Richard Birnie

Richard Birnie

Richard Birnie was born in Scotland in 1760. Apprenticed as a saddler he moved to London where he found work with a company that supplied equipment to the Royal Family. Birnie impressed the owner of the company and he was eventually made a partner. Further progress was made when he married the daughter of a wealthy London merchant.

Richard Birnie became a magistrate at Bow Street. He soon developed a reputation for being autocratic and vindictive. Birnie was very ambitious and was keen to become Chief Magistrate, a post that would guarantee him a knighthood. Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, gaveBirnie the task of arranging the arrest of Arthur Thistlewood and the other Spenceans involved in the Cato Street Conspiracy.

In 1821 Sir Robert Baker, the Chief Magistrate, failed to take positive action when a serious disturbance took place at Queen Caroline's funeral. Birnie took control and read the Riot Act on his own initiative. Soon after this incident Baker resigned and Birnie replaced him as Chief Magistrate. Sir Richard Birnie died in 1832.

Primary Sources

(1) Richard Birnie interviewed Thomas Chambers on 13th March, 1820

Richard Birnie:What do you mean by a Radical reformer?

Thomas Chambers: Why, that I and every honest man should have a vote in electing those who make the laws respecting liberty, life and property.

Richard Birnie: Nonsense; it is all from this stuff being propagated that has caused all this disturbance in the country. Do you not think things of this sort would be better be left to men of property and talent who have the administration of State affairs? For if they ruin the State they ruin themselves.

Thomas Chambers: In some cases they might; but every man ought to have the vote.