Beechey, Richard Brydges (1808–95), artist, naval officer, and marine surveyor, was born 17 May 1808 in London, the youngest son of the noted portrait painter Sir William Beechey RA (1753–1839) and his second wife, Ann Phyllis Beechey (née Jessop; 1764–1833); his half-brother, Henry William Beechey, was a painter and explorer, and an elder brother was the naval officer Frederick William Beechey. Sir William Beechey, both of whose own parents apparently came from Dublin, enjoyed unparalleled royal patronage, and more than 100 of his portraits are in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Ann Beechey was a noted miniature painter and exhibited regularly at the RA. Richard Brydges Beechey inherited his father's taste for painting, and shared his brothers’ taste for adventure. He became strongly associated with Ireland, spending long periods of residence there between 1835 and 1876: he married an Irish wife, carried out survey work of the Irish coastline, and exhibited many seascape paintings with Irish themes in Ireland.
Beechey entered the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, on 1 March 1821 and, following service in the West Indies, joined the frigate Naiad as midshipman in 1824 during the blockade of Algiers. While on the coast of Barbary he took part in several expeditions, including the cutting out of a vessel laden with grain under the forts of Bona. In March 1825 he set off with his brother Frederick William Beechey, captain of HMS Blossom, on a three-year voyage to the Pacific. A principal objective was to explore the Bering Strait in concert with the polar expeditions of captains Franklin and Parry, who were seeking the north-west passage from the east. Although they did not know it at the time, they reached a point only 146 miles west of that reached by the 1826 Franklin expedition. The Blossom expedition also involved extensive exploration and surveying of the Pacific islands and the Californian and Chinese coasts. It was the first foreign expedition to visit California after the formation of the Mexican republic. The artworks executed by Richard Beechey during this part of the voyage have documentary as well as aesthetic value; his paintings of Inuit and those made in California and Hawaii are now in American museums. Beechey's chart of San Francisco, published in 1833, became the authoritative guide to the bay and remained so till well into the American period.
Following the Blossom's return in 1828, Beechey served initially in the Mediterranean and then in an experimental, multipurpose squadron. He was invalided out of the naval service in 1831 and from 1835 his main work was on the survey of Ireland. He advanced to the rank of commander in 1846, then rear admiral and admiral (following his retirement in 1864). For thirty years his name appeared as the ‘responsible officer’ on many of the charts of the west and north of Ireland, and his characteristic drawing style may be seen in the views of the coastline that were an integral part of the charts of the time.
Beechey married Frideswide Maria Moore Smyth (1819–85), eldest daughter of Robert Smyth of Portlick castle, Westmeath, in 1840. Portlick castle lies on the shore of an inlet of Lough Ree, which is said to be one of the best surveyed lakes in Ireland. Their youngest daughter, Frideswide Fanny Beechey (1845–1919), was born in Galway. She was the first woman to win a prize as a composer of chess problems, the first to edit a newspaper chess column, and the first to publish a book on the game, Chess blossoms (1883). She continued this work for many years with her Dublin-born husband, Thomas Benjamin Rowland (1850–1929).
During the period from 1842, but particularly from 1868 until his death, Richard Beechey was a frequent exhibitor at the RHA, showing sixty paintings in all. These were initially submitted from Limerick, but from 1868 they came from his homes at 2 Belgrave Square, Monkstown, and 110 Pembroke Road in Dublin. He became an honorary member of the RHA in 1868. He also exhibited at the RA (1832–77) (nineteen paintings), and at the British Institution (1833–59) (nine paintings); several of these works, particularly in the period 1858–75, were Irish seascapes. He and his wife moved to Plymouth in 1876 and he spent the last years of his life, after Frideswide's death, at Blenheim House on the Isle of Wight.
Beechey's pictures for the RHA feature mainly Irish themes, including notable seascapes of Achill Island, Clare Island, Sybil Head, Slea Head, Eagle Island, and the entrances to the port of Limerick and Cork harbour. He painted a number of lighthouses and lightships, characteristically under rough conditions, and he portrayed yacht races, such as those of the regatta at Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), in great detail, recording accurately the rigging and other details of the competing craft against translucent wave effects. Examples of his paintings are owned by the waterfront sailing clubs in Dún Laoghaire and the commissioners of Irish lights in Dublin, and others are at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He is said by Archibald to be ‘the best seascape painter that the Navy ever produced’ (Archibald, 65). While most of his pictures depict the coast and shipping, he also exhibited a number of dramatic landscapes, mainly showing scenes in the area around Killarney. Besides his oils, he painted ‘extremely competent’ (Crookshank and Glin, 170) watercolours; those of Askeaton castle and Castle Connell, completed during the survey of the Shannon in the 1840s, are notable.