NEILSON, SAMUEL, printer; b. 1771 at Balmaghie (Dumfries and Galloway), Scotland, son of William Neilson and Isabel Brown; d. unmarried 12 Jan. 1793 in Quebec.
Samuel Neilson came to Quebec in 1785 to learn the compositor’s craft in the printing shop of his uncle William Brown. Brown died on 22 March 1789, and Samuel, who inherited a share of a considerable sum of money, purchased the printing shop and its newspaper the Quebec Gazette/La Gazette de Québec.
This paper, which had been founded on 21 June 1764, enjoyed a privileged status since the government published all its official announcements in it at a yearly contract price. But for some years the number of announcements had been increasing substantially and William Brown had had to claim for supplementary expenses each time work increased. Neilson continued to publish the official announcements, but the cost of printing was set by a list of prices that he established on 10 Oct. 1789. On 25 December his printing shop on Côte de la Montagne was damaged by fire; Neilson was nevertheless able to continue publishing his paper, thanks to William Moore, who owned the Quebec Herald, Miscellany and Advertiser.
Neilson markedly improved the quality of the Quebec Gazette. From 1789 on he devoted more space to news and essays, and he published the opinions of both French and English speaking readers on the proposed constitutional act, which was to be passed by parliament in London in 1791. Leading articles and news from European sources, dealing in particular with the events troubling France at the time, also were given more attention. To his weekly four-page edition Neilson quite regularly added a supplement of from two to six pages.
In the early months of 1792 Neilson announced the forthcoming publication of a bilingual monthly journal, to be called the Quebec Magazine/Le Magasin de Québec and sold for 15 pence a copy or three dollars for a year’s subscription. Neilson made Alexander Spark*, minister of the Presbyterian church in Quebec, its editor. The first issue, a 64-page number scheduled for August, came out on 13 Sept. 1792 and included a print of the city of Quebec done by J. G. Hochstetter; subsequently the magazine carried other prints and thus became the first illustrated periodical published in Quebec. The Quebec Magazine reprinted substantial extracts from works on a wide variety of subjects: astronomy, hygiene, poetry, political institutions, history, agriculture, and meteorology. A column entitled the “Provincial Register” was devoted to news from Lower and Upper Canada. Finally, the magazine carried a register of births, marriages, and deaths, meteorological tables, and lists of consumer prices.
Samuel Neilson died of tuberculosis on 12 Jan. 1793 in Quebec. His magazine did not long outlast him for it ceased publication in May 1794. But, through dynamic management, in less than four years Neilson had expanded his printing shop more than his uncle had in 25 years. His firm went to his 16-year-old brother John*, who for some time acted under the guardianship of Alexander Spark. The latter was editor of the Quebec Gazette until John came of age and took over responsibility.
ASQ, Polygraphie, XXXV, 6d; Séminaire, 120, no.259. Quebec Gazette, 12 March 1789, 10 Jan. 1793. Quebec Magazine, 1792–94. Tremaine, Bibliography of Canadian imprints. F.-J. Audet, “John Neilson,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XXII (1928), sect.i, 81–97; “William Brown (1737–1789), premier imprimeur, journaliste et libraire de Québec; sa vie et ses œuvres,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., XXVI (1932), sect.i, 97–112.