Madden, Richard Robert (1798–1886), medical man, traveller, anti-slavery campaigner, government official, and historian of the United Irishmen, was born 20 August 1798 at 6 Wormwood Gate, Dublin, the youngest of the 21 children of a prosperous silk manufacturer, Edward Madden (1739–1829), his eleventh by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Thadeus Forde (d. 1759) of Corry, Co. Leitrim. Edward Madden was a representative of Enniskillen at the Catholic Convention (1792–3) but otherwise had little interest in politics and played no part in the United Irish movement that reached its climax in rebellion three months before this youngest son's birth. R. R. Madden attended local schools, eventually that in York St. conducted by Edward Martin, a protestant clergyman – ‘the best in Dublin of its day’, as he was to record in his Memoirs.
Intent on a medical career, R. R. Madden passed the exams of the Apothecaries’ Hall and was apprenticed to an apothecary named Woods of Athboy, Co. Meath (1815); but for health reasons took ship from Cork to Bordeaux (April 1820), thinking he might obtain commercial employment there, the native place of his father's first wife, Marie Duras. Instead he moved on to Paris to be taken on by an apothecary named Planché in the Boulevard des Italiens who allowed him to pursue surgical studies. A recurrence of ill health took him to the Mediterranean. In Naples he was assistant to Dr Charles Reilly, an Irishman, one of whose consumptive patients he accompanied home to England. His reward (£220) was used to study at St George's Hospital. In London he also contributed to the Morning Herald. Madden became a member and in time a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. Breaking finally his connection with Naples (1824) he embarked for Smyrna and, not finding it to his liking, continued on horseback to Constantinople, where he practised medicine for some months. He travelled on via Crete (during the Greek war of independence) to Alexandria, practised there for two years and spent some time in Palestine and Syria. His Travels in Turkey, Egypt, Nubia and Palestine (1829) established him as a travel writer and revealed him as a Hellenophile. Madden returned to Europe (1828) and practised at Maidstone and St Leonards before renting a house in the Mayfair district of London. Through the influence of Lord Blessington and his wife Marguerite (qv), whom he had known in Naples, he acquired patients and respectability. His marriage (1828) was at Cheltenham to Harriet Elmslie (b. 1801), whose father John had owned properties in Jamaica.
In London, Madden joined the Anti-Slavery Society (1829), and mixed with such men as Thomas Fowell Buxton. Eventually he gave up the regular practice of medicine. When parliament abolished slavery throughout the British empire (1833) Madden secured an official position as a special magistrate in Jamaica at £300 p.a., one of 30 appointed to administer the statute abolishing slavery. A maternal great-uncle, a Dr Lyons of Lyonstown, Co. Roscommon, had acquired two plantations on the island in the 1780s, one of which, Marly, was eventually inherited by his nephew, Elizabeth Madden's brother, Garret Forde. Madden arrived to discover two mixed-race cousins and to learn that another had been sold as a slave. Frustrated in his attempts to deal with ex-slaves fairly and then threatened by former slave-owners he resigned (November 1834), left Kingston and went to America. There he published A twelvemonth's residence in the West Indies (1835). In this, and in evidence given to a British parliamentary select committee, he denounced the system of employing ex-slaves as forced apprentices. In 1836 he was appointed first commissioner for liberated Africans in Cuba, a colony of Spain, which since 1814 had been beholden to Britain; he was also made a temporary judge at Havana, bringing his salary up to £1,000 p.a. Both posts were intended to suppress the international slave trade.
After three years he returned to Europe via America, where he gave evidence on behalf of 49 illegally enslaved Africans who had revolted on board a Cuban vessel, the Amistad, seized control and on landing it in Connecticut been arrested by American authorities. In London, Madden took part, as the Cuba expert, in the first International Anti-slavery Convention (1840). He accompanied Sir Moses Montefiore on a visit to Egypt to inquire into the khedive's treatment of jews, one result of which was another book, Egypt and Mohammed Ali illustrative of the condition of his slaves and subjects (1841). In the 1840s anti-slavery advocates in Britain turned from the transatlantic trade to the continental trade in Africa. Madden's next appointment was as special commissioner of inquiry into the administration of the British settlements on the west coast of Africa and especially into allegations that slave factories were being supplied from Britain. On the Gambia River and Gold Coast, though for a while dangerously ill, he exerted himself conscientiously (1841). Returning to London he found the whigs gone from office, replaced by tories less sympathetic to the abolitionists. His report, which reflected in its bias and carelessness his passion and lack of discipline, was rejected.
