John Norrie Anderson
John Norrie Anderson was something of a Victorian polymath, into everything that caught his interest and very able to make a great success in all his business matters.
He was deeply involved in local affairs and his name was known in national political circles. During the constitutional crisis over Lloyd George’s radical budget in 1910, which laid the foundation of the Welfare State, his name was one of several prominent public figures who might be made peers if it became necessary to flood the House of Lords with enough Liberals to get the necessary legislation through.
His father, James Anderson, was a Morayshire builder who came to the island in pursuit of a number of contracts, including work on the early stages of the Lews Castle build. John Norrie was born in Stornoway in 1844 and on leaving school he entered the law office of Donald Munro a practicing solicitor and acting Factor for the Lewis Estate. In that office, Anderson gained many insights into the litigious workings of Munro and no doubt picked up a few useful points in the operation of a legal business.
Anderson became a Lieutenant with the 1st Ross-shire Artillery Volunteers and in 1882, took command of fifty volunteers on a tour to Edinburgh to take part in the Great ‘Wet’ review before Queen Victoria. On that occasion, Edinburgh was drenched in a downpour which left the parade ground flooded with water. On the march past, other companies skirted the deep puddles, but Anderson ordered the Stornoway boys to go “Right