Richard Parkinson - The Tale of the Vanishing Jockey

Most enquiries to the NLHS web site are about fairly benign local, equestrian or family history. But just occasionally they open up a line of further enquiry that leads to the exposure of something totally unexpected and in this case a hidden royal family secret.

The enquirer, Danish historian Poul Krog, had been aware of the fairly successful equestrian career for a jockey called Richard Parkinson that had occurred in the middle of the 19th century in Denmark. Poul also knew that Richard had originated from Newmarket; hence the reason for contacting the NLHS. Richard’s equestrian career though had been brought to a very abrupt end - the reasons for this and what had subsequently happened to him seems to have been somewhat shrouded in mystery.

Life in Denmark

Richard went to Denmark in 1835 and following initial success as a jockey, progressed to become a highly respected racehorse trainer for the Duke of Augustenborg, Christian August (Augustenborg is a town on Als Island in southern Denmark).

Richard Parkinson and Egremont at the Augustenborg Racecourse - 1837
Reproduced with kind permission of Ketterer Kunst, Munich

To give him his full title, the Duke was Christian August II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, and was a close successor to the Danish throne. As shown in the Danish royal family tree below, the Duke’s sister was the second wife of King Christian VIII and his mother was the sister of King Frederick VI.

Danish Royal Family Tree
{click on image for a larger view]

The Duke played a key role in the early 19th century Danish racing industry and his stud produced many famous racehorses
(further details can be found in the book 'A History of the English Turf - by Theodore Andrea Cook, M.A, F.S.A' - page 418 -

Richard's equestrian skills seems to have impressed the racing industry at that time; as he even gets a mention in a book about horsebreeding on Als, as shown below (in German):-

"Die Veredlung der Pferdezucht auf Alsen. In einer Reihe von Bildnissen und skizzen" - "The Refining of Horse Breeding on Als. In a series of portraits and sketches"

There's a section about the 4yo black stallion Egremont's breeding and racing form with Richard as jockey, and then the following attribution:-

der Herzogliche Jockey Richard Parkinson - the Ducal Jockey Richard Parkinson

The book was published in 1839.

The vanishing jockey

Then came the event that brought about the downfall of Richard’s racing career. The Duke had an illicit affair with the lady-in-waiting to his wife, the Duchess. The girl was Louise Sophie Caroline Brüning, daughter of a local shoemaker. When Louise became pregnant by him, rather than admitting responsibility for the illegitimate child, the Duke apparently forced Richard to marry Louise on 9th October 1844, presumably to legitimise the baby (Louise would have been about 8 months pregnant at the time).

Though the exact details aren’t known, the Duke then encouraged Richard to move on, leaving Louise to care for the child on her own.

Eventually though the Duke did take an interest in his offspring and he later attended school in Augustenborg Castle.

Augustenborg Slot (Castle)

Taking his marital father’s surname the child was Richard Heinrich Robert Parkinson and he was born in Augustenborg on 13th November 1844.

Richard Heinrich Robert Parkinson

Both Louise and young Richard can be seen on the following 1860 Danish census:-

Folketælling FT-1860 (1860 Danish Census)
1st February 1860
Hus nr 47 (house number 47 ... house numbers 1-4 on this census were in the castle itself)

nr person navn køn al-der fødsel sdag år ægte-fødested stand erhverv
1 Johann Gottfred Brüning M 61 6.05 1799 G Augustenborg husfader skomagermester
2 Metta Hedewig f Christensen K 65 29.05 1794 G Sønderborg husmoder hans kone
3 Johann Wenzel Brüning M 25 8.03 1835 U Augustenborg husfader søn og skomagersvend
4 Anna Catharina f Christensen K 22 20.03 1838 U Sønderborg husmoder hans kone
5 Louise Sophie Caroline Parkinson f Brüning K 36 20.03 1824 U Augustenborg datter
6 Richard Heinrich Robert Parkinson M 16 13.11 1844 U Augustenborg datter
7 Niels Peter Christensen Lund M 26 14.01 1835 U Skærbæk skomagersvend
8 Niels Christensen M 25 25.01 1836 U Overviskum Viborg konstabel

