Morrison, Richard James (DNB00)

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MORRISON, RICHARD JAMES (1795–1874), inventor and astrologer, known chiefly by his pseudonym of ‘Zadkiel,’ was born 15 June 1795, being son of Richard Caleb Morrison, who for twenty-seven years was a gentleman pensioner under George III. His grandfather, Richard Morrison, was a captain in the service of the East India Company. Richard James entered the royal navy in 1806 as a first-class volunteer on board the Spartan, and saw much boat service in the Adriatic. He also, on 3 May 1810, shared in a brilliant and single handed victory, gained by the Spartan in the Bay of Naples over a Franco-Neapolitan squadron. He continued in the same ship till December 1810, and was subsequently, between August 1811 and July 1815, employed as master's mate in the Elizabeth and the Myrtle, on the North Sea, Baltic, and Cork stations. In the Myrtle he appears to have likewise performed the duties of lieutenant and master, and he took up, on leaving her, a lieutenant's commission, dated 3 March 1815. His last appointment was to the coastguard, in which he served from April 1827 until October 1829, when he resigned, owing to ill-health, induced by the exposure he had suffered in rescuing four men and a boy from a wreck in February 1828. His exertions on the occasion were acknowledged by a medal from the Society for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck.

In 1824 he presented to the admiralty a plan, subsequently adopted in principle, 'for registering merchant seamen.' In 1827 he proposed another plan, 'for propelling ships of war in a calm,' and on 6 March 1835 he further suggested to the board 'a plan for providing an ample supply of seamen for the fleet without impressment.' For this scheme he received the thanks of their lordships. His arguments were immediately employed in the House of Commons by Sir James Graham, first lord of the admiralty, and they were partially enforced by the addition of a thousand boys to the naval force of the country.

He was chiefly remarkable, however, for his devotion, during nearly half a century, to the pseudo science of astrology. In 1831 he brought out 'The Herald of Astrology,' which was continued as 'The Astrological Almanac' and 'Zadkiel's Almanac.' This six-penny pamphlet, in which he published his predictions, under the signature of 'Zadkiel Tao-Sze,' became known far and wide among the credulous. It sold annually by tens of thousands, running up sometimes to an edition of two hundred thousand copies, and it secured him a moderate competence. Among other periodicals of a similar character edited by him were 'The Horoscope' and 'The Voice of the Stars.'

Morrison, who was considered by some to be a charlatan and by others a victim of a distinct hallucination, brought in 1863 an action for libel in the court of queen's bench against Admiral Sir Edward Belcher, who in a letter to the 'Daily Telegraph' had stated that 'the author of "Zadkiel" is the crystal globe seer who gulled many of our nobility about the year 1852.' At the trial, on 29 June 1863, it appeared that Morrison had pretended that through the medium of the crystal globe various persons saw visions, and held converse with spirits. Some persons of rank, however, who had been present at the stances, were called on behalf of the plaintiff, and testified that the crystal globe had been shown to them without money payment. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, with 20s. damages, and the lord chief justice (Sir Alexander Cockburn) refused a certificate for costs (Times, 30 June 1863, p. 13, col. 1, and 1 July, p. 11, col. 4 ; Irving, Annals of our Times, p. 653). It was said that the crystal globe was that formerly possessed by Dr. Dee (see Dee, John, and Kellet, Edward ; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 109, 155, 288). Morrison died on 5 April 1874. He married, on 23 Aug. 1827, Miss Sarah Mary Paul of Waterford, and had issue nine children.

His works are : 1. 'Narrative of the Loss of the Rothsay Castle Steam Packet in Beaumaris Bay,' 4th edit, with additions, London, 1831, 12mo. 2. 'Observations on Dr. Halley's great Comet, which will appear in 1835 ; with a History of the Phenomena attending its Return for six hundred years past,' 2nd edit. London, 1835, 12mo. 3. William Lilly's 'Introduction to Astrology,' with emendations, London, 1835 and 1852, 8vo, afterwards reprinted as 'The Grammar of Astrology.' T. H. Moody published 'A Complete Refutation of Astrology, consisting principally of a Series of Letters ... in reply to the Arguments of ... Morrison,' 1838, 8vo. 4. 'Zadkiel's Legacy, containing a Judgment of the great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, on the 26th of January, 1842 . . . also Essays on Hindu Astrology and the Nativity of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales,' London, 1842, 12mo. 5. 'Zadkiel's Magazine,' London, 1849, 8vo. 6. 'An Essay on Love and Matrimony,' London, 1851, 24mo. 7. 'The Solar System as it is, and not as it is represented,' London, 1857, 8vo, where the whole Newtonian scheme of the heavens is openly defied. 8. 'Explanation of the Bell Buoy invented by Lieut. Morrison,' London [1858], 8vo. 9. 'Astronomy in a Nutshell, or the leading Problems of the Solar System solved by Simple Proportion only, on the Theory of Magnetic Attraction,' London [I860], 8vo. 10. 'The Comet, a large lithographic Map on the true Course of Encke's Comet, with a letter to the Members of the Royal Astronomical Society,' London [1860], 8vo. 11. 'The Hand-Book of Astrology,' 2 vols. London, 1861-2, 12mo. 12. 'On the Great First Cause, his Existence and Attributes,' London, 1867, 12mo. 13. 'The New Principia, or true system of Astronomy. In which the Earth is proved to be the stationary Centre of the Solar System,' London [1868], 8vo ; 2nd edit. 1872. 14. 'King David Triumphant! A Letter to the Astronomers of Benares,' London, 1871, 8vo.

[Athenæum, 1874. i. 630, 666, 701; Cooke's Curiosities of Occult Literature; De Morgan's Budget of Paradoxes, pp. 195, 277, 472; O'Byrne's Naval Biog. 1849, p. 790; Times, 11 May 1874, p. 8, col. 5.]

T. C.