Maria Riddell

Maria Banks Woodley was the daughter of William Woodley, governor of the Leeward Islands, although she was born and educated in England. She met her husband, Walter Riddell, in St Kitts (he owned an estate in Antigua) and became his second wife when she was nearly eighteen. Their eldest daughter was born in 1791, after they had returned to Britain. She probably made an acquaintance of Robert Burns shortly after.

When she went to Edinburgh in early 1792 she had a letter of introduction from him to a publisher friend there, whom she was hoping would aid her in her plan to have her memoirs of her West Indies time produced (Voyages to the Madeira and Leeward and Caribbean Islands, with Sketches of the Natural History of these Islands, 1792). She maintained a cordial correspondence with the publisher, William Smellie, until his death in 1795. 

Maria and her family - she had a second daughter by now - settled at Woodley Park, an estate which her husband had bought a few years before and renamed for her. Burns was a regular visitor there and also wrote frequently, especially with regard to his admiration of her own poetry, until the occasion of a quarrel. The details of this are hazy but Burns wrote afterwards to apologise and make amends. It seems as though their friendship was irreparably damaged, however, and Captain Riddell returned a volume of verse that Burns had written for him. 

Maria left Scotland in 1797, after moving between Ayrshire, Dumfries and London, but she wrote of Burns' character and intellect on his death in 1796. Correspondence between them had been more sporadic, perhaps due to Burns' failing health and the shadow of their estrangement, but they regained some of their cordiality. 

Her husband, Walter, passed away before her, in 1802, and she remarried in 1807 before her own death the following year. 

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