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Bonhams announced the deal to sell the group of 12 watercolours that were painted by the Royal Engineers officer and British artist Major-General Benjamin Fisher (1753-1814) while stationed in Canada from 1785-1796, a day before they were due to highlight their November 4 sale of Travel & Topographical Pictures.

The watercolours, among the earliest documentary representations of life along the St. Lawrence River corridor, were recently found in a package among a decayed heap of papers in cellars beneath Balliol College, Oxford. Dr John Jones, vice master and archivist, said the papers were mostly uninteresting printed material. However, “in the middle of it was a parcel with the legend Drawings by Genl Fisher etc in a familiar early 19th century hand on the outside”.

He continued: “The parcel was filthy but secure. It had probably not been opened since it was sewn up around 1850. I was immediately able to connect it with Sir John Conroy 3rd Bt, a Fellow of Balliol who died in 1900, because I had worked on his papers 30 years ago and I remembered he had a great grandfather called Fisher who had served in Canada.”

No price was disclosed for the private sale although the group had been conservatively estimated at collectively up to £58,000.

Giles Peppiatt of Bonhams’ topographical picture department, said: “Balliol College, LAC and Bonhams believe that the collection should remain as a complete set and we are delighted to have worked together to ensure their preservation for Canada.”

The purchase was made with the assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage.