FISHER, Eliza Ann Anthony (Mrs. Matthew):
Matthew Fisher and Eliza Ann Anthony, he of New York, and she of New Bedford, married in New Bedford on November 2, 1842 (New Bedford Vital Records). They were both very young, she being 20 and he just two years older. The following June he sailed off on the Cherokee as third mate, getting back in 1846. He then sailed as first mate of the Hunter in 1851, getting back in 1854. Finally, he given a command, of the Stephania, but according to the log Eliza Ann was not with him, probably because she had given birth to a little girl (Eliza jr) within a year of his return. However, she did sail on the Stephania in 1857: the WSL for July 21, 1857, includes her on the outgoing passenger list; and she also sent reports of the ship’s progress back to New Bedford (eg. WSL for April 3, 1860). On the Gazelle, November 12, 1857, Eleanor Baker recorded that ‘the Stephania of New Bedford came down and spoke us ... Capt Fisher has his wife on board.’ (NBWM loan log; there is no record of the little girl Eliza sailing too.)
Eliza Ann also sailed on the dramatic voyage of the John Wells in 1861: the WSL for June 30, 1863 noted, ‘A letter from Mrs. Capt. Fisher of bark John Wells (NB), dated Mangonui [NZ] March 9, 1863, states that Capt. F. had been stabbed by one of the crew, who was drunk at the time. The act was committed in the Consul’s store at Mangonui … Capt. F. was stabbed three times and it was thought at first that he could not live, but at the date of the letter he was getting better. No cause was assigned for the act, as there had been no trouble on board the ship.’
This was widely reported in New Zealand: ‘The schooner Kiwi, Captain McGregor, arrived from Mangonui Saturday afternoon …’ posted the New Zealander, 9 March 1863; ‘Captain McGregor reports that the Captain of the New Bedford whaler John Wells, 366 tons, had been stabbed by one of the crew, a native of Hobart Town. The sufferer, we are glad to state, was improving, and likely to recover.’
Eliza Ann Fisher was being less than candid when she claimed there was ‘no trouble on board the ship’ — as the Mangonui correspondent for the New Zealander, March 17, went on to say, ‘Several men are in gaol for deserting the John Wells, but it is useless for them to desert here, as they cannot get away … There is every probability of much trouble from the crew of the whale ship John Wells, as a general spirit of discontent appears to pervade the whole crew, and threats of mischief are held out by many of them….
‘On the afternoon of the 2nd instant, the captain (Fisher) was standing in conversation with several other persons at Messrs Drury & Co’s store, when one of the crew, named John Davis, rushed into the store, in a very excited state, and, with his arms extended, as though he was going to embrace the captain, exclaimed ‘Life! Life!” He then made several thrusts at the captain’s left side with a knife which he had in his right hand, two of which took effect — one through the lower part of the neck, or rather the shoulder, and the other through the fleshy part of the arm. Davis was immediately disarmed and secured…
‘There are at present eight prisoners confined here. Three European and one Native constables keep watch day and night. Several of these prisoners belong to the John Wells, and are to be put on board again when she sails. They, however, express a strong determination never again to go in her, and state they will sooner burn her first. There is great reason to fear that the troubles in this vessel are not yet at an end.’
John Davis was charged with intent to murder, and sent to Auckland to be tried in the Supreme Court, which meant that Captain Fisher, his wife, and others who were with him during the attack had to go there to give evidence. The long report of the trial (New Zealander, 31 March 1863) includes evidence given by Eliza Ann Fisher, who testified, ‘I am wife of the prosecutor. I was in Mr Drury’s store when the prisoner attacked my husband. He said “Life, Captain Fisher,” and repeated it afterwards. I saw prisoner stab my husband, and afterwards the wounds inflicted.’ Cross-examined by the jury, she testified, ‘The wound was on the left shoulder, between the side of the neck and the upper part of the shoulder.’
Davis was found guilty despite long rambling stories of ill usage on board and a head wound received while on a warship in the Black Sea, and was sentenced to four years hard labour.
The John Wells finally got away from Mangonui on 16 April, but in August Fisher was forced to fly a flag of distress, having sprung a bad leak during a storm in the Tasman Sea. Another ship escorted his vessel as it limped into Sydney. Repairs were made, but the next report of the ship was in Tahiti, March 1864, in distress, leaking badly. The John Wells then staggered into San Francisco, reported there in July. There Fisher sold the battered old ship and her whaling gear for $10,000 cash and he and Eliza Ann took the train home. (WSL October 4, 1864)
Unsurprisingly, Matthew Fisher then retired from the sea. Not only had he made enough money from his whaling ventures (he was listed with a total worth of $12000), but Eliza Ann would not have wanted to repeat the John Wells experience. She died in 1887, and he followed her to the grave in October 1900. (findagrave)