Geoghegan, Richard Henry (or Henry Richard; ‘Harry ’) (1866–1943), linguist, was born 8 January 1866 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, son of Richard Taylor Geoghegan, an Irish doctor with a practice in Liverpool as well as in Dublin, and Bessie Geoghegan (née Willis). The family had a house in Rathmines, Dublin, and the boy probably spent part of his childhood there; in later life he often described himself as Irish, stating on the 1910 Alaska census form that he had been born in Ireland, and he spoke and wrote Irish well. At the age of 3 he fell down the stairs and was severely injured; he was left crippled for life, and seems to have been in a sanitorium in Lancashire in 1881. His father died in 1883, leaving the family in poverty. He attended a Moravian school in Yorkshire, and, thanks to financial assistance from the vice-chancellor, Benjamin Jowett, was able to enter Oxford University (1884) as a non-collegiate student. He developed unusual linguistic skills; in 1886 he was awarded a one-year scholarship to study Chinese, and he is said to have known scores of other languages. He left Oxford without a degree, hoping for employment in the foreign office, but was rejected on medical grounds.
He was interested in the idea of a universal language, and wrote in Latin in 1887 to Dr Ludovick L. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto. Geoghegan translated Zamenhof's textbook into English, and is remembered as the first Esperantist in the English-speaking world, and as the second Esperanto author; he is said to have suggested that the Esperanto symbol (a star) should be green, the colour of Ireland. He wrote a number of works of importance for Esperantists. Another Irishman, James O'Connor (1853–1928), who was born in Cork but worked in England, was also important in the early history of the Esperanto movement: he was jointly the author of the first English–Esperanto dictionary (first published 1906), as well as other works. O'Connor, who established the first Esperanto group in London and had been awarded a Ph.D., died in England in November 1928.
Harry, his mother, two sisters, and a brother emigrated in 1891 to Orcas Island, Washington state, USA, to join two brothers. They planned to farm, but the life did not suit Harry and in 1902 he moved to Alaska to work in clerical jobs. As well as his importance in the history of Esperanto, Geoghegan is remembered for his work on decoding the Mayan calendar, and he also wrote the first dictionary and grammar of the Aleut language, which was published in 1944. It is said that he knew all forms of shorthand, and that he was able, using both hands, to take down shorthand in two systems at once, even if dictated at top speed. Eventually he became court reporter and secretary to a judge, James Wickersham, locally famous (or perhaps notorious) as the only judge in a huge and generally lawless territory. Geoghegan's experiences on the frontier are recorded in interesting diaries written in Esperanto and shorthand, which also record his private life. From his earliest days in Alaska, Geoghegan had been attracted by the unconventional pleasures of the area's notorious red-light districts, and spent most of his money on prostitutes, some of whom became his friends. He married on 3 May 1916 (or 16 May 1915; the ceremony did not appear in records) Ella Josephine de Sacristan, whose ancestry was part black and part French, and who was seventeen years his junior. She was a prostitute, madam, bootlegger, and businesswoman, who was charged in 1915 with wounding a client, and in 1921 with shooting a pimp. The unlikely but eventually happy marriage was at first kept secret from Geoghegan's more respectable colleagues, but after years of living at separate addresses she became ill and he moved in with her to take care of her; she died of tuberculosis in March 1936. Her medical expenses exhausted Geoghegan's financial resources, and he died in poverty in a log cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska, on 27 October 1943; it is said that ‘the ladies of the line’ helped take care of him and brought him food. His gravestone in Clay St. cemetery, where he was buried beside his wife, is inscribed in Irish, ‘Laimh le ruinin [recte rúinín] a chroidhe’ (‘beside the darling of his heart’). His diaries, a useful source of early Alaskan social history, are in the University of Alaska.