned his post at the Museum from lack of health in 1880, and died on 25 June 1891 at his house in Holland Road, Kensington. He married, on 3 June 1847, Miss Sarah Elizabeth Thorn, who died at Florence in 1890. By her he had two daughters.

Major's chief work was'The Life of Prince Henry of Portugal, surnamed the Navigator,' 1868. Although ill-arranged, it embodies much valuable information.'The Discoveries of Prince Henry the Navigator and their Results' followed in 1877.'The Bibliography of the First Letter of Christopher Columbus, describing his Discovery of the New World,' 1872, is of great interest. Major also published translations of Count Cavour's'Speech on the Treaty of Navigation and Commerce between Sardinia and France,' 1852; of a report of the'Consiglio del Contenzioso Diplomatico of Sardinia and Piedmont on the Seizure of the Cagliari,' &c., 1858; and of E. Banning's'Africa and the Brussels Geographical Conference,' 1877.

For the Hakluyt Society Major prepared: 1.'Select Letters of Christopher Columbus,' a translation, 1st edit. 1847, 2nd edit. 1878. 2. W. Strachey's 'The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia,' 1849. 3. Translation of Baron S. von Herberstein's' Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii,' 1851. 4. Introduction to the reprint of R. Parke's early translation of'The History of the Great and Mighty Kingdom of China, by J. Gonsalez de Mendoza,' 1853. 5. Introduction to P. J. d'Orleans's'History of the Two Tartar Conquerors of China,' 1854. 6.'India in the Fifteenth Century. Being a Collection of Narratives of Voyages to India,' 1857. 7.'Early Voyages to Australia,' 1859. 8.'On the Discovery of Australia by the Portuguese in 1601,' &c., 1861. 9. Translation of'The Canarian, composed by P. Bontier and J. Le Verrier,' 1872. 10. Translation of'The Voyages of the Venetian Brothers, N. and A. Zeno, to the Northern Seas in the XIVth Century,' 1873.

[Moon's Men and Women of the Time, 13th edit.; Times, 27 June 1891; information supplied by the family; Edinburgh Review, July 1868.]


Edward John Long Scott, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 35. pg. 389.

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