Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Francis, Francis

FRANCIS, FRANCIS (1822–1886), writer on angling, born in 1822 at Seaton, Devonshire, was son of Captain Morgan, R.N., his mother being the only daughter of Mr. Hartley, who founded the Hartley Institution at Southampton. He changed his name on coming of age and inheriting property. After being educated at various private schools, and with several tutors, he adopted the profession of a civil engineer, but on completing his articles abandoned it for sport and sporting literature. In 1851 he married Mary Cole of Oxford, and henceforth, happy in his domestic life, enthusiastically devoted himself to angling and all connected with it. No kind of fishing, from gudgeon to salmon, came amiss to him, and he speedily made himself familiar with every mode of catching fish. His ardour never flagged; a lifetime of fishing found him, when he reeled up his last line at Houghton, Hampshire, as enthusiastic as when in his boyhood he caught his first fish. He was angling editor of the ‘Field’ for more than a quarter of a century, and frequently wrote his experiences as an angler, together with reminiscences of angling literature, and papers on cognate subjects in the columns of that newspaper. He found time also to make himself a fair classical scholar, and to obtain a knowledge of the masterpieces of the English language. The collection of a good angling library formed a congenial entertainment to him. Francis established the Thames Rights Defence Association, throughout life advocated the cause of fish culture, and suggested the plan of ‘The National Fish-Culture Association,’ which has since been carried out. He had a large share, too, in introducing the ova of English trout to the New Zealand and Tasmanian streams. Thus he occupied himself with his rod and pen during many happy years until he was seized with a severe stroke of paralysis in 1883. Though he eventually recovered from this, he grew thinner month by month, and an old cancerous affection, for which he had previously undergone two operations, recurring, he died in his chair on 24 Dec. 1886. He had long lived at Twickenham and was buried there.

Francis was a member of the commission on oyster culture from 1868 to 1870, and was always enthusiastic about the improvement of English streams. As naturalist director for some years of the Brighton Aquarium he had special opportunities of observing fish and making experiments on their culture. He was of fine stature, active in mind and body, quick with his pen, and never unemployed; cheerful, bright, sympathetic, and independent, his courage was extraordinary, and was well exhibited in the indomitable fortitude with which he bore the pains and necessary operations of the attempts to cure the cancer in his tongue. Scrupulously fair in word and thought, his nervous temperament made him no respecter of persons, and at times caused him to be hasty both in temper and judgment, but he was always ready to own himself mistaken, and was quick to forgive as well as to forget. On the Test and Itchen, and among the Scotch lochs and rivers, which he loved to frequent, his name will long be remembered. ‘His memory is the memory of a man who spent his life not merely in selfish amusement, but in contributing largely to the amusement of others’ (Memoir in Book of Angling). More perhaps than any other he instructed and delighted the enormous number of anglers who have sprung into existence during the last thirty years by his writings, his geniality, and his prowess as a fisherman.

Besides ‘The Diplomatic History of the Greek War’ (1878) which he wrote in early life, Francis was the author of: 1. ‘Pickackifax,’ a novel in rhyme, 1854. 2. ‘The Real Salt,’ a yachting story, 1854. 3. ‘The Angler's Register,’ 1858, 1860, 1861, from which sprang the ‘Angler's Diary.’ 4. ‘Newton Dogvane,’ a novel, 3 vols., illustrated by Leech, 1859. 5. ‘Fish Culture,’ 1863. 6. ‘A Book on Angling,’ 1867, his best work, which has often been enlarged and reissued in subsequent years. 7. ‘Sidney Bellew,’ a sporting novel, 2 vols., 1870. 8. ‘Reports on Salmon Ladders,’ 1870. 9. ‘By Lake and River,’ rambles in the north of England and in Scotland. 10. ‘Angling’ (often reissued), 1877. 11. ‘Sporting Sketches with Pen and Pencil,’ 1878 (in conjunction with Mr. A. W. Cooper). 12. ‘Miscellaneous Papers from the “Field,”’ 1880. 13. ‘The Practical Management of Fisheries,’ 1883. 14. ‘Angling Reminiscences,’ a posthumous work, 1887, containing almost his last contributions to the ‘Field’ paper. Besides these he wrote the articles on angling in ‘Chambers's Encyclopædia,’ and contributed a number of scattered papers to other magazines and journals.

[Fishing Gazette; Field and Academy for 1 Jan. 1887; Westwood and Satchell's Bibliotheca Piscatoria; Memoir prefixed to the sixth edition of his Book on Angling; private information.]

M. G. W.