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TAZEWELL, SAMUEL OLIVER, watchmaker, jeweller, piano tuner, and lithographer; fl. 1820–38

Samuel Oliver Tazewell emigrated from England to Upper Canada some time before May 1820. His name appears in the Kingston Chronicle on 19 May 1820, when he announced that he had “commenced” business repairing watches and clocks. He stated that, “having had many years experience in London,” he was “perfectly acquainted with the patent Lever, Horizontal and Duplex Scapements, Repeaters, &c &c.” A year later in the same paper he advertised that he had opened a circulating library of “upwards of One Thousand Volumes of the most choice selected Novels, Plays, Voyages, Travels, &c. &c.” In June 1825 he was one of the “friends of free discussion” who presented the Upper Canada Herald’s editor, Hugh Christopher Thomson*, with a silver cup engraved by Tazewell himself to mark their admiration for his “manly independence” in conducting the paper. Later that year Tazewell’s name appears as a contributor to a relief fund for fire victims at Miramichi in New Brunswick. On 16 Oct. 1828 he announced in the Canadian Freeman his intention of opening on 1 November a jewellery store in York (Toronto), guaranteeing “the utmost satisfaction to all” because of his “experience of years in the city of London.” But if he went to York, his stay was brief, for the following spring he was back in Kingston as a jeweller, specializing also in watch repairs, engraving, and piano tuning. In 1831 he added lithographic printing, after discovering a suitable Kingston limestone and building his own press, and thus became the first lithographer in Upper Canada.

At the request of Thomson, he wrote an article on the lithographic process for the Herald of 24 Nov. 1830 and nine months later he advertised his new press in the Kingston Chronicle as capable of reproducing “Maps, Plans, Views, Circulars, Music, Headings of Merchant Bills, and Steam Boat notices, with sketch of the Boat if required, Blank deeds and Memorials, Funeral Notices, embellished with suitable emblems, Bills of Exchange, &c. &c. &c. . . . Caricatures printed by the sketch being supplied.” Some early samples of his art were presented to Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne* on 2 Aug. 1831, and by the end of the year Tazewell had completed a map of Kingston and one or two amusing cartoons.

In January 1832 Thomas Dalton, editor of the Patriot and Farmers Monitor, expressed his admiration for Tazewell’s discovery: “The fact is Tazewell, by research, / Has found out that the English Church, / Is built of Lithographic Stone; / And not the English Church alone, / But all stone houses in the Town.” Another supporter was Captain Richard Henry Bonnycastle, who, in July 1833, reported Tazewell’s discovery of Canadian lithographic stone in the American Journal of Sciences and Arts. The article was illustrated with drawings of the type of Canadian limestone used by Tazewell, who lithographed the drawings.

Late in 1832 Tazewell had moved his press to York in the expectation of obtaining government contracts from the newly appointed surveyor general, Samuel Proudfoot Hurd*. Although he obtained some work on a commission basis, he encountered relentless opposition from the senior draftsman, James Grant Chewett*, who saw his perquisites from expensive hand-drawn maps endangered by cheap lithographs. Moreover, because Chewett’s father, William, had recently been an unsuccessful candidate for the position of surveyor general, Chewett was determined to create difficulties for Hurd. He first refused to let any plans or maps go out of the office, and then complained that Tazewell’s home-made press and Canadian stone were of inferior quality. Hurd countered by ordering a New York press and imported stones; Chewett then insisted they be used only by qualified draftsmen. Hurd temporized, allowing Tazewell to store the new press in his shop and to use it to complete orders on hand from the commissioner of crown lands. At this point, on 28 May 1834, Colborne intervened, ordering Hurd to have the press transferred to his department and instructing him not to employ Tazewell. Since none of the draftsmen were capable of operating the press, it fell into disuse. Tazewell was forced to take legal action to collect for work he had done, a suit settled out of court in 1835.

As an associate of the Society of Artists and Amateurs of Toronto, Tazewell was one of a dozen local artists (including Paul Kane*) who held a public exhibition of their work in 1834. His entries were “Six lithographs from Canadian stone” and three sketches of Niagara Falls. A son, listed in the catalogue as “Master Tazewell,” was an honorary exhibitor, as was “Master Hurd,” son of the surveyor general.

