Portrait, William Fisher (1817-95), 'John Craig'

25 Aug 2020

Oil: 'John Craig', 1844, portrait, c. 2m x c. 3m

Ref: UCCHS.2016.001 © University College Cork

Artist: William Fisher (Cork 1817-London 1895). Irish.

Date: 1844

Provenance: This painting was presented in 1844 to John Craig, Treasurer of the Cork Savings Bank (CSB) on the occasion of the testimonial by the Trustees and Managers of the  Bank in their new building (see Southern Reporter & Cork Commercial Courier, 29/06/1844). The portrait has remained in the building ever since (see also article published on the centenary of the bank in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society (1917)). Cork City Council acquired the building in 2014 and it was purchased by UCC in 2016. The portrait used to hang on the northern wall of the banking hall but was removed during building work in January 2018; it was then rehung on the southern wall in September 2018 to facilitate modern technology in the UCC Centre for Executive Education based in the building.


John Craig (1790-1868)

John Craig was born in 1790. He operated as a businessman but also gave back to the community by his work with the Cork Savings Bank. He is listed as the owner of a steamship, the Rob Roy, a wood paddle steamer built in 1818, out of Dover, which from 1822 became the Henri Quatre used by the French Post Office. Apparently for a short time he was lecturer in steam navigation to the French admiralty. He then became agent and manager of the Anderton Rock salt mine, Cheshire, owned by William Furnival who ran several salt concerns. At this time salt was a vital product for the preservation of food, particularly meat. Furnival had several ventures in England, the Netherlands and France. Furnival developed a process whereby salt could be more efficiently extracted but he fell foul of a cartel of existing producers and describes his struggles in business in his Narrative of the Very Extraordinary Case of Mr William Furnival, which mentions John Craig several times. In 1825 Craig and William Furnival held a patent "for improvements in the manufacturing of salt" (awarded 8th July 1825).

Then in 1834 Craig came to Ireland when he succeeded his uncle as agent of the Sligo branch of the Bank of Ireland. Then in 1837 he was appointed Manager of the Bank of Ireland in Cork, a position he held until his retirement in 1866. After his arrival in Cork he also became Treasurer of the CSB – a voluntary position. He was elected trustee of the CSB on 16th April 1839 while it was still located on Pembroke Street (on site of present General Post Office). Incidentally, this premises was the first designed by the young architect, Thomas Deane of Cork, who later collaborated with Benjamin Woodward in the design of Queen's College Cork (now UCC).

The bank had a large surplus in 1839 (the total funds of the bank were more than £250,000), part of which funded the fine building on Lapp’s Quay, which opened in 1842 (designed by Sir Thomas Deane and his brother Kearns Deane).

Craig developed a new system of keeping accounts in the Bank that on his retirement was called a "model of order, [and] regularity". That system was adopted by the CSB and was still being used many years later. He first published The balance system of savings' bank accounts by double entry: in use in the savings' banks of Cork and Limerick, with patterns of the various books, and full explanations for conducting the operations in a simple and easy manner and with the greatest rapidity, to a certain and conclusive balance (Cork: George Purcell and London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1845), followed a decade later by The Cork Savings' Bank system improved and fully explained; with three comprehensive sets of tables at different rates of interest, for the efficient working of that system by any bank, in conformity with the changes about to be introduced by the Rt. Hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Cork, 1854). Craig’s system was important in that it effectively eliminated the potential for fraud, which was particularly important in a voluntary bank. The second book provided tables of ready reckoners for use by the staff of the Bank so that interest could be easily calculated. (No copy of this book seems to be in Ireland, but it is available at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge as well as at the National Library of Scotland.) Craig gave evidence about his system as used in the Savings Banks of Cork and Limerick to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Savings’ Banks in 1858 (Cork Examiner, 13 September, 4). A celebratory meal marking two decades of this system of accounting and in its prevention of fraud was held on 1 January 1863 (Cork Examiner, 2 January 1863, 2). The Cork Savings Bank, then part of the Trustee Saving Bank (TSB) branch network, closed in 2012.

