ANDERSON, JAMES, HBC chief factor and explorer; b. 15 Jan. 1812 in Calcutta (India), son of Robert Anderson and Eliza Charlotte Simpson; d. 16 Oct. 1867 at Sutton West, Ont.
James Anderson’s father was first a military officer, then ran a plantation in India; he returned to England in 1817 and immigrated to Upper Canada in 1831. Relatives of the family included General Sir James Outram, who won renown in India, and Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton, one of the heroes in the sinking of the Birkenhead.
Anderson joined the Hudson’s Bay Company the year his father immigrated; his brother Alexander Caulfield* also served the company, becoming chief factor. James was first posted to Moose Factory, and soon after played a leading role in efficiently apprehending and summarily executing Indians who had murdered a white family at Hannah Bay in 1832. He was promoted chief trader in 1847 while serving at Nipigon post. In 1850 he was transferred to the Northern Department, and put in charge of the Athabasca District for one year. For the next eight he headed the more distant Mackenzie River District, and at Fort Simpson, its headquarters, tightened up the chaotic accounting he found there. Concluding that his principal subordinate, Robert Campbell, was “almost a monomaniac” on the subject of the Yukon River, which he had helped to explore, Anderson secured approval for retrenchment there and on the upper Liard River. Profits for the district were significantly increased during his management, rising from an annual average of £19,291 in 1844–50 to £24,756 in 1851–57. He was promoted chief factor on 12 March 1855.
At this time the continuing search for the Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin* was being hindered by the need for ships in the Crimean War, just when Dr John Rae* had turned up evidence that its members had perished near the estuary of the Great Fish (Back) River. The Admiralty asked the HBC to send an expedition down this river in the summer of 1855 to verify the report, and Anderson was appointed to lead it. Rae recommended employing shortened north canoes and an inflatable raft rather than the heavy boat used by George Back* in 1834. Anderson, delayed by a late spring and by the vain expectation of obtaining Inuit (Eskimo) interpreters, saved time by taking a difficult “mountain portage” route north from Great Slave Lake. Until he reached Lake Aylmer and could use Back’s maps, he was exploring new country. With James G. Stewart*, whom he found “utterly useless,” and 14 voyageurs in two canoes, he attained the sea on 31 July. They searched the shoreline “as if we were looking for pins,” and on Montreal Island and elsewhere found scattered tools and wood fragments, one bearing the name Terror; Rae’s report was thus confirmed. The deterioration of his canoes prompted Anderson to start up Great Fish River on 14 August. Its 84 rapids and falls were renegotiated safely before real winter set in. However, the exposure caused Anderson permanent loss of voice, and later his death from tuberculosis. Sir George Simpson* informed him that his expedition had “quite fulfilled all that was expected from it by reasonable people,” the Admiralty awarded him £400 and the polar medal, and extracts from his pithy journal were published at Sir John Richardson’s urging in the Royal Geographical Society’s Journal.
Simpson was anxious to open trade with the Inuit at Liverpool Bay. Anderson thought the Mackenzie delta more suitable, but in 1857 sent Roderick MacFarlane and a small party down the Beghula (Anderson) River northeast of Fort Good Hope; a post, Fort Anderson, eventually operated in the western Arctic but only from 1861 to 1866. By 1858 Anderson had had to seek an easier, less isolated district, and Simpson sent him to the north shore of the St Lawrence at Mingan seigneury. The HBC lease there was soon to expire and Anderson’s proven skill in effecting economies was useful. In 1863 he retired to Sutton West, and died there in October 1867, survived by his wife Margaret, daughter of Roderick McKenzie, a chief factor in the HBC, and six sons and one daughter.
James Anderson was a highly capable fur trade officer who also deserves an honourable mention in the annals of the search for Franklin.
[James Anderson], “Chief Factor James Anderson’s Back River journal of 1855,” ed. C. H. D. Clarke, Canadian Field-Naturalist (Ottawa), LIV (1940), 63–67, 84–89, 107–9, 125–26, 134–36; LV (1941), 9–11, 21–26, 38–44; “Extracts from Chief-Factor James Anderson’s Arctic journal,” Royal Geographical Soc., Journal (London), 27 (1857), 321–28. PAC, MG 19, A29. HBC Arch. D.4/55, 10 Feb., 4 April 1859; D.4/71, 13 Dec. 1850; D.4/74, 26 Dec. 1853; D.4/75, 18 Nov. 1854; D.4/76a, 20 April, 14 June, 12 Dec. 1856, 24 June 1857. PABC, James Anderson papers.