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FISHER, JOHN CHARLTON, printer, publisher, journalist, office holder, and author; b. 23 Oct. 1794 in Carlisle, England; m. Elinor Isabella Auchmuty before coming to Lower Canada, and they had one daughter; d. 10 Aug. 1849 on the Sarah Sands while returning from a trip to England.

John Charlton Fisher was a brilliant student and obtained a doctorate in law. He subsequently left his native England to settle in New York City and in 1822, with John Sherren Bartlett, he there became a founding publisher of a newspaper, the Albion. In the summer of 1823 Fisher accepted an offer from the authorities in Lower Canada to come to Quebec and take over as publisher of the Quebec Gazette. Governor Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay] deplored the indifference shown the crown’s interests by publishers John Neilson and his son Samuel (the manager of the Gazette since 1822), and he sought in this way to control the paper’s contents. Fisher and Samuel Neilson engaged in lengthy negotiations from the end of August till early October 1823 over the division of responsibilities and income but came to an impasse. As a result, on 10 October the governor dismissed Samuel Neilson as king’s printer and gave the post to Fisher. A few days later Fisher received permission to put out the Quebec Gazette, published by authoritylLa Gazette de Québec, publiée par autorité. Embittered, the Neilsons protested against the usurpation of their newspaper’s title, but without success, and for many years two Quebec Gazettes were published simultaneously. From December 1823 the one under Fisher’s management was printed at the New Printing Office, which was owned by Pierre-Édouard Desbarats* and Thomas Cary* Jr. In a notarized instrument Fisher had also agreed to give this house the sole right to carry out contracts for printing official documents which he, as king’s printer, was to supervise. In December 1826 the arrangement was confirmed when William Kemble, having been appointed king’s printer jointly with Fisher on 2 November, formed a partnership with Desbarats and Cary to manage the New Printing Office.

During the 1830s Fisher continued to hold the posts of joint king’s printer and publisher of the Quebec Gazette, published by authority. He also worked as a journalist at the Quebec Mercury, which was printed at the New Printing Office. In 1838 he sat as clerk, and then as secretary, to the Rebellion Losses Commission. Having given up the post of publisher of the Quebec Gazette, published by authority in 1840, he decided to launch his own weekly, the Conservative, in 1841, but it was unsuccessful. With the union of the Canadas the seat of government was moved from Quebec to Kingston that year, and then to Montreal in 1844. Stewart Derbishire* and George-Paschal Desbarats* were appointed joint queen’s printers in the two cities. While Fisher’s duties were greatly diminished in importance, he none the less remained queen’s printer in the city of Quebec until his death. His office was located on Rue de la Montagne (Côte de la Montagne) at that time.

Fisher was one of the figures of note in the English-speaking cultural milieu of Quebec throughout the second quarter of the century. He had been a member of the Literary and Historical Society of New York, and with the approval of Lord Dalhousie, who had been thinking along these lines, he promoted the founding of a similar association at Quebec. The Literary and Historical Society of Quebec came into being in January 1824, and Fisher served as its first treasurer and corresponding secretary. He was named president in 1846 and vice-president the following year. The development of the city’s libraries was dear to his heart. Early in the 1830s he served as secretary and librarian of the Garrison Library. He was also involved in the administration of the Quebec Library Association, of which he became president in 1847. A member of the Church of England, for a long time he took an active part in the St George’s Society of Quebec. Fisher was interested in the history of his adopted city and collaborated closely in compiling and editing Hawkins’s picture of Quebec, a work by Alfred Hawkins* which appeared in 1834. During the 1840s Dr Fisher, as his contemporaries called him, was one of the most popular lecturers at Quebec. He spoke before the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, the Quebec Library Association, and the Mechanics’ Institute, on subjects ranging from British history to Greek and Egyptian antiquity. When Charles Dickens visited Quebec in 1842, Fisher had the honour of being his host.

