WILCOCKE, SAMUEL HULL, author and journalist; b. c. 1766 in Reigate, England, son of the Reverend Samuel Wilcocke; d. 3 July 1833 at Quebec.
Samuel Hull Wilcocke’s father was a clergyman of the Church of England for a considerable time at Middelburg (Netherlands). He returned to England with his family when the French forces invaded in 1794. Samuel had evidently acquired most of his education in Europe; his writings have a continental scholastic flavour, with special emphasis on linguistics and enrichment from extensive reading in classical and English literature. Shortly after his return, he began to contribute to British literary periodicals and to prepare translations from Dutch, German, and French. His pursuits, however, soon “flowed in the channel of commerce,” as he brought his erudition and research to the translation and editing of volumes on the East Indies and on Buenos Aires, works useful for the expansive mercantile interests of Liverpool. By 1800 he was “established in a promising mercantile concern” in that city. During his residence there of approximately 20 years, Wilcocke participated in civic, literary, and theatrical activities which he was later to recommend as examples for Montreal.
Although by 1800 Wilcocke was married, the name of his wife is not known. Domestic troubles are mentioned as one of his reasons for leaving England. In 1817 he came to the Canadas, probably with some of his children and their families, to serve as a publicist for the North West Company during its dispute with the Hudson’s Bay Company over the attempts of Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] to establish a colony on the Red River. He published A narrative of occurrences in the Indian countries of North America in 1817, in reply to John Halkett*’s Statement respecting the Earl of Selkirk’s settlement of Kildonan, upon the Red River (London, 1817), and in 1818 and 1819 three accounts of trials held during those years.
In 1820 Wilcocke came into conflict with the NWC. Warned that he was to be arrested because it was alleged that he possessed documents and secrets prejudicial to the interests of the company, he fled to Burlington, Vt, in October. NWC agents captured him in the United States and brought him back to Montreal before the end of the month, accusing him of having absconded with £1,500 in company funds. He was jailed for a year before being tried and acquitted of forgery and grand larceny. Immediately reimprisoned on charges of debt, he was held until pressure from the United States – where he had been illegally seized – accomplished his release. These events led him into a new form of literary expression; a newspaper, the Scribbler, was founded on 28 June 1821, while he was still in prison. When he gained his freedom on 8 May of the following year, the price was exile, but he continued to edit the Scribbler, which was always printed in Montreal, from the haven of Burlington and other places in the United States. His talents at last found a focus in a journal of defence for himself and of offence for many people in Montreal.
The Scribbler was initially conducted with the circumspection and restraint appropriate to its position as the first critical journal of its kind in Lower Canada and the first to be bound, volume by volume. When Wilcocke was released from prison, he introduced more of himself into his weekly paper. The journal’s reputation for “scurrility” increased as did Wilcocke’s attacks on the agents and officials of the NWC and on the respectability of prominent English-speaking Montrealers. He introduced scandal, so-called “news,” innuendo, thinly disguised nicknames for his victims (such as Mr Reaper for Nahum Mower, Tommy Changling for Thomas Andrew Turner, Horatio Bigdoors for Horatio Gates, and Lord Goddamn-him for Thomas Thain), double entendre, and some obscenity. By giving an air of fiction and imagery to his pleasantries, he shared with his colonial readers, except his victims, a literary experience current in contemporary British journalism. Hundreds of persons were given literary life against the vividly described background of early provincial Montreal.
A series of articles in the journal entitled “Letters from Pulo Penang” gave his barely fictitious version of the persecution which he, and especially his wife, Ann, had suffered. Ann Lewis of South Lambeth (London) had joined him in Lower Canada in 1819. According to Wilcocke, their marriage was performed in Montreal in 1821, secretly for “prudential reasons connected with lawsuits instituted for recovery of property.” On 22 Aug. 1825 they were remarried in Rouses Point, N.Y. His dedication in the first volume of the Scribbler celebrated the love and devotion of Ann: every day she had appeared at the prison gate and she had been the manager and distributor of the weekly journal. She had probably also been the city reporter and pseudonymous “correspondent.” The journal may, indeed, have been written largely by this couple under dozens of pseudonyms. The Scribbler may find its niche in Canadian literature because it is largely “confessional,” a strange and rare type of autobiography. It is the record of one of Canada’s most intriguing love stories.
