Riddell, Maria née Woodley, later Fletcher, 1772—1808
Maria Riddell, née Woodley, was born in England on 4 November 1772, the daughter of William Woodley (1722-1793), West Indian plantation owner and twice governor of the Leeward Islands, and Frances Woodley, née Payne, possibly of St. Kitts (Bailes 49). She first visited the Caribbean islands in 1788, but it was her second visit in 1790-91 that spurred her to write her Voyages to Madeira and the Leeward Caribbean Isles (1792).
During that visit, she married Lieutenant Walter Riddell (1764-1802), a plantation owner on Antigua, and they returned together to Scotland, where her husband bought an estate near Dumfries that they named Woodley Park. Here she gave birth to two daughters, Maria (1791-1859) and Sophia (1792-1797), and began her friendship with her neighbour, the poet Robert Burns, already known to her brother-in-law. It was Burns who introduced Maria Riddell to William Smellie, who became the publisher of Voyages and a friend. Himself a natural historian, Smellie was especially attracted to Riddell’s ‘science, minute observation, accurate description, and excellent composition’ (qtd. in Bailes 51).
Her husband left for his estates in Antigua in 1796, never to return, and Maria Riddell for London the following year, where she continued to cultivate friendships with artists and writers, including Sir Thomas Lawrence, Henry Fuseli, and Samuel Rogers (Lawrence painted her portrait in 1806). In the year of her husband’s death, 1802, she published Metrical Miscellany as editor and contributor, with twenty of her own poems included.
On 30 March 1808, Maria Riddell married Phillips Lloyd Fletcher (1782-1863), an officer of the dragoons. She died eight months later on 15 December 1808 at Chester.
Bailes, Melissa. ‘Hybrid Britons: West Indian Colonial Identity and Georgic Originality in Maria Riddell’s Natural History’. Questioning Nature: British Women’s Scientific Writing and Literary Originality, 1750-1830. Charlottesville and London: U of Virginia P, 2017. 46-70.
Scots Mag. 70 (Apr. 1808): 315.
Weinglass, D. H. ‘Riddell, Maria (1772–1808)’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.
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