(The f after a person's name denotes their maiden name - as in Parkinson f Brüning)


navn name
køn sex - M = man / K = woman
al-der age
fødsel sdag birthday
år year
ægte-fødested real-birthplace
erhverv profession
husfader head of the family
husmoder housewife
datter daughter
skomagersvend shoemaker
skomagermester master shoemaker
hans kone his wife
søn og skomagersvend son and shoemaker
konstabel constable

(Apologies to any Danish speakers reading this; it's probably full of misspellings and mistranslations)

At this time Louise and young Richard were living with her father (the shoemaker), her mother, brother and his wife. Their house was close to the Castle in Augustenborg.

Young Richard went on to greater things - clearly encouraged by his birth father. He’s best known for being a famous Danish explorer and anthropologist -

His story, including his birth origins are shown in his own biography - ‘Dreißig Jahre in der Südsee’ - (Thirty years in the South Seas) -

Richard's legacy in Papua New Guinea is still very well-known and a descendant of his, Max Uechtritz, has compiled his own version of events for Richard’s life -

Louise Sophie Caroline Parkinson

We have to thank our initial enquirer Poul Krog for the following details. His access to the Augustenborg archives has uncovered some of Louise's subsequent life.

Presumably she lived at Augustenborg Castle during her time there as a seamstress. However, during the pregnancy, she moved home to her parents (in the house shown in the census above).

Her and young Richard later moved to a large house in Storegade (the main street in Augustenborg), where she continued her trade sewing for the ladies in Augustenborg and the ladies-of-the-court at the castle.

Louise received a yearly income from the Duchess, even after the Duke family's escaped from Denmark in 1848 - which presumably explains how Louise, as a seamstress, could afford to live in such a large house. This is probably further confirmation that the Duke was indeed the father of young Richard.

Storegade 16 - The Brüning family home
No.16 is on the right hand side (another family lived in No.18 on the left)
. The house no longer exists

Storegade 43 - the large house where Louise and her son Richard lived - then and now

Storegade 20 - Richard Heinrich Robert Parkinson's school

Jockey Richard Parkinson's family life

So what happened to Richard Parkinson senior - our vanishing jockey? ... There are no further records for him in Denmark and although he seems to have immediately returned to England, he doesn’t appear on any of the early censuses.

It’s at this point that to understand Richard’s later life you have to find out more about who Richard Parkinson actually was - so let’s start at the beginning.

Parkinson Family Tree
{click on image for a larger view]

As shown in the family tree above and his birth record below, Richard's parents were Robert Parkinson and Harriet (neé Hobbleday), and he was baptised at St Mary's in Newmarket on 18th June 1815:-

Robert was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1775 and Harriet in Attleborough, Norfolk in 1780. They were married at St Mary's, Newmarket on 13th October 1800.

Robert Parkinson the Stone Mason

On the 1841 census the family were at Boundery House, Exning and Robert was a Stone Mason - in fact he was quite an important Stone Mason in Newmarket and appears on all the following trade directories:-

On the 1851 census Robert, Harriet and their son Edward were living in Paradise Row - All Saints Road -

Robert Parkinson died in 1853 and was buried in All Saints on 19th February. Harriet died around the same time and was buried on 24th February in All Saints.

The 1855 History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Suffolk shows that Edward had taken over as the Stone Mason - by then the workshop was in Bury Road.

On the 1861 census Edward was still living in his parents house in Paradise Row. He died in 1861 and was buried in All Saints on 26th July.

Robert Parkinson the Licensed Victualler

Robert had another son - another brother of Richard and Edward - Robert Parkinson (junior).

He was baptised on 3rd September 1806 at St Mary's, Newmarket.

Robert (junior) was another key Newmarketonian - he was a publican and appears on all the following trade directories as the landlord of the Grosvenor Arms:-

The 1841 census shows him in the Grosvenor Arms. By 1850 the pub had a new landlord - William Foreman.