Fisher went to England in the late summer or autumn of 1848. At the end of August 1849 several Quebec newspapers announced that he had died at sea on the tenth of that month on the steamship Sarah Sands, which he had boarded in Liverpool three days earlier to return to Quebec. In their obituaries the papers remarked that Fisher would be remembered as a true gentleman and a scholar with a passion for history. His talents as a journalist and writer and “the elegance and purity” of his style were also recalled. Nevertheless, of all Fisher’s work only one sentence, written in homage to James Wolfe* and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm*, endures: Mortem virtus communem / Famam historia / Monumentum posteritas dedit (Their courage gave them a common death, history a common fame, posterity a common memorial). The inscription became more renowned than its author and is still to be seen on the pedestal of the famous monument that was erected in the garden of the Château Saint-Louis at Dalhousie’s wish. Commemorating the two commanding officers at the battle of the Plains of Abraham and dedicated on 8 Sept. 1828, the column is a few steps from where the Château Frontenac now stands.

Jean-Marie Lebel

In addition to writing articles for the newspapers which he edited, John Charlton Fisher is the author of “Notes on the ancient English and Anglo-Saxon language,” published in Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., 3 (1832–37): 285–91. He composed a long poem read at the reopening of the theatre of Quebec’s Masonic Hall in 1831; Pierre-Georges Roy* printed it in his article “Le théâtre du Marché à foin, à Québec,” BRH, 43 (1937): 38–40. The handwritten texts of a number of his lectures are at ANQ-Q, P-78 (fonds John Charlton Fisher).

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 27 déc. 1824, 26 juill. 1848; CE1-79, 25 janv. 1860; CN1-253, 5 déc. 1823; 13 avril, 23 juill., 11 déc. 1824; 7 juin 1825; 8 déc. 1826; 27 janv., 23 févr. 1827; 18 sept. 1828; 6 août 1829; 19 juin 1832. AVQ, I, 1, 1828–30. PAC, MG 24, B1, papers concerning the relations of the proprietors of the Quebec Gazette with the government, 24 Aug., 4, 6, 24 Sept., 2, 3, 10 Oct. 1823. The centenary volume of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, 1824–1924, ed. Henry Ievers (Quebec, 1924), 18, 42, 97. James Douglas, “Opening address,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., new ser., 4 (1865–66): 5–18 Le Journal de Québec, ler sept. 1849. Quebec Gazette, 30 Aug. 1849. Quebec Mercury, 30 Aug. 1849. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, 1: 3, 118. H. J. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 124–25; Sketches of celebrated Canadians, 308–9. Quebec almanac, 1824–41. Quebec directory, 1847–49. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Ginette Bernatchez, “La Société littéraire et historique de Québec (the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec), 1824–1890” (thèse de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 1979), 3, 9, 20, 46, 48, 138–39, 143–45. George Gale, Historic tales of old Quebec (Quebec, 1923), 56, 167. Alfred Hawkins, Hawkins’s picture of Quebec; with historical recollections (Quebec, 1834), 277, 279. J. M. LeMoine, Picturesque Quebec: a sequel to “Quebec past and present” (Montreal, 1882), 5, 298. F. L. Mott, A history of American magazines, 1741–1850 (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), 131. F.-J. Audet, “John Neilson,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 22 (1928), sect.i: 81–97. Bernard Dufebvre [Émile Castonguay], “La presse anglaise en 1837–38: Adam Thom, John Neilson, John Fisher,” Rev. de l’univ. Laval, 8 (1953–54): 267–74. Ægidius Fauteux, “L’inscription du monument Wolfe et Montcalm,” BRH, 30 (1924): 235–36. Claude Galarneau, “Les métiers du livre à Québec (1764–1859),” Cahiers des Dix, 43 (1983): 143–65; “La presse périodique au Québec de 1764 à 1859,” RSC Trans., 4th ser., 22 (1984): 163. Ignotus [Thomas Chapais], “Le monument Wolfe et Montcalm à Québec,” BRH, 5 (1899): 305–9. J.-M. Lebel, “John C. Fisher, hôte de Charles Dickens,” Cap-aux-Diamants (Québec), 2 (1986–87), no.3: 29–31.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jean-Marie Lebel, “FISHER, JOHN CHARLTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fisher_john_charlton_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fisher_john_charlton_7E.html
Author of Article: Jean-Marie Lebel
Title of Article: FISHER, JOHN CHARLTON
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: July 29, 2014