FISHER, RICHARD, narrator of an English voyage to the Magdalen Is. and Cape Breton; fl. 1593.
Nothing is known of him except that he was the servant of a Thames-side shipowner, Peter Hill of Rotherhithe, and that he kept the journal (being purser or cape merchant) on the ship owned by Hill, the Marigold, 70 tons (Richard Strong of Topsham, master), in 1593, when she set out, with ten hunters, butchers, and coopers on board, to take walrus from a base on the Magdalen Is. in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A clue to Richard Fisher’s family may be the fact that a Robert Fisher of Rotherhithe, whose sister became the second wife of Peter Hill between 1595 and 1602, may well have been a relative, possibly his father or uncle (see Will, 28 March 1602, Somerset House, London, P.C.C. Montague 25, printed in Surrey Arch. Coll., X, 306).
In 1591 intelligence had reached Lord Burghley that the St. Lawrence contained valuable walrus, whale, and fur resources. A Breton vessel, the Bonaventure, belonging to La Court de Pré-Ravillon, was brought into Bristol with her share of the tusks and hides from 1,500 walrus and 80 tuns of oil taken by her and her consort. William James of Bristol obtained information about harbours in Ramea (the Magdalen Is.) where the walrus were taken, from an anonymous member of the crew (probably the master) of the Bonaventure and reported on 19 September to Lord Burghley. Only a month later, on 9 October, Edward Palmer wrote to Lord Burghley from Saint-Jean-de-Luz that a Basque ship from Canada, carrying fine furs and oil, had been taken into Weymouth and that he should investigate her cargo and sources of supply (PRO, S.P. 94/4, ff.64–66).
It may have been Burghley who induced Hill to send the Marigold to the southwest to take part in an English walrus-hunting venture. In the same year, a Basque pilot Stevan de Bocall, who knew the gulf came to Bristol and gave his services to a ship which went to the St. Lawrence [see WYET]. It is possible that he undertook to pilot George Drake of Topsham, who was to be ready to join with the Marigold in April.
The two ships did not leave Falmouth until 1 June. Fisher tells us that the ships parted company at sea. Drake, he learnt, got to Newfoundland first and succeeded in reaching the Magdalens (suggesting that he had a pilot). He found both harbours – Basque Harbour and either House Harbour or Grand Entry – occupied by Basques and Bretons, but in one was a single Breton ship (conceivably one belonging to La Court de Pré-Ravillon), almost ready to sail. Taking fright, as she was from a Catholic League port and feared an English attack, she slipped away at night, leaving George Drake to capture three of her boats, which were out hunting with 23 men on them, and, apparently, some walrus carcases. He stayed only a short time to hunt further and did not wait for the Marigold, but returned to England.
Fisher tells us the Marigold, after passing through Cabot Strait, missed the Magdalens and, as she afterwards found, overshot them. She landed men at Cape Breton, and finally worked her way, some 50 or 60 leagues westwards and southwestwards, along the shores of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, possibly as far as the present-day Halifax Harbour. She then proceeded to beat up and down the coast of Arambec (the Micmac name for Nova Scotia) until late September, doing a little fishing. Fisher gives no explanation of the lack of decisive action. He had recorded the trees and fruits he saw and something about the Cape Breton Indians when he went ashore there several times, and was the first Englishman to do so, but he said nothing about similar visits on the Nova Scotia coast, though he did note the sighting of seals, porpoises, and whales at sea. Presumably, the Marigold was waiting for Drake’s ship to pick her up.
Finally, the master persuaded the crew to make for the Azores in the hope of taking an enemy prize, but the only Portuguese ship they met was too strong for them. The Marigold got to the Downs on 22 December and was unable to make the Thames by Christmas, so that the voyage was, for her, a complete failure, and was not, apparently, repeated.
Fisher’s narrative is sensible, but in no way outstanding. However, the novelty of his accounts of the Micmacs, limited though they are, makes his narrative of some significance.
[For the continuation of the Magdalen Is. (Ramea) enterprises see Charles Leigh.]
Hakluyt, Principal navigations (1903–5), VIII, 150–62. Biggar, Early trading companies. S. E. Dawson, The St. Lawrence Basin (London, 1905). R. Douglas, “Place-names on Magdalen Islands, Que.,” Geog. Bd. Can., 17th Report (1922), 66–74; “La nomenclature géographique des Isles Madeleine, Province de Québec,” Bulletin de la Société de Géographie de Québec, XIX (1925), 228–40, 301–5.