Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ferdinand Fissi (1872-1954)

Ferdinand Fermo Fissi was born in Greenwich, London, on 11 June 1872 at 484 New Cross Road. He married Alice Maud Giles (1887-1951) in Rochford, Essex in September 1907 and they had two children, Sophie Maud, born 1908 in Rochford, who died in 1994 in Honiton, and Dorothea Alice, born 1914, who died in 2002 in North Wales. Sophie apparently had two daughters.

Fissi may have had his first professional experience with illustrations for ‘The Illustrated Police Budget the Leading Illustrated Police Journal in England,’ which ran from 1893 to 1910, and was edited by Harold Furniss. He definitely had a hand in ‘Famous Fights Past and Present’ (1901) and ‘Famous Crimes Past and Present’ (c. 1903), both edited and eventually published by Harold Furniss. Another likely source of work was probably the publisher Charles Shurey, who was also connected with Famous Crimes and had numerous penny publications to his name.

In 1909 Fissi executed 22 drawings of Beaulieau Abbey which were engraved and published in book form under the title ‘A History of Beaulieu Abbey,’ by Sir James Kingston Fowler. Fissi was a contributor of motoring illustrations to a magazine called ‘The Car’ in 1912. In 1913 he illustrated ‘Dervorgilla, Lady of Galloway and Her Abbey of the Sweet Heart,’ by Wentworth Huyshe, for the Chiswick Press in Edinburgh.

Alice Maud petitioned for divorce in 1917. Fissi was remarried to Mary Rebecca (Rita) Morgans on 22 Feb 1919. In 1922 Fissi was working at London's Cricklewood studios for J. Stuart Blackton, the British-born founder of American Vitagraph Company and producer of the first animated cartoon, "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces," in 1906. The 1922 film was titled "The Gipsy Cavalier" and starred famous French light heavyweight boxing champion Georges Carpentier. In 1923 Blackton and Fissi worked together in London on "The Virgin Queen."*

Ferdinand and Rita sailed to New York on the SS Aquitania in 1924. They lived in New York at 1585 East 14 Street from 1925 to 1930. A surviving photograph shows Fissi at work as a scenic artist in an unidentified film studio, possibly at Cricklewood, possibly in New York. On 3 may, 1925 Fissi authored an article in the New York Herald Tribune titled “How Tricks of the Motion Picture Trade are done. Feats of Photography and Illusion explained and Illustrated by Ferdinand Fissi.”

The US census showed them living in North Tarrytown, New York in 1930, which is probably the year they moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where they resided at 204 Indian Valley Trail in the suburb of Port Credit. The couple had no children. Fissi was appointed Chief Artistic Director for the city of Toronto and spent his later days designing ceramics and furniture in Port Credit.

Fissi was quite a good artist and his sensational drawings had a grim, lively, even humorous quality about them. His most famous work will probably end up to be the illustrations to the account of ‘Jack the Ripper’ which appeared in ‘Famous Crimes’ about 1903. The series is famous amongst Ripperologists in both original and facsimile reproductions. I myself am quite fond of the covers to the serialized ‘Burke and Hare,’ the bloody-minded pair of Scottish body-snatchers, also published in ‘Famous Crimes.’

It’s not known if Fissi carried on as an illustrator in New York and Toronto. Likely he did and his contributions might be eventually dug up in old newspapers and magazines. His sketches and paintings, if they survived, may still be hidden in some basement library archive in Ontario, awaiting rediscovery.

Ferdinand Fissi died of coronary thrombosis 18 October 1954 at 11:30 pm in the Oakville Hospital at Port Credit. Rita Fissi died 22 May 1963 aged 68. She is buried at Spring Creek Cemetery, Spring Creek Cemetery in Mississauga, Ontario.

*Many thanks to Tony Morgans (Rita Fissi’s nephew) and Nick McBride for most of the illustrations. Thanks to Clare Lendrem, grand-daughter of Dorothea Alice Fissi, for The J. Stuart Blackton references.


