ANDERSON, John William (1735/6-1813), of Mill Hill, Hendon, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



6 Mar. 1793 - 1806

Family and Education

b. Oct. 1735 or 1736,1 2nd s. of William Anderson, merchant, of Danzig by his w. Lucy née Sheldon. m. 1762, Dorothy, da. and coh. of Charles Simkins of Devizes, Wilts., s.p. cr. Bt. 14 May 1798.

Offices Held

Alderman, London 1789-d., sheriff 1791-2, ld. mayor 1797-8.

Member, Glovers’ Co. 1789-d.; asst. Russia Co. 1777-d.; treasurer, Hon. Artillery Co. 1793-1808; pres. Christ’s Hosp. 1798-d.; asst. Eastland Co. 1795, gov. 1799-d.; dir. R. Exchange Assurance Co. 1777, sub.-gov. 1812, gov. 1813; dir. W. I. Dock Co. 1803-d.


Anderson was the son of a Scots merchant settled at Danzig who died there about 1749, as did his elder brother Andrew in 1772. The source of the rumour quoted by City Biography in 1800 that he was the son ‘of a day labourer at Hartley Row in Hampshire’ is not known.2 He settled in London as a Baltic merchant and by 1770 was in business at 33 Charterhouse Square. By 1777 he was ‘agent and commissary for the city of Danzig’. About 1796 he moved to 40 Old Broad Street under the style of Anderson, Drewe & Co., a partnership he seems to have given up about 1811. Soon after his election as a City alderman, he canvassed Okehampton with John Townson on the Treasury interest, January 1790, but after being involved in a double return at the ensuing election, was not awarded the seat on petition.3 In 1793, however, he was returned unopposed in a by-election for the City of London; in 1796 and 1802 he was returned in fourth place in the poll.

Anderson, who prided himself on attending the House ‘as frequently as any Member did’ (5 Jan. 1795), was an influential City friend of administration, though he took second place to Sir William Curtis as spokesman for the conservative element on the corporation. His only surviving application to government was for a friend of his to be Berlin agent for the subsidy to Prussia, 1 May 1794, and it came too late.4 His maiden speech, a week after his election, was in support of Curtis’s motion to commit the London petition against the coal duty: on 11 June he complained of the heavy duty on coal paid by his constituents, but on 27 Feb. 1794 declared that they would drop the matter to help the war effort. He supported the traitorous correspondence bill, 21 Mar. 1793. On 30 Apr., after giving evidence to the committee on commercial credit, he blamed scarcity of credit rather than of coin for the crisis and defended the advance of Exchequer bills by commission (to which he was appointed) to relieve it. As a Baltic merchant, he repudiated Fox’s suggestion that the Baltic trade convoys were inadequate, 29 Jan. 1794, and subsequently argued that if ships were lost, it was because they did not take advantage of convoy protection. On 10 Apr. he rebuked Philip Francis, who had like himself been active in the subscription for Polish relief in 1791, for refusing to subscribe privately to the war effort. He defended the City militia bill, 1794-5. He voted for Wilberforce’s peace plea, 30 Dec. 1794, and said he would continue to do so.5 Yet he voted against Grey’s motion for negotiation with France, 26 Jan. 1795, and he was careful to explain, in defending the loyal liverymen’s petition, 2 Feb. 1795, that it was an ‘honourable’ peace that he and they wished for. He supported Pitt in opposition to Hussey’s motion to summon the governors of the Bank of England to give evidence on the drain of currency caused by the allied subsidy, 4 Feb. On 9 Feb, he sought to introduce a bill to punish bigamy by seven years’ transportation. He was the London wine merchants’ champion against the additional duty on imported wines, 23 Feb., but their petition was rejected as being ‘against the supply of the current year’, 4 Mar. On 30 Mar. he obtained leave for a bill to protect merchants against defrauding clerks, whom he wished to be classed as felons liable to transportation. Anderson voted with the minority for Foster Barham’s motion on the conduct of Grey and Jervis in Martinique, 2 June 1795; after this no further minority votes are known.

Anderson annoyed the Whigs when, in defending the seditious meetings bill, 12 Nov, 1795, without having examined its contents, he referred disparagingly to the Duke of Bedford’s supposed willingness to encourage the radical orator Thelwall in his activities. He was on the committee to promote the loyal declaration of London merchants and was confident that the majority of his constituents favoured the bill. But on 27 Nov. William Smith presented a petition from Anderson’s aldermanic ward of Aldersgate, claiming that he had refused to convene a public meeting to discuss the bill. Anderson maintained that the requisition was not a respectable one and was inspired by avowed Foxites who wished to overturn the government. Sheridan took exception to this and on 1 Dec. asked Anderson to answer a contradiction of his claim by the requisitioners in the Morning Chronicle the day before. Anderson then qualified his statement, but insisted that it was substantially true: whereupon Cox, the chief requisitioner, wrote to the Chronicle, 4 Dec., alleging that Anderson had rebuffed him with the allegation that ‘all this ferment was only struggle for power’. On 3 Dec. Anderson as representative of the majority view had defended the meeting at Grocers’ Hall for a loyal declaration.