Madden eked out a living as special correspondent in Portugal for the Morning Chronicle; he wrote an unpublished history of Portugal, rediscovered an interest in Irish affairs, gave more time to his researches on the United Irishmen (begun on his first visit to America in 1835), and was elected MRIA (23 February 1846). On the return of the whigs to power he was appointed colonial secretary in Western Australia (early 1847). During his nine months in the Antipodes he was a friend of the Aborigines and of Irish catholic settlers on the Swan River. But eventually thwarted in his dealings with the local landowners by a newly-arrived governor, a fellow Irishman, Charles Fitzgerald, and learning of the death by drowning of his elder son, William Forde Madden (1829–48), working as an engineer on the Shannon, Madden returned to Ireland for good early in 1849. From 1850 until retirement in March 1880 he was secretary of the Loan Fund Board with an office at Dublin Castle.
Madden was a prolific writer. It is for his writings on the United Irishmen that he is best known in Ireland. His interest began when he visited and befriended in New York, after leaving Jamaica in 1835, the elderly William James MacNeven (qv), by then the sole survivor of the original leadership of the Irish revolutionary movement, who persuaded him to become its historian. For the next six or seven years Madden collected information, oral as well as documentary, from elderly survivors or descendants whom he sought out in Ireland. His aim was to rehabilitate the United Irishmen, to lend them respectability, and to explain their rebellion as an inevitable consequence of bad government. The result was seven volumes entitled The United Irishmen, their lives and times (1842–6); four more volumes appeared later (1857–60). The work is partisan, uncritical, and disorganised but invaluable for its originality, sources, and detail. Its treatment is largely biographical (over 50 United Irishmen are featured) and lacks the usual narrative. Madden's position at Dublin Castle was a leisurely one that gave him the opportunity to produce more books: The life and martyrdom of Savonarola (1853; 2nd ed., 1854); The literary life and correspondence of the countess of Blessington (3 vols, 1855); a contentious work of comparative archaeology, Monuments of primeval antiquity . . . in northern Africa, Ireland, England and France (1862); a book exonerating the papacy, Galileo and the Inquisition (1863); and, a work part of which remains unpublished, The history of Irish periodical literature (1867). Altogether Madden wrote over 20 other books on widely different subjects, besides working as a journalist, composing verse and writing a novel, The mussulman (3 vols, 1830). The books on the Turkish empire, the Caribbean and Irish periodicals as well as the 11 volumes on the United Irishmen are still studied. He was a book collector; his library was twice depleted to raise money to pay debts and yet he added to it again so that the auction of his books after his death lasted six days.
Having travelled widely and lived on four continents, Madden spent his last 35 years quietly in Ireland, living at first in Castlewood Avenue, Rathmines, Dublin. He died 5 February 1886 at his home, 3 Vernon Terrace, Booterstown, Co. Dublin, where he had lived since 1868. His wife, who in Cuba had been rebaptised a catholic (1838), died on 7 February 1888. A colour portrait of a young R. R. Madden ‘in his Syrian costume’ appears in his Travels in Turkey (1829); a more conventional portrait is in his Memoirs (1891). His papers are scattered between the NLI, TCD, the RIA and Dublin City Library. Between Madden's two great passions, for black slaves and Irish catholics, there were contradictions. The firmest friends of the blacks were generally English and American protestant evangelicals with little sympathy for catholics and whom Madden, who wore his catholicism and his Irish national feeling more heavily as he aged, found increasingly importunate; on the other hand, Irish catholic immigrants in North America treated the blacks there (rivals for menial employment) with animosity and contempt. Madden reconciled or rationalised these contradictions by hostility to the United States, characterising the republic as corruptive of the principles of the United Irishmen. His experience in the anti-slavery movement, which had succeeded by moral force, made him believe that the United Irishmen were reformers who ‘sought to bring just government’ by creating ‘a moral public opinion’ only to be thwarted by corrupt rulers, ‘which drove them into rebellion, amply aided by a selfish and manipulative France’ (Rodgers). These contradictions explain some of Madden's shortcomings as historian of the United Irishmen. His great strength was as a collector and recorder of memories from a generation that was dying out.
Madden's younger son, Thomas More Madden (1839–1902), born at Havana, was elected MRIA at a tender age (13 June 1864), became prominent as an obstetrician and gained a place in the DNB. Like his father he was a keen traveller and writer beginning with On change of climate: a guide for travellers in pursuit of health . . . [to] Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, France, Italy, the Mediterranean islands, Egypt &c. (1864) and The spas of Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy (1867). He was master of the Rotunda in the 1870s and published two handbooks, The Dublin practice of midwifery (1871) and Clinical gynaecology (1893). Other works by him are ‘On the medical knowledge of the ancient Irish’ in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science (1881), On insanity and nervous disorders peculiar to women (1884) and Lucan spa and hydropathic as a modern health resort (1891). He inherited (1890) the properties at Tinode, Co. Wicklow, Athgarret, Co. Kildare, and Rahill, Co. Carlow, of W. H. F. Cogan (qv), whose mother Elizabeth (1787–1862) was a sister of R. R. Madden. Thomas More Madden and his wife Mary Josephine, daughter of McDonnell Caffrey of Kingstown, Co. Dublin, had three sons and two daughters; he died 15 April 1902.