John Craig in 1835, while living in Sligo, was married to Susan Griffith, daughter of William Griffith of Ballytirnan House, Sligo, on 21st May of that year. The family lived at Horsehead House, Passage West, from March 1849 onwards. He died on 23rd March 1868 and was buried at Passage. Craig was survived by his wife Susan Mason Craig, who died on 23rd May 1886 at Carrig House, Passage West. Their children included Archibald D. Craig (died 18th May 1868 at Cork) and Henry Craig, who invented a breech-loading needle-gun in 1866.


More about the artist

Born in 1817, from an early age William Fisher showed a talent for art. When only 17 he did a good portrait of Robert O’Callaghan Newenham (father-in-law of Sir Thomas Deane) that was exhibited at the 1852 Cork Exhibition, and also a self-portrait. While still a young man he left Cork and studied for a time in Italy, where he became a member of the Florentine Academy. By 1840 he was settled in London and began to exhibit in the Royal Academy where he continued to send works, both portraits and subject pictures, until 1884 (Graves, 1905). Fisher also exhibited at the British Institution from 1842 to 1867, while still exhibiting at home to the Cork Art Union (to which he contributed three portraits in their 1842 exhibition). He was a contributor to the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1843 to 1853; he showed ‘Hermia and Helena’ in 1843, and in 1847, his ‘Blind Pilgrim’, was described as “one of the gems of the Exhibition.” Several portraits by him were in the Cork Exhibition of 1852. Fisher’s ‘Portrait of Walter Savage Landor’ is in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 236) in London, and one of ‘The Hon. and Rev. Ludlow Tonson’, which was in the possession of Viscount Doneraile, was engraved by H. Meyer. Fisher also made a portrait of fellow Cork artist, Samuel Skillin (in Crawford Art Gallery collection, displayed in ‘Trove’, IMMA, 2015). William Fisher died at 24 Welbeck Street, London, where he had resided since 1865, on 3rd March 1895, and was buried at Finchley Cemetery.


Presentation of the painting in 1844

The building has held two works of art, both by Cork artists, and both of significant businessmen. One was the statue (1843) of William H. Crawford by John Hogan: this is now in the Sculpture gallery of the Crawford Art Gallery, Emmet Place. Crawford came to Cork in about 1780 and was co-founder of the Beamish & Crawford brewery with the Beamish family in 1792. Apparently this statue was taken in by the Trustees of the CSB as there was no other space in Cork at the time large enough for it – it is referred to in the 1844 article as yet to be put in place. The other is the portrait of John Craig, Trustee of the CSB, by William Fisher. The Trustees and Managers of the CSB paid subscription of £1 each towards the painting. In an article in the Southern Reporter on 29th June 1844, there was a breakfast meeting and presentation of the painting in honour of John Craig

Southern Reporter & Cork Commercial Courier, 29th June 1844:


Yesterday, the Trustees and Governors the Cork Savings Bank assembled in their new and beautiful building, for the purpose of presenting Address to Mr. Craig, the Manager of the Bank of Ireland, expressive of how much indebted they felt him for the intent had manifested the welfare of the Institution, and for the elaborate calculations he had made out for the government its detail. A profuse and elegant breakfast prepared for the occasion, which intended to commemorate the placing up in the Bank a very fine, full length Portrait of Mr. CRAIG, Mr. FISHER, of this City, a gentleman who in this work has displayed the possession talent as a Portrait painter which promises place him first amongst modern artists. The picture has been placed at such a height and distance from the nearest approach at which it can be seen conveniently, and the light in which it is hung is so subdued, that the harmony of the coloring, and the repose spread over the whole work, as well as the very great strength and truthfullness of the likeness, at once strike the spectator and rivet his attention. It is placed immediately above and behind the pedestal destined to support Hogan’s splendid statue of the late WILLIAM CRAWFORD; but the entrances to the Bank are situate as not to prevent the picture being immediately seen all, as they approach either door.

At about ten o’clock upwards one hundred gentlemen, representing nearly the entire commercial wealth of the City, sat down to Breakfast, and immediately at its conclusion—

The MAYOR, who presided, after some prefatory remarks, rose, and presented Mr. Craig with the address which will be found out advertising columns.

