Dowden, Richard (1794–1861), politician, philanthropist, and naturalist, was born 12 April 1794 at Bandon, Co. Cork, second among seven children of Richard Dowden and Anne Dowden (née Keys). He originally studied medicine but was asked by the Jennings family to manage their magnesia and soda-water business in Brown St., Cork. He remained in this business for the rest of his life. Also during his youth he began to style himself ‘Richard Dowden (Richard)’ to differentiate himself from other Richard Dowdens living in the Bandon and Cork areas.
A liberal, he was very active politically and, while also a unitarian, was a supporter of Daniel O'Connell (qv). During the Cork city by-election of July 1829, however, he reportedly made an offhand comment that only a dishonest campaign, costing £10,000, could secure the seat for the liberals. This caused the liberal candidate, Charles Beamish (1801–67), to withdraw his candidacy. Dowden was usually very astute politically and rightly predicted during the 1835 general election that the conservative candidates, Joseph Leycester and Col. James C. Chatterton, would be supported by Cork's dissenting community. After the general election of 1841 he was a prime mover in the foundation of the Cork Burgess Association, the main aims of which were to keep the electoral register up to date while also trying to keep municipal control in the hands of the Cork ratepayers. Having previously served as an alderman, he was elected mayor of Cork in 1845.
Dowden was a noted philanthropist and served as a poor law guardian, as governor of the asylum for the mentally ill and also on the board of the blind asylum. An associate of Fr Theobald Mathew (qv), he was active in the temperance movement. In 1844, when Fr Mathew had run up debts of £7,000 in the course of this work, Dowden organised a public appeal and raised enough money to clear the debt. He was also interested in natural history and was prominent in the Cork Literary and Scientific Society, the British Association, the Zoological Society of Dublin, and the Cork Cuvierian Society. In 1852 he published Walks after wild flowers: or Botany of the bohereens.
He married Mary, daughter of Richard Clear of Pembroke St., Cork; they had one daughter. Two of his nephews were the Right Rev. John Dowden (qv), bishop of Edinburgh, and Professor Edward Dowden (qv) of TCD. In 1831 he bought a site in Sunday's Well and built a new residence, Rathlee, where he died on 4 August 1861. A volume of his papers, covering the years 1825–60, is held in the Cork city archives.