CROSSKILL, JOHN HENRY, publisher, militia officer, newspaperman, and office holder; b. 4 March 1817 in Halifax, son of Henry Crosskill and Catherine Charlotte Weeks; m. 30 Sept. 1847 Sarah Ann McIntosh of Halifax, and they had three children; d. there 13 Feb. 1857.
John Henry Crosskill was born into a prominent Nova Scotia family. His maternal great-grandfather John Fillis*, a Halifax merchant, was a member of the first provincial House of Assembly in 1758. His paternal grandfather, John Crosskill*, founded Bridgetown, N.S. John Henry, whose own father was a sportsman and boxer, was apprenticed to William Gossip* and John Charles Coade of the Times (Halifax), published one issue of a literary magazine in October 1837, and served as a militia officer beginning in 1839. In 1838 he had compiled and published in Halifax one of the province’s first textbooks, A comprehensive outline of the geography and history of Nova Scotia, whose 1,000 copies, he claimed in the preface to the second edition (1842), were sold out in “several months.” Based on Thomas Chandler Haliburton*’s An historical and statistical account of Nova-Scotia (Halifax, 1829), it emphasized the province’s cultural and economic potential.
On 1 Oct. 1840 Crosskill launched the Halifax Morning Post & Parliamentary Reporter. It was the second penny paper and, from October 1844, the first daily in Nova Scotia. With plenty of news arriving on the ocean steamers recently inaugurated by Samuel Cunard*, and aided by a power press, the Post introduced a new type of journalism which Daniel Cobb Harvey* has described as having had “no principle except catering to the public and no policy but increase of circulation.” He also published from 1843 to May 1844 the Olive Branch, a newspaper associated with the temperance movement.
In January 1844 Crosskill published in the Post reformer George Renny Young’s anonymous satire of the lieutenant governor, Viscount Falkland [Cary*], “The prince and his protégé.” Then, in February, when John Sparrow Thompson* resigned as queen’s printer on a matter of principle, Crosskill accepted this post, which included the editorship of the Royal Gazette. He apparently agreed to turn the Gazette into an organ for Falkland and the conservatives led by James William Johnston*. That summer Crosskill declared himself “a Great Neutral,” but he now engaged in violently partisan journalism, at a time when the reformers were preaching the cause of responsible government. Their leader in this struggle, Joseph Howe*, had resumed editorship of the Novascotian in May, and outflanked Crosskill.
In the Post and the Gazette Crosskill was accustomed to defame his enemies and justify his own erratic behaviour. But he himself was mercilessly ridiculed in the Novascotian. Its columns for 1844 and 1845 present a whole series of events in his personal life. A dying servant girl ambiguously hinted that “Posty” (Crosskill) had given her arsenic, but he was discharged at the coroner’s inquest in 1844. The next year he pulled a dagger on an officer who complained about Crosskill’s public criticism of his manners. In court on this charge Crosskill insulted the mayor, Hugh Bell, and council, who then forced him to apologize publicly. Meanwhile, Crosskill himself took a man to court over a New Year’s Day scuffle caused by Crosskill’s increasing attentions to the man’s wife. William Young*, the speaker of the assembly, hauled Crosskill into court for libelling the Young brothers in their business transactions; Crosskill was defended by Johnston, who was the attorney general. In 1846 Falkland was recalled. Crosskill was then quoted in the Novascotian as heaping insults on him and praising his successor, Sir John Harvey, probably in hopes of keeping his appointment. The Novascotian also gave coverage to what was perhaps Crosskill’s most notorious gaffe: his accusation that William Walsh, the bishop of Halifax, advised Roman Catholics from the altar of St Mary’s Cathedral not to vote tory in the 1847 election; the liberals won it handily.
Because of criticism from reform newspapers concerning his sympathies with the tories and Falkland, Crosskill in the mid 1840s apparently tried to hide his connections both with the Post, which he edited until 1846, and with the Morning Courier, where he served as editor from October to December 1848, by having his employees pretend to be their proprietors. When he was forced to resign as queen’s printer in June 1848, the recently married editor found himself in poor financial shape. Although many years later George Edward Fenety*, a liberal newspaperman, accused Crosskill of having taken the appointment because “the shekels were of more importance to him than political principles,” Crosskill claimed that printing for the government had ruined him because in each session of the assembly his payment was reduced. In fact, Crosskill overcharged and a committee of both parties in 1847 and 1848 reduced his price scales to those Thompson had used. Journalism wore him out “body and soul,” and his ventures thereafter verged on collapse. From October to December 1848 he ran the New Times and the Courier as separate papers, and then in 1849 he merged them as the Times and Courier, publishing it at least until June. His next paper, the British North American, planned for the summer of 1849, was postponed until July 1850, and lasted until about the end of 1855. During that time the Novascotian on 7 Jan. 1850 published his letter on the province’s impending ruin, which he believed was the result of British free trade and American protection; the only remedy would be colonial representation in the imperial parliament. In 1849, 1852, and 1854 he petitioned, successfully, for old printing claims, and when he declared bankruptcy in 1854 the assembly appointed him official reporter at a salary of £100. This task he performed diligently until his death.