Mr. CRAIG, when the cheering which followed had subsided, immediately rose and said he had been favoured with copy of the address read by the Mayor, and he would now beg leave to be permitted read his answer to it. Having read it, which with the address itself will be found in our advertising columns, he continued by saying that his friend the Mayor and those other friends whom saw around him had placed him in proud hut painful position by this testimony their regard for him, testimony for which would been impossible for him to find in words in which to express the sentiments of gratitude he entertained, and therefore they should not attribute a want of it to his silence (as we understood him, for he was indistinctly heard, owing to the noise of carts in the street.) But his friend, the Mayor, in his undeserved eulogy of him, had forgotten the very prominent and important part he had himself had taken in the affairs of this institution, —(Hear, hear, hear.) Immediately after the announcement of the threat of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which if carried out, would have annihilated Savings’ Banks this country, a meeting was held of the Trustees this Bank, which his Worship presided, and the sentiments he uttered upon that occasion were those which gave a tone to the whole transaction.—(Hear, hear, hear) He also felt bound to pay a tribute the exertions of Sir Thomas Deane, than whom none could said to have displayed more zeal for the interests of the Institution, for upon the next day after the meeting, addressed no fewer than 50 letters to Peers, Members Parliament, and those connected with the Government, upon the subject of the Chancellor’s proposition (Hear, hear). The deputation appointed by the meeting went over to London, and Mr. Besnard became their chief agitator; he was unceasing in his exertions; he sought and obtained an interview with the Chancellor and other influential members of the Government, and the result was that success crowned their efforts, and the proposed measure was abandoned—(Hear, hear)—and (Mr. C.) did now hope that for the future the Savings Banks would left unmolested (Hear, hear). In conclusion he (Mr. C.) begged they would believe that he would ever feel grateful for the kindness thus shown him, and he did hope that if he had occasionally been found to act rather roughly in his intercourse with them on matters business connected with the Establishment, they would do him the justice to attribute solely to the Interest he took in the welfare of the Bank (Cheers).

Mr. SAMUEL LANE proposed that the address and answer be recorded on the Books of the Bank, and that they be published the Cork Newspapers.

Sir THOMAS DEANE, in seconding the proposition, said they had this day assembled to pay a compliment to a man whose labours for the welfare of the Cork Savings Bank, he perhaps, had more opportunities of being intimately acquainted with than any those connected with it, and he would say that would be impossible for any man not conversant with the nature of the accounts of the establishment, to give credit to Mr. Craig for the immense labour he had been at in preparing documents for them (Hear.) The result of those labours would found to benefit the whole empire, in as much the plans Mr. Craig had drawn up for the government of this Bank, would be adopted in every similar Institution in England and Ireland with the most signal success. (Hear, hear.) Sir Thomas then alluded to the picture of Mr. Craig, and said that the head particularly displayed talent worthy of a Vandyke, and was such a one could not fail to bring the young and clever artist Mr. Fisher, into immediate notice; and he (Sir T.) hoped ere long, see in addition to that picture, the statue William Crawford, and a painting of Royalty itself gracing their walls. (Hear, hear.)

The motion having been put and carried.

Mr. JAMES MURPHY, J. P., was called to the Chair, and a vote of thanks having been passed by acclamation to the Mayor, the company separated.”


Sources and further reading

Anonymous. 1917. ’Cork Savings Bank, 1817-1917’,  Journal of the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society, Vol. 23, No. 116, 177-185.

Furnival, William. No date. Narrative of the Very Extraordinary Case of Mr. William Furnival, Proprietor of the Wharton and Marston Patent Salt Works, in Cheshire with a brief statement of the unparalleled persecutions and oppressions To which he has been subjected for a series of Years; also detailing the great national advantages of his patent inventions for an improved method of making salt. London, Printed for the Author, By Wilson & Son.

Graves, Algernon. 1905. The Royal Academy of Arts: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904. Vol. 3, 118.

McLaughlin, Eoin J. 2009. Microfinance institutions in nineteenth century Ireland. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

Ó Gráda, Cormac. 2008. ‘The early history of Irish savings banks’, UCD Centre for Economic Research Working Paper Series; WP08/04.

Ó Gráda, Cormac. 2009. ‘Savings banks, famine and financial contagion: Ireland in the 1840s and 1850sIrish Economic and Social History Vol. 36, 21-36.


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