The paper included original poems by Wilcocke and “new” local poets, reviews of Canadian books, controversies with rival journalists, descriptions of life among the English-speaking inhabitants of Montreal, and constructive advice regarding civic institutions. Wilcocke prided himself on promoting the use of standard English among writers in Montreal and its environs. He printed many of his early and fugitive poems and stories. Notable among the exhibitions of his scholarship was a series of textual studies, largely linguistic, on the plays of Philip Massinger, the Caroline dramatist.
On several occasions Wilcocke attempted to publish other newspapers. In order to avoid political discussions in the Scribbler, he started a journal to oppose the bill to unite Lower and Upper Canada. The Free Press, although bearing a Montreal imprint, was published mainly in Burlington and ran from 10 Oct. 1822 to 4 Sept. 1823. Wilcocke then moved to Rouses Point, where he began another newspaper. The Harbinger was a disastrous excursion into American politics because of the misunderstandings which arose between Wilcocke and his Republican supporters. An advertisement for the Colonial Magazine, a monthly intended for general readers, appeared in a late number of the Scribbler, on 1 March 1827. One issue was available for review in October 1827, but there is no record of a second.
By 1828 Wilcocke had returned to Montreal. During the last five years of his life, he reported on the debates in the House of Assembly at Quebec for the province’s newspapers and, from his shorthand notes, he compiled The history of the session of the provincial parliament of Lower Canada for 1828–29, which William Stewart Wallace* was to recognize as “the first approach in Canada to Hansard.” In a petition to the governor general, Lord Aylmer [Whitworth-Aylmer*], in 1831, Wilcocke described the History as “daily and faithful reports of the proceedings, arguments and sentiments of the Representatives of the people,” and asked for a grant of £100 to complete publication. Even though the Quebec Gazette and the Quebec Mercury had given him some financial compensation for his writings, by 1831 he was old, poor, and suffering “from a painful disorder.” After several weeks of severe illness he died at Quebec on 3 July 1833.
Samuel Hull Wilcocke is the author of A narrative of occurrences in the Indian countries of North America . . . (London, 1817; repr. 1818; repr. East Ardsley, Eng., and New York, 1968), a work which has sometimes been attributed to Edward Ellice* or Simon McGillivray*. Wilcocke’s other works include Report of the trials of Charles de Reinhard and Archibald M’Lellan, for murder . . . (Montreal, 1818); Report of the proceedings connected with the disputes between the Earl of Selkirk and the North-West Company, at the assizes, held at York in Upper Canada, October 1818 (Montreal, 1819); A letter to the sollicitor general on the seizure of papers (Montreal, 1821); The history of the session of the provincial parliament of Lower Canada for 1828–29 (n.p., n.d.); and “Narrative of circumstances attending the death of the late Benjamin Frobisher, Esq., a partner of the North-West Company,” Les bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest (Masson), 2: 179–226. He edited the Scribbler (Montreal), 28 June 1821–March 1827; the Free Press (Montreal), 10 Oct. 1822–4 Sept. 1823; the Harbinger (Rouses Point, N.Y.), November 1823–November 1824; and the prospectus for the Colonial Magazine (Montreal), 11 April 1827. For a complete list of the works Wilcocke wrote and translated, see the National union catalog.
ANQ-Q, P-68; P-1000-1-18. Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser, 28 Oct., 1, 18 Nov. 1820. Montreal Gazette, 5, 19 Dec. 1821; 2, 16 Jan. 1822. Beaulieu et Hamelin, La presse québécoise, 1: 41, 43, 60. Wallace, Macmillan dict. M. L. MacDonald, “The literary life of English and French Montreal from 1817 to 1830 as seen through the periodicals of the time” (ma thesis, Carleton Univ., Ottawa, 1976). A. H. U. Colquhoun, “A victim of Scottish Canadians,” Dalhousie Rev., 3 (1923–24): 286–90. C. F. Klinck, “Samuel Hull Wilcocke,” Journal of Canadian Fiction (Montreal), 2 (1973), no.3: 13–21; “The world of The Scribbler,” 4 (1975), no.3: 123–48. W. S. Wallace, “The literature relating to the Selkirk controversy,” CHR, 13 (1932): 45–50.