BOXER, EDWARD, naval officer, office holder, and politician; b. 27 Feb. 1784 in Dover, England, son of James and Kitty Boxer; d. 4 June 1855 on board the Jason near Balaklava (U.S.S.R.).
Edward Boxer, one of three brothers who served in the British navy, began his career in 1798 and, after long, eventful service in the English Channel, West Indies, and Mediterranean, won promotion to lieutenant on 8 Jan. 1807 and commander on 1 March 1815. On half pay until he received command of the sloop Sparrowhawk on the Halifax station in September 1822, he became post captain on 23 June 1823, and went to England as inspecting commander of the coastguard in July 1824. From 1827 to 1830, while commanding the fifth-rate Hussar, he served as flag-captain to the commander-in-chief of the American and West Indies squadron, Sir Charles Ogle. In 1827 Boxer began a survey of the capes, coves, and shoals in the Gulf of St Lawrence which he later presented to Ogle. At the same time the government of Lower Canada was considering the establishment of a series of navigational aids to provide greater safety for maritime traffic in the area. Consulted by Canadian authorities about possible sites, Boxer was able to make a significant contribution. He suggested the construction of lighthouses at several dangerous points, including places on the coasts of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Anticosti Island, St Paul Island, N.S., and on the banks of the Miramichi River, N.B. The majority of his recommendations were accepted, but construction of lighthouses and lightships, the beginnings of a network of such aids, proceeded slowly from the 1830s to the 1860s.
Commander of the Pique from 1837 to 1841, Boxer was again active in Lower Canada when in 1838 he brought troops to reinforce the Quebec garrison. In 1840 he played an important part in the bombardment of St Jean d’Acre (Akko, Israel), for which he won a Turkish gold medal and was made a cb, before returning to the West Indies.
On 26 Oct. 1841 Boxer was named harbour-master of Quebec and captain of that port by the governor general, Lord Sydenham [Thomson*], partly because Sydenham wanted professional naval advice and partly because Boxer would be “ready at a moment’s notice to take command of the Lakes” should it become necessary. His duties involved the enforcement of harbour regulations, including those relating to pilots, wharfage, and tonnage. Boxer’s previous naval experience, more extensive than that of his predecessors, John Lambly, François Boucher*, and James Frost*, served him well in his new post. Although his work was seasonal, from the opening of navigation on the river in May to the close in December, he was none the less responsible for a busy port which, during his tenure, registered the arrivals and departures of upwards of 1,000 vessels a year. He submitted an elaborate plan for the improvement of the harbour to the provincial secretary, James Leslie*, in November 1848 and shortly afterwards presented a more detailed plan to the city council for docks and piers at the mouth of the Rivière Saint-Charles and along the St Lawrence. The project was again put forth, unsuccessfully, by Quebec mayor Ulric-Joseph Tessier* in 1853.
In 1845 Lieutenant-General Richard Downes Jackson* appointed Boxer to a commission with Lieutenant-Colonel William Cuthbert Elphinstone Holloway to investigate Canada’s defences against the United States. Boxer, assisted by Lieutenant Hampden Clement Blamire Moody of the Royal Engineers, examined the lines of communication leading to the west, and then set off with another assistant, David Taylor, former master attendant at the naval dockyard at Kingston, Upper Canada, to visit American ports on the Great Lakes. Boxer’s reports, developing the idea that “the defences of a country should keep pace with its prosperity,” emphasized the importance of improving canals and railways. He argued in favour of a revived naval establishment on the Great Lakes. In 1864, after Anglo-American relations had again deteriorated, Captain Richard Collinson*, rn, submitted his report on Canada’s defences and, by basing his own examination almost entirely on Boxer’s conclusions, confirmed their validity.
In the course of his travels Boxer made particularly caustic remarks about the Welland and Beauharnois canals and the channel through Lac Saint-Pierre, accusing the provincial Board of Works of being costly and inefficient. He urged the appointment of an engineer from England “free from the trammels of local associations and interests.” Much to Boxer’s professed surprise Hamilton Hartley Killaly*, chairman of the Board of Works, resented these aspersions on his department and the engineering projects with which he had been associated and complained to the Colonial Office. Boxer’s subsequent disclaimer of ill-feeling towards the board minimized the controversy. By 1853 his attention had turned to the defence of trade in the event of war between Great Britain and other powers.
Boxer is remembered for his efforts, together with those of Lieutenant-General Jackson, Astronomer Royal George Biddell Airy, and the Quebec Board of Trade, to establish an observatory in the city during the late 1840s. His interest in transportation, communication, and defence may also have led him to become a director from 1847 to 1849 of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association, founded in 1847 to provide a telegraphic link between Quebec and Halifax, and prompted him to serve on the local committee of the Halifax and Quebec Railway early in 1849. On 6 Feb. 1849 he was elected to represent Saint-Louis ward on the Quebec City Council, where he sat until 1851. He was also a member of the board of health from 1848 to 1851, a particularly active post because of the frequent outbreaks of cholera.
Promoted rear-admiral on 5 March 1853, Boxer left Quebec on 14 July. During the Crimean War he became admiral superintendent at Balaklava and tackled the disastrous confusion of the harbour with his customary energy but at the cost of his life. He died of cholera on board the Jason outside the harbour on 4 June 1855.
A thoroughgoing professional, Boxer left few traces of his private life. According to the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1855, his wife Elizabeth had died on 25 June 1826, but the place of burial cannot be determined. His will named Elizabeth Boxer, probably a second wife, as the legatee. He had a large family; one of his daughters had married the Quebec businessman Charles E. Levey.
[The author wishes to express his appreciation to Roch Lauzier of Quebec for his assistance in the preparation of this biography. w.a.b.d.]
Arch. of Christ Church Cathedral (Canterbury, Eng.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials for the parish of St Mary, Dover. PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 31, 60, 76, 175, 222, 308, 827, 860, 938, 1008. Ports Canada Arch. (Quebec), Trinity House, Quebec, minute-books, IV: 204–8; VII. PRO, ADM 1/1586 (copies at PAC); ADM 7/624 (copies at PAC); ADM 107/31; PROB 11/2215: f.587; WO 1/552–59 (copies at PAC). Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1849, app.MMM. Gentleman’s Magazine, July–December 1855: 95–96. Quebec Gazette, 3 Nov. 1841; 3, 7 Feb. 1849. DNB. G.B., Admiralty, The commissioned sea officers of the Royal Navy, 1660–1815, [ed. D. B. Smith et al.] (3v., n.p., ). Morgan, Sketches of celebrated Canadians, 483–85. O’Byrne, Naval biog. dict. (1849), 109–10. Quebec directory, 1847–49. Chouinard et Drolet, La ville de Quebéc, vol.3. J. M. Hitsman, Safeguarding Canada, 1763–1871 (Toronto, 1968). J. M. LeMoine, The port of Quebec: its annals, 1535–1900 (Quebec, 1901), 78–79. E. F. Bush, “The Canadiané lighthouse,” Canadian Hist. Sites: Occasional Papers in Archæology and Hist. (Ottawa), no.9 (1974): 5–107. “L’observatoire de Quebec,” BRH, 42 (1936): 16–18. “Un conseiller de ville de Québec amiral britannique,” BRH, 38 (1932): 641–42.