  1. We crawl the Net searching until our eyes burn, looking for truly original content. The Legion of Scrapers and Pretenders outnumber the intelligent Bloggers of popular culture 100 to 1. There's nothing faux about YESTERDAYS PAPERS. I've learned MUCH tonight reading just a few of your articles. This one on FISSI is a revelation. Bravo!!
    Runagate in Vancouver, B.C.

  2. Info from his great grandson
    Sophie's (2nd) husband, Ken Roberts died 2003 or 2004, nice man. The first husband (Jerry Jarret, not sure of spelling) sired 2 daughters; Honor and June. June died 1994 or 95 quite young, and Honor is still going strong at 82 years old.....she is chris adair's mother.
    None of us can draw/paint! Although Dorothea Alice (Aunty Peta to everyone) was pretty good. F. was the talk of the family for many years.
    Great Granson C. Currently in Sri Lankawhere he has been for many years off and on and is recovering from Buddhism and other religious miscalculations. Honor has a load of photos and news clips and maybe more and would probably be thrilled to copy them to anyone who needs them.

    1. Hi Chris
      What a surprise! I'm still around and still writing :) I remember you were into photography in quite a big way once? And very fond of Petey. Who is great grandson C.? Not yours surely?
      See my other reply today for a bit more news.
      Gay Rose (nee Lewis/nee Fissi)

  3. Sophie Did have two daughters...one was called Honour and the other was called June.. I know this because June was my mother..

    1. And I remember how fond of June my mother, Peta, was and how very, very sad she was when she died. Never knew there were so many of June's offspring still around locally - and I'm sure it was earlier that poor June (my cousin) died than Chris Adair says? Know she had cancer which came through to me, eventually, and then to my niece Clare. We, with the advances made, are the lucky ones. Any time you want to chat send email to rosec63@hotmail.co.uk which is my web email. Don't do facebook etc., so a bit 'out of touch' maybe ;) But husband and I wrote so much about Grandfather and, of course, he has other great grandchildren! Anyone know where Jane and David went in their caravan b.t.w.?
      Had a Xmas Card all ready to send them around 3 years back and received one saying they were taking off for pastures new. Loved that kid - she was very special to us all - especially Mum before she died in 2002.

  4. Thanks John (Adcock) for this website.

    I am setting up a website for all of us who are related to Ferdinand Fissi and would be most grateful to hear from other relatives.

    Especially Eddie.

    Please email ferdinandfissi@gmail.com


    1. Hello
      I am Ferdinand Fissi's grand-daughter - Gay -youngest daughter of his daughter Petey - (real name Dorothea Alice) as mentioned by Chris Adair. His elder grand-daughter, my sister Carole, has many of Fissi's original paintings and much of his black and white work can be seen at Beauleau Abbey where his work is much admired and studied still by many architects. My husband, Chris, and I wrote a book on Fissi's life for my mother for her 80th birthday and this is where most of the photos and information come from! I also had a story published in Family Tree called "the most amazing man we never met". It's certainly good to hear some of the family are still around ;)

  5. Hi, Fissi did do some illustration in Canada: I have located fiction illustrated by him in June 1932 Canadian Home Journal. Check out the Canadian Illustrators Index for more info on Canadian Illustrators: http://canadianillustrators.wikidot.com/

  6. Thanks Jaleen. Let me mention here that Jaleen Grove has a great website on pulp illustrator Walter Haskell Hinton at >


  7. My wife, Clare Lendrem (great grand-daughter of Ferdinand Fissi) has a pretty complete family tree with lots of photographs on the ancestry website.

    1. I have some of F's paintings and some press cuttings maybe also obtainable. If you or Carol or Gay want them, and if I can get them out of store.

      I use this email: divertadAThotmailDotcom . Gay knows me. Where is the website?

    2. Ancestry.co.uk (search for Ferdinand fermo fissi in family trees)

  8. June actully did have nine children three daughters that sadly all died within there first year of life. and the six sons are.... Ray,Ian,Bob,Eddie, Neal And Nigel. Ian has since passed away as well. But all the others are alive and living in Essex. All with children of thier own. and granchildren...

  9. Eddie, Junes son has a tattoo studio on southend seafront and draws and tattoos daily ....