In February 1796 Anderson was a spokesman for the City corporation against the independently sponsored London wet docks bill promoted in the House by William Manning; in November and December of that year he claimed that the City could devise a better one, but in February following, after offering to bring in an alternative bill, agreed to a compromise. On 1 Nov. 1796 he proposed a clause for the cavalry bill to safeguard the privileges of the City. He joined his colleagues Curtis and Lushington in discrediting the meeting of London liverymen which censured government on the imperial loan, 14 Dec. 1796. On 1 Mar. 1797, he was named to the secret committee on the Bank. On 27 Mar. he got leave to bring in a bill to regulate the price of bread, which he averred should be governed by the price of wheat and not vice versa. (In November 1802, he was a spokesman for the repeal of this Assize Act, which he admitted had failed.) He deplored Alderman Combe’s motion for the dismissal of ministers, 19 May 1797, ridiculing the notion that Combe was acting on the instructions of his constituents and insisting that his own conduct was governed ‘by his own conscience’. He promised and helped promote a loyal counter-declaration.6

During his mayoral year, 1797-8, he was virtually silent in debate, but cut a comic figure in the royal thanksgiving procession to St. Paul’s, 19 Dec. 1797, led on horseback by two grooms, with two men holding him on. On 14 Dec. he had been absent from the debate on the assessed taxes, which he had said he would oppose: the current joke was that he was too busy taking riding lessons.7 He was rewarded with a baronetcy in 1798. On 17 Dec. 1798 he defended the City’s contribution to the war effort against some remarks of Tierney’s. In February 1799 he was a commissioner for the conference with the Lords on the Irish union. In June he carried the bill to prevent a combination of journeymen millwrights against their masters by fixing their wages. On 18 Feb. 1800 he took the chair on the corn and bread bill and promoted a bill against the sale of under-baked bread. He deprecated the London petition for peace, 24 Feb., as the product of Lord Mayor Combe’s Whig faction, aided by a ‘promiscuous rabble’. His colleague Curtis induced him to tone down this language and the Whig press repudiated it, but on 28 Feb. Anderson presented the loyal counter-petition of 1,619 liverymen, denying that the war was the source of scarcity of provisions, but hopeful of peace. That session (and again in 1804) he brought in a Temple Bar improvement bill. He was placed on the committee of inquiry into the coal trade, 11 Mar. 1800. He presented the London woollen manufacturers’ petition against the commercial advantages given the Irish by the Act of Union, 28 Apr. On 19 May he seconded the bill to ensure the payment of interest by public accountants. On 20 June he carried a bill for the regulation of the recovery of small debts in the City, being praised for his ‘philanthropic exertions’, although the bill was mutilated by the Lords.8 He helped secure the repeal of the London bread assize, 30 Nov. 1800, and on 16 Feb. 1801 advocated a further government grant for the improvement of the port of London.

After Addington came to power in 1801, on which occasion he informed the new minister that he ‘pitied him sincerely’, Anderson was much less active in the House: though in his election address, 15 July 1802, he promised

the same punctuality in attendance, when your local interests are under consideration, the same attachment to the cause of morality and religion, the same warm attachment to the person of our sovereign, and the same firm adherence to the excellent principles of the British constitution.

On 5 July 1803, despite instructions and professions to the contrary, he agreed to the committal of the property tax bill.9 He championed a free coal market in London, 1803-5. He spoke as president of Christ’s Hospital, 15 Mar. 1804, to help quash the Croydon-Portsmouth canal bill. On 14 and 23 May 1804 (as also on 25 May 1802) he championed the London insurance monopoly against provincial ventures. On 6 June 1804 he presented a planters’ petition against the abolition of the slave trade. On 24 July he opposed the corn trade bill, together with Combe and Curtis. He appeared as a friend of Pitt’s second administration in the list of September 1804, but was not listed in July 1805 when Sidmouth described him as one of his City friends: this followed his votes for the censure and criminal prosecution of Melville.10 His last speech, 24 June 1806, was against the Globe insurance bill, which infringed on the monopoly of the London and Royal Exchange Insurance Companies, of the latter of which he was a director: but government spokesmen favoured competition. Anderson retired at the dissolution of 1806. He died 21 May 1813. His obituary stated that ‘it was the delight of his heart to be able to confer favours’: certainly in 1789 he saved the life of a man who conspired with one of his servants to rob him by an appeal to the King, and, dying without issue, he conferred many favours by his will.11

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1813), i. 598.
  • 2. City Biog. (1800), 44; also in J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 17.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Luxmoore to Spencer, 14 Jan. 1790.
  • 4. Parl. Portraits (1795), ii. 151; PRO 30/8/108, f. 87.
  • 5. Courier, 21 Jan. 1795.
  • 6. The Times, 12, 29 May 1797.
  • 7. City Biog. 44; Morning Chron. 16, 20 Dec. 1797.
  • 8. City Biog. 44; Oracle, 24 June 1795.
  • 9. Colchester, i. 230; The Times, 19 Mar., 16 July 1802, 30 June 1803.
  • 10. Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to J. H. Addington, 19 July 1805.
  • 11. Gent. Mag. (1813), i. 598; Geo. III Corresp. i. 564; PCC 280 Heathfield.