Denied any government contracts and prevented from using the New York press, on 9 Feb. 1835 Tazewell wrote an open letter accusing the government draftsmen of suppressing “this useful art of Lithography,” and making it impossible for “the Person that brought forward the Art in this Province to gain a livelihood and to support his large Family.” Colborne, however, declined to reinstate him, and by September 1835 he had moved to St Catharines and taken up his old trade of jeweller, watchmaker, and piano tuner. He continued to produce the occasional lithograph.

After Sir Francis Bond Head* succeeded Colborne, Tazewell addressed a petition to him on 10 March 1836 charging that he had been persecuted by Chewett, who had “blighted” his prospects as lithographer, to the injury not only of the petitioner but also of settlers who had been offered plans from the lithographic press “at the low price of a quarter of a dollar” but now had to pay 12s. 6d. for small township plans and “as high as ten Dollars for the larger.” Head referred this petition to Chewett, who exonerated himself, vilified Tazewell, and stated that the press had been discontinued “owing to the expense attending the few copies wanted at any one time.” No further action was taken.

At this point it becomes difficult to trace Tazewell’s activities. On 27 Feb. 1837 his wife, Mary Ann, died in St Catharines. The following year an anonymous advertisement in the St. Catharines Journal, and Welland Canal (Niagara District,) General Advertiser solicited subscriptions of one dollar for a lithographic genealogical map of the “family compact,” asking interested parties to forward their names to the ‘Artist of the Family Compact Map’, North American Hotel, Toronto.” It is probable that this was Tazewell’s final effort in Upper Canada and it seems likely that he left the province shortly thereafter. Almost a decade would pass before lithography was re-established in Upper Canada by Hugh Scobie*.

Samuel Oliver Tazewell’s failure to obtain a government appointment is attributable mainly to bureaucratic obstruction. But he seems also to have antagonized even his well-wishers by his self-importance, his querulous temperament, impulsive, behaviour, and lack of sound judgement.

H. P. Gundy

No complete record of Samuel Oliver Tazewell’s work exists. Most of his known pictorial prints are discussed and several of them are reproduced in Mary Allodi, Printmaking in Canada: the earliest views and portraits (Toronto, 1980). A copy of Tazewell’s portrait of William Dunlop (York [Toronto], c. 1833), previously only rumoured to exist, has recently been located in the UTFL. The MTRL possesses what is probably the only surviving copy of An introduction to Greek declension & conjugation adapted to the abridgments of Matthiœs grammar, a school text lithographed by Tazewell for Upper Canada College at York in 1833. In addition, Tazewell is known to have printed more than 20 maps and town plans, copies of which are located in the National Map Coll. at the PAC, the Map Coll. at the AO (including a hand-coloured copy of the map of Kingston, [Ont.]), and the Royal Ont. Museum, Sigmund Samuel Canadiana Building (Toronto).

AO, MU 2106, 1835, no.5; RG 1, A-I-7, 9, file on maps (lithographing). PAC, RG 5, A1: 89128–34, 89741–51. R. H. Bonnycastle, “On the transition rocks of the Cataraqui,” American Journal of Sciences and Arts (New Haven, Conn.), 24 (July 1833): 97–104. Canadian Freeman, 16 Oct. 1828. Kingston Chronicle, 19 May 1820; 18, 25 May 1821; 20 Aug., 5 Nov. 1831; 1 Jan. 1832. Patriot and Farmers Monitor, 6 Oct., 7 Dec. 1832; 19 July, 9, 26 Nov. 1833. St. Catharines Journal, and Welland Canal (Niagara District,) General Advertiser (St Catharines, [Ont.]), 12 Nov. 1835, 9 March 1836, 2 March 1837, 20 Sept. 1838. Upper Canada Herald, 13 May 1823; 21 June, 22 Nov. 1825; 24 Nov. 1830. Toronto directory, 1833–34. H. P. Gundy, “Samuel Oliver Tazewell, first lithographer of Upper Canada,” Humanities Assoc. Rev. (Kingston), 27 (1976): 466–83.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

H. P. Gundy, “TAZEWELL, SAMUEL OLIVER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tazewell_samuel_oliver_7E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tazewell_samuel_oliver_7E.html
Author of Article:   H. P. Gundy
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   September 30, 2023