ADAMSON, WILLIAM AGAR, Church of England clergyman and author; b. 21 Nov. 1800 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland), son of James Agar Adamson of Ballinalack, County Westmeath; m. in 1824 Sarah Walsh of Walsh Park, County Tipperary, and they had nine children; d. 7 Aug. 1868 at Ottawa, Ont.
William Agar Adamson matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1817 and graduated ba in 1821. He became a priest of the Church of Ireland and in 1824 curate of Lockeen and Parsonstown (Birr), County Offaly. He was vicar of Clonlen and of Ennis from 1833 to 1838, both in County Clare. It was in these parishes of western Ireland that he cultivated the love of angling, especially salmon fishing, which was to be a principal feature of his career in Canada. In 1838 he became rector of Kilcooly parish, counties Kilkenny and Tipperary, and chaplain to the Marquis of Normanby, then Whig lord lieutenant of Ireland. The growing weakness of the Whig ministry after 1838, and Normanby’s consequent decline in influence, soon dampened his hopes of preferment. In 1840, however, Normanby’s influence obtained for him the incumbency of Amherst Island, Upper Canada. He was introduced to Lord Sydenham [Thomson*], probably through Normanby, a former colleague of Sydenham, and became his personal chaplain, attending him when he died in 1841.
Adamson became chaplain and librarian to the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada in 1841. He performed the duties of librarian competently; in 1851 the post was made a sinecure and he held it until 1867 when he became librarian to the Senate. He resigned shortly before his death. He was in no sense the parliamentary librarian his younger colleague Alpheus Todd* would be. He received dcl degrees from McGill University and the University of Bishop’s College. As a Canadian commissioner with Thomas D’Arcy McGee, he visited the Dublin Exposition in 1865.
Adamson won esteem as a powerful preacher, “one of the most eloquent in North America,” and as a sportsman and author. He was assistant to Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal (1844–50), Holy Trinity Cathedral, Quebec (1851–55 and 1861–66), St George’s, Toronto, and St Paul’s, Yorkville (1856–60), and Christ Church, Ottawa (1867–68). He also served as secretary of the Church Society of the Diocese of Quebec, and was an evening lecturer at the cathedral in Quebec. Several of his sermons were printed.
He wrote on sports and nature themes in the Dublin University Magazine, Blackwood’s, and other British periodicals, as well as in most Canadian magazines. Typical of his writings is one on “The decrease, restoration, and preservation of salmon in Canada,” in the Canadian Journal (1857). His articles arising out of the pursuit of his hobby on the Saguenay and the Moisie rivers were collected and published in 1860 by Sir James Edward Alexander under the title Salmon-fishing in Canada. The book is pleasantly descriptive and hearty in tone; Adamson has been called the Izaak Walton of Canada though his work lacks the meditative quality of The compleat angler. The Literary Gazette of London wrote of it: “The author is evidently, as all anglers should be, a true lover of nature, and some of his descriptions of Canadian scenery are given with considerable effect.” Its biographical interest lies in its revelation of the kind of clergyman Adamson was, an eloquent, kindly, sporting parson.
W. A. Adamson’s published works include Things to be remembered; a sermon (Montreal, 1846); The churching of women (Montreal, 1848); “The decrease, restoration, and preservation of salmon in Canada,” Canadian Journal, new ser., II (1857), 1–7; and [ ], Salmon-fishing in Canada, ed. J. E. Alexander (London, 1860). Letters and addresses, presented to the Rev. W. Agar Adamson, D.C.L., chaplain and librarian to the Honorable the Legislative Council of Canada (Toronto, 1856). Monck letters and journals, 1863–1868: Canada from Government House at confederation, ed. W. L. Morton (Toronto and Montreal, 1970). Boase, Modern English biog., IV. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis. Notman and Taylor, Portraits of British Americans, III.