Newspaper reports seem to have it that there was trouble at the Grosvenor Arms around March 1842 and although Robert wasn't the instigator, he did seem to become involved and the later trade directories show him having moved to the Woolpack in the Rookery in Newmarket -

Not long after this though he left the Woolpack and the 1861 census has him living in Westminster St Martin in the Fields, London. Listed as a Retired Publican, and lodging at a Coffee House.

The return of Richard Parkinson to England

From 1844 until 1871 there are no records for jockey Richard Parkinson and his life is somewhat of a mystery during this time.

Then in 1871 he appears on the census for that year:-

'Licensed Lodging House' doesn't seem to be the most salubrious living quarters and the depths that Richard had sunk to become even more obvious in a workhouse record for 1879 and then on the 1881 census:-

Supposition has it that Richard ought to have received a handsome pay-off for his role in marrying Louise, especially as he subsequently lost his livelihood as a trainer. Certainly at this time the marriage would have been legitimate and binding, ensuring that Richard would have also been forfeiting any possibility of ever marrying again whilst Louise was alive. Also the lack of any family support, so important in those days without a social security system, could have been a contributing factor to Richard sinking to the depths of living in a workhouse.

Brother Charles' helping hand

Richard's life then took another strange twist, when in 1890 his brother Charles died.

If you refer to the Parkinson Family Tree above you'll see that Charles was born in Newmarket on 10th January 1813. He left Newmarket and enlisted in the Royal Navy on 23rd October 1841, progressing through the rank of Ship's Master to become a Navigating Lieutenant.

He served in the navy during the Crimean War (October 1853 – March 1856) and was awarded both 6th Class and eventually 5th Class of the Order of the Medjidie.

[The Order of the Medjidie was issued as a reward for distinguished service by Sultan Abdülmecid to British Army and Royal Navy personnel who came to the aid of the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War against Russia.]

Charles retired from active military service on 19th March 1855, though he seems to have continued as a Ship's Master around the UK for some years after then - until at least 1867. Serving on the HMS Exmouth, HMS Merlin, HMS Brisk, HMS Pembroke, HMS Dauntless, HMS St George and the flagship HMS Fisgard - many of these ships being for the Coastguard.

HMS Pembroke

HMS Dauntless

Upon full retirment he was awarded a navy pension of £50 a year [worth about £55,000 a year in 2016].

He died on 30th May 1890 and as is shown on his probate he was living at No.76 East Street, Manchester Square, Marylebone [East Street is now Chiltern Street, W1] - a very smart mews house in the centre of London.

Charles Parkinson's Probate 9th July 1890
The key detail here is that Charles left his estate to our Richard, who is shown as having been living with him at that time.

The return of Richard Parkinson to Newmarket

As was shown by all the early records for the Parkinson family they clearly were endemic to Newmarket - so it's no surprise that following the windfall from his brother that Richard returned to Newmarket and is shown here on the 1891 census:-

[Note that the Bushel was directly opposite the Woolpack, where his brother Robert was landlord in the 1850s.]

This census is the key record that confirms that this was indeed Newmarketonian Richard; as it lists his birth place as actually being in Kennett, Cambridgeshire - Richard's brother Edward was also born in Kennett, so the family must have lived there around that time (1815 / 1817).

Edward's 79yo widowed wife Alpha Parkinson was the only other family member still alive in Newmarket by that time (no longer in Paradise Row; as that had been pulled down and the present All Saints Terrace had been built in its place - No.16-32 All Saints Road). She was now living in No.7 Alms House at the Rous Memorial Hospital.

Alpha died in 1893 and was buried in All Saints on 12th January. Richard was now totally alone and although he's presently not been found on the 1901 census his death record shows that he died in Newmarket in 1905:-

Sad though this story may seem - Richard Parkinson lived a fairly tumultuous and at times highly eventful life - moved in royal circles - and eventually lived to the ripe-old-age of 89 ... not bad for a humble Newmarket-born 19th century jockey.

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