Crosskill contributed to provincial literature by publishing G. R. Young’s On colonial literature, science and education . . . (1842), John McPherson*’s prize temperance poem The praise of water (1843), and Samuel Douglas Smith Huyghue*’s historical romance Argimou: a legend of the Micmac (1847). In private, as in a poem to his wife on their eighth anniversary, he appears kindly and affectionate. A good printer and a talented reporter, Crosskill had the misfortune to be satirically exploited by his enemies, and the dubious honour of being one of the first recipients of patronage as practised in the party system of the 1840s. The Novascotian on 28 Sept. 1846 accused the “government pet” of ruining the character of the press by his connection with Falkland’s “scurrillous organ” and its “semi-barbarous warfare.” Unfortunately for Crosskill’s reputation, it is Howe’s own savage and demeaning view of him that has prevailed.
John Henry Crosskill published one issue of the Literary and Hist. Journal in Saint John, N.B., in October 1837. He is also the author of A comprehensive outline of the geography and history of Nova Scotia; from the discovery of America to the reign of Queen Victoria I . . . (Halifax, 1838), a second edition of which, covering the period to the sixth year of the reign of Queen Victoria I . . . , was published there in 1842; and of a poem “To my wife, on the anniversary of our marriage day,” which appeared in the British North American (Halifax), 15 Oct. 1855. He is the compiler of A complete narrative of the celebration of the nuptials of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, with His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Saxe Co[b]urg and Gotha, by the Nova Scotia Philanthropic Society, with introductory remarks on similar celebrations by the other charitable societies in Halifax, and by the people of Nova Scotia generally (Halifax, ).
BLHU, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 11: 222. PANS, MG 1, 544; MG 100, 128, no.18; RG 1, 175: 297–98, 368, 516; RG 5, GP, 2, petition of J. H. Crosskill, 1 March 1852; RG 22, 26: 1, 14–15. Joseph Howe, Joseph Howe: voice of Nova Scotia, ed. and intro. J. M. Beck (Toronto, 1964), 100–5, 110. N.S., House of Assembly, Journal and proc., 1848: 168; app. 82; 1849: 266, 294, 316, 385, 395; petition 46; 1852: 190; petition 64; app.79: 383–86; 1854: 503, 512, 541; app.23: 205; app.67: 304–5. Acadian Recorder, 14 Feb. 1857. British Colonist (Halifax), 14 Feb. 1857. New-Brunswick Courier, 9 Oct. 1847. Novascotian, 4, 11 March, 13 May, 17, 24 June, 1, 22 July, 5 Aug. 1844; 9, 16, 30 June, 7 July, 11 Aug., 15, 22 Dec. 1845; 17 Aug., 28 Sept. 1846; 2 Aug. 1847; 7 Jan. 1850; 16, 23 Feb. 1857 [the obituary notices of February 1857 were seen in bound copies at PANS, a different edition than that available on CLA mfm.; wording differs slightly]. J. R. Harper, Historical directory of New Brunswick newspapers and periodicals (Fredericton, 1961), 68. An historical directory of Nova Scotia newspapers and journals before Confederation, comp. T. B. Vincent (Kingston, Ont., 1977), nos.25, 59, 65, 89, 96, 108, 130. Beck, Joseph Howe. G. E. Fenety, Life and times of the Hon. Joseph Howe . . . (Saint John, 1896), 24. W. R. Livingston, Responsible government in Nova Scotia: a study of the constitutional beginnings of the British Commonwealth (Iowa City, 1930). MacNutt, Atlantic prov., 227–28. D. C. Harvey, “Newspapers of Nova Scotia, 1840–1867,” CHR, 26 (1945): 279–301.
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Cite This Article
George L. Parker, “CROSSKILL, JOHN HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 3, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crosskill_john_henry_8E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||George L. Parker|
|Title of Article:||CROSSKILL, JOHN HENRY|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||June 3, 2023|