John Arbuthnot Fisher was born on the 25 January 1841, the son of Captain William Fisher (78th Highlanders) and Sophie Lambe (granddaughter of Alderman Boydell). In 1854 Fisher entered the Royal Navy and served in the Crimean War the following year. From 1859-1860 he served in the China War and took part in the capture of Canton and Peiho. In 1860 he was made a Lieutenant and obtained the Beaufort Testimonial.
In 1866 Fisher married Frances Broughton (daughter of Reverend T Delves Broughton) with whom he had one son, Cecil, and three daughters (Beatrix, Dorothy and Pamela).
In 1882 Fisher served in the Egyptian War and commanded the Inflexible during the bombardment of Alexandria. From 1886-1891 he was Director of Naval Ordinance and was made a Rear-Admiral in 1890. He held a number of positions including: Admiral Superintendent at Portsmouth Dockyard (1891); Controller of the Royal Navy and Lord of the Admiralty (1892-1897); Commander-in-Chief on the North American and West Indies Station (1897-1899); delegate to the Peace Conference at the Hague (1899); Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Station (1899-1902); Second Sea Lord (1902-3); Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth (1903-4); First Sea Lord (1904-1910 and 1914-1915); Member of the Committee of Imperial Defence and Chairman of the Royal Commission on Oil Fuel (1914-1915).
In 1918, his wife died. Fisher died on 10 July 1920.
The collection held at Churchill Archives Centre includes: official and family correspondence; correspondence about Fisher and his biography collected by Nina, Duchess of Hamilton; papers on naval subjects; material relating to the Oil Commission; material relating to the Board of Invention and Research; printed material: Admiralty, Committee of Imperial Defence, Cabinet and White Papers; material intended for Fisher's printed works, personal notes, papers and albums; letters to newspapers, printed proofs and printed works; press cuttings; photographs; miscellaneous material; material collected by 2nd Lord Fisher about his father; letters from Fisher to George Lambert and material collected by Lambert as Fisher's literary executor.
The collection has close connections with the career of Sir Winston Churchill and includes personal correspondence and official papers involving Sir Winston. There are numerous papers relating to the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign over which Fisher resigned as 1st Sea Lord. There are also fascinating papers illustrating advances in gunnery and torpedoes for which Fisher was largely responsible in the 1880s, and important material relating to his development after 1900 of a reformed system of officer selection and training and his involvement in the design of the Dreadnought class of battleship.
The Fisher Papers (with the exception of FISR 15-16) were received by the Government in lieu of estate duty on the estate of the Duke of Hamilton in February 1979. In 1979, Mr George Younger MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, accepted the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts that the collection should be allocated to Churchill College, Cambridge. The bulk of the collection was thus deposited at Churchill Archives Centre in January 1980. There have been three further accessions: one box of material deposited in January 2001 by Ms Jan Morris (and added to the collection as FISR 1/26-1/27 and FISR 2/4); 13 boxes of papers deposited in October 2001 by Lord Fisher (added to the collection as FISR 15); 3 boxes of papers deposited in January 2010 by Sophia Lambert (added as FISR 16).
Fisher section 14 contained 11 boxes of duplicate printed and typescript material and empty envelopes. It was destroyed in March 2006 as it was considered to be non-archival material and not worthy of permanent preservation.
The Fisher Papers have been arranged into 16 separate series as detailed in the catalogue.