Correspondence of James Rigby

Scope and Content

In this large series of letters the main content refers to Rigby’s role as Owen’s unofficial London Agent. The letters are often quite lengthy, with Rigby outlining in some detail his progress with the tasks he carries out on Owen’s behalf. These tasks can include posting Owen newspapers and journals, arranging for Owen’s Petitions to be delivered to various dignitaries in London and keeping Owen up to date with events around the world. Rigby would quite often use sub-headings in the letter as he recounts his efforts with each task Owen had given him.

Around 1855 Rigby became involved on Owen's behalf in a scheme of Pierre Baume to set up a colony at Colney Hatch, London. The scheme was beset by protracted legal wrangling involving the power to passed to the new Trustees and the drawing up of a Deed, and in the letters from that period Rigby provides Owen with a detailed account of the proceedings. A number of letters detail the setting-up of a Panorama designed by Thomas Atkins [which shows the progress of Owen's ideas?].

Later in the series the proposed forming of a new society becomes a regular topic for discussion. Rigby is asked to join the society, but is less that enamored by those who are forming it, referring to them as being "Dry bones" [without marrow and therefore the ability to achieve anything]. He does not believe in what he views as the old socialism as professed by Travis, Neale et al.; he is a man of action and not words

In the letters Rigby indicates that he hopes to write each Sunday to give Owen regular updates of his activities. Often the letters consist of little more than general chat and appear to be written out of routine rather than to report anything of importance. Indeed, on once occasion Rigby writes that he has written only to say that he has nothing to write about!

The majority of the letters sent in 1858 are written on paper headed Social Science League. Rigby was appointed the Secretary of this Society when it formed in London in the November of 1857, and despite his clear involvement with League he refrains from making much mention of the their progress in his letters to Owen.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Rigby, 1797-1862, was a faithful attendant of Robert Owen at the time of his death, and was a most devoted advocate of his views. He died aged 65 at Salford on March 6th, and contemporary records referred to him "having never tasted animal food". He became known in co-operative circles after having been a Manchester delegate at the Huddersfield Congress in 1833.

In a letter written to Samuel Morse in 1856, Rigby is described somewhat coldly by Owen as his "agent in London". Whilst not being untrue, this actually belies the role which Rigby played in the later years of Owen's life. A more appropriate title would be personal assistant or even confidente; a man who became Owen's eyes and ears when his own were failing.