CLEMO, EBENEZER, author, businessman, and inventor; b. c. 1830, probably in London; d. c. 1860, probably in Morristown, N.J.

Ebenezer Clemo undoubtedly came from England. His family name is of Cornish origin; in his writings he mentions his arrival in Canada and calls himself “a British subject.” In a brief biographical sketch which is the chief source of information about Clemo, a contemporary, Henry James Morgan*, says that he was “a native of London, England, who came to Canada in 1858.” Clemo had received a good education. He described himself as a chemist and the novels attributed to him show a familiarity with the works of many British writers.

According to Morgan, Clemo, who was destitute upon his arrival in Canada, sought work “as a message boy” with the Montreal publisher John Lovell*, but “knowing his acquirements, [Lovell] engaged him to write a couple of books on Canadian life.” The life and adventures of Simon Seek; or Canada in all shapes, by Maple Knot, was published by Lovell in December 1858 and attributed to Clemo by his contemporaries. The story of poor Londoners who immigrate to Canada, Simon Seek probably reflects Clemo’s own experiences. In the same year Lovell launched a vigorous campaign to sell the second novel attributed to Clemo, Canadian homes; or the mystery solved. He advertised it in several newspapers, most of which reviewed it favourably. Henri-Émile Chevalier* prepared a translation, Le foyer canadien ou le mystère dévoilé (1859), that was also widely advertised and reviewed. Lovell’s announcements claimed that he had printed 30,000 copies in English and 20,000 in French for sale at 25 cents each, half the price of Simon Seek.

 Canadian homes was the story of another group of English immigrants, who arrived in Toronto in mid winter only to find that, because of the lack of a protective tariff to encourage Canadian manufacturing, there were no jobs. Lovell’s efforts on the novel’s behalf underlined its importance as a publication. “Printed at Montreal, from Types, manufactured by . . . the Montreal Type Foundry” and on paper made in Lower Canada, Canadian homes was a thesis novel, part of a campaign mounted by Lovell, William Weir*, and others for the adoption of a protective tariff to help wrest Canada from its “great commercial distress” by “the establishment and encouragement of her home manufactures.” In addition to publicizing Clemo’s novels, Weir, who was secretary of the Tariff Reform Association established in Toronto in 1858, formed a partnership with him. By mid December 1858 Clemo had moved to Toronto and in the following year Weir and Clemo, “commission brokers and manufacturers’ agents,” were located at 18 Wellington Street West. Since Weir, publisher of the Canadian Merchants’ Magazine, noted in the issue of June 1859 that “an able writer” had contributed to the journal “during the past few months,” Clemo may have assisted in this enterprise as well.

By January 1860, however, both the magazine and the business had folded and the partners had returned to Montreal. On 10 January Clemo petitioned the governor-in-chief, Sir Edmund Walker Head*, for letters patent for “a new process of manufacturing Pulp, for the manufacture of paper and parchment, from straw and other vegetable substances,” the description of the “invention” being witnessed by Weir. The patent was granted on 27 January. Apparently Clemo left again for Toronto shortly after.

On 18 June Clemo swore an oath in New York City that he was the “first inventor” of the “process” he had already patented in Canada. Then he left for Washington, D.C., where, on the following day, his application for an American patent was received. On 22 June he amended its specifications as requested by the United States Patent Office, which issued a patent on 10 July. Giving his mailing address as care of George Brown* in Toronto, he then left Washington.

Clemo’s activities afterwards cannot be verified. Since a Canadian patent was issued to Weir on 2 October for what appears to be an improvement on Clemo’s invention, Clemo was probably dead by then. Morgan says that he died in 1860, at age 30, in Morristown, N.J., where he was “erecting machinery for the manufacture of . . . paper.” Another contemporary writer, Andrew Learmont Spedon, in his work Rambles among the Blue-Noses (1863) also noted “poor unfortunate” Clemo’s death.

Unfortunate or not, Ebenezer Clemo had connections with “Celebrated Canadians” of his day. He invented a paper-making process which was considered promising enough to be patented in two countries. Although now forgotten as a novelist, he made two interesting, albeit somewhat idiosyncratic, contributions to mid–19th-century Canadian fiction. Finally, in his exploration of “mysteries” such as the protective tariff he discussed issues and debated theories still relevant to Canadian economic thought.

Mary Jane Edwards

Ebenezer Clemo wrote, under the pseudonym of Maple Knot, The life and adventures of Simon Seek; or Canada in all shapes (Montreal and Toronto, 1858) and Canadian homes; or the mystery solved, a Christmas tale (Montreal and Toronto, 1858); the latter was translated into French by Henri-Émile Chevalier and published as Le foyer canadien ou le mystère dévoilé, nouvelle du jour de Noël (Montréal et Toronto, 1859).

Canada Patent Office Library (Ottawa), Canada Patent 1045, Ebenezer Clemo, 27 Jan. 1860; 1148, William Weir, 2 Oct. 1860. National Arch. (Washington), RG 241, Patented application file, no.29059. Daily British Whig, 14 Dec. 1858, 6–17 Jan. 1859. Daily Spectator and Journal of Commerce, 14, 30 Dec. 1858. Montreal Gazette, 29 Dec. 1858–4 Jan. 1859. L’Ordre (Montréal), 17 déc. 1858–14 janv. 1859. Le Pays, 11 déc. 1858–25 janv. 1859. Quebec Mercury, 4–8 Jan. 1859. Transcript (Montreal), 11–29 Dec. 1858. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), 2: 349. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis, 77; Sketches of celebrated Canadians, 766. Toronto directory, 1859–60. A. L. Spedon, Rambles among the Blue-Noses; or reminiscences of a tour through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, during the summer of 1862 (Montreal, 1863). William Weir, Sixty years in Canada (Montreal, 1903). “A new Canadian novel,” Canadian Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Rev. (Toronto), 3 (April–December 1858): 476. M. J. Edwards, “The case of Canadian homes,” Canadian Literature (Vancouver), no.81 (summer 1979): 147–54. “To our readers,” Canadian Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Rev. (Toronto), 4 (January-June 1859): 400–1.

Cite This Article

Mary Jane Edwards, “CLEMO, EBENEZER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024,

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:   Mary Jane Edwards
Title of Article:   CLEMO, EBENEZER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   July 25, 2024