ANDERSON, ROBERT, businessman; b. 28 June 1803 in Renfrew, Scotland, son of Archibald Anderson and Ann Graham; d. unmarried 24 March 1896 in Montreal.
After finishing his education in London, Robert Anderson worked at the Verreville Pottery, then owned by John Geddes, in Finnieston, near Glasgow; it did a considerable trade with North America. Anderson’s business acumen was evident from the start: within about two years he was made manager of the Geddes china, glass, and earthenware establishment in Glasgow, and four years later he took charge of a sales outlet in Belfast. After six years there he struck out on his own in Galway (Republic of Ireland). Then, in 1840, he sold out and emigrated to Montreal.
Anderson set up as a china merchant at Pointe-à-Callière, near the Montreal waterfront, where he was receiving supplies by 1841. His ties with Verreville were undoubtedly useful: though his stock was by no means confined to Scottish wares, lists of imports in Montreal newspapers show how frequently his clay pipes and hogsheads of earthenware came from Glasgow. By 1844 he had moved into “extensive premises” at a prime location on Rue Saint-Paul, nearly opposite the custom-house. There he dealt wholesale and retail in crockery, glass, Britannia metal, and plated wares. He stocked, in particular, sturdy low-priced goods sure to find buyers among the growing number of immigrants. To country dealers he sent assorted crates or sold by the dozen, using the compelling slogan “at the lowest possible prices.” Advertising extensively, he proclaimed a million articles on hand, with something for everyone: earthenware plug basins for plumbers, toy-ware for children, ironstone table sets and pickling pots for the housewife. He catered to the carriage trade with gilt porcelain teaware and handsome vases. His success as a china merchant, solidly based on his early grounding with Geddes and on his own shrewd appraisal of the Canadian market, allowed him to give up merchandising in 1854; that spring he sold his business to James Thomson and William Minchin.
Anderson rented an office and began to “nurse” his capital. He had already invested extensively in the developing field of steam-powered transportation. In the early 1850s he was the second largest shareholder in the Lake St Louis and Province Line Railway, part of the Montreal and New York Railroad, and he was a promoter of the unsuccessful Montreal and Bytown Railway Company, founded in 1853. As a member of the Scottish financial establishment of Montreal, Anderson was from early days a friend of Hugh Allan*. When Allan organized the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, incorporated in 1854 and the forerunner of the Allan Line, Anderson was one of ten original subscribers. He invested £5,000 in it and was a director of the company until 1858, when he sold out to Allan and Allan’s younger brother Andrew* over a projected increase in sailings to Britain that Anderson thought too risky. The friendship remained, however; in 1882 Anderson was a pallbearer at Allan’s funeral.
From 1859 Anderson oriented much of his investment toward financial institutions. That year he was among the petitioners for incorporation of the Metropolitan Fire Insurance Company. He was a principal shareholder in the Commercial Bank of Canada, and when it suspended payments in 1867 he faced a loss of $70,000. The following year Anderson began a long association with the Merchants’ Bank of Canada [see Sir Hugh Allan] when it took over the Commercial Bank; in 1882 he was named a vice-president, a position he held until his death. He was among the largest shareholders in the Molsons Bank and in the Bank of Montreal. In 1893 his holdings in the latter had a market value of $253,000, while his shares in the Merchants’ Bank were valued at $352,000. Meanwhile, at age 82, he had been elected a director of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada [see Mathew Hamilton Gault*]. He was also a director of the Canada Paper Company and the New City Gas Company of Montreal, and he invested heavily in cotton, street railways, and municipal securities.
A devout Presbyterian, Anderson was an elder in Coté Street Church (later Crescent Street Church) for a time and in St Gabriel Street Church from 1855 to 1857. In later years he was a member of St Paul’s Church. All his life he scrupulously gave one-tenth of his income to charities, but few knew of his benefactions for he was secretive about them. Influential in Protestant circles, he was among the founders in 1863 of the Montreal Protestant House of Industry and Refuge and on the board of the Montreal Auxiliary Bible Society. On Sundays, according to the Montreal Daily Star, he went about “with his pockets filled with tracts . . . and [poked] them into all manner of places, where they were likely to be found and read.” As the years went on he was increasingly regarded as an eccentric in his extreme personal parsimony and brusqueness of manner. In politics he was a Conservative.
Robert Anderson died “of debility” at 92; his funeral, at St Paul’s Church, was largely attended. In its obituary the Star observed, “He liked to make money, it was his life enjoyment.” Through diligence, prudence, and temperance, Anderson had amassed a fortune estimated variously at between one and a half and two million dollars. He disposed of it through numerous bequests. Among institutional beneficiaries were the Montreal Presbyterian College, the Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic, the Montreal Sailors’ Institute, the St Andrew’s Society (of which he had been a member), and the Montreal General Hospital (of which he had been a life governor). His qualities were probably best summed up by the directors of the Merchants’ Bank on the day of his funeral; he was remembered there for vigilant watchfulness, the ability to stand fast when times were bad, and constant attendance to duty.
Gazette (Montreal), 6 Aug. 1841; 18 May 1842; 18 June, 5 July 1844; 11 March, 16 April, 15 July 1845; 19 Jan., 6 March 1846; 6 Oct. 1847; 9 June 1848; 1 July, 2 Aug. 1851; 1–2 Nov. 1867; 25, 28 March 1896. La Minerve, 20 oct. 1842, 21 déc. 1852. Montreal Daily Star, 25 March 1896. Montreal Transcript, 12 Oct., 17 Dec. 1844; 15 Aug. 1846; 18 March 1854. Montreal Witness, 27 Dec. 1882. Montreal Witness, Weekly Review and Family Newspaper, 17 May 1848. Pilot (Montreal), 3 Jan. 1849, 21 March 1854, 1 Oct. 1855. La Presse, 25 mars 1896. La Revue canadienne (Montréal), 3 mars 1846. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Canadian album (Cochrane and Hopkins), 4: 505. Montreal directory, 1843–96. T. E. Appleton, Ravenscrag: the Allan Royal Mail Line (Toronto, 1974). Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. Elizabeth Collard, Nineteenth-century pottery and porcelain in Canada (rev. ed., Montreal, 1984). G. H. Harris, The president’s book; the story of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (Montreal, 1928). Elizabeth Collard, “The achievements of Scottish potters,” Scottish Field (Glasgow), 118 (April 1971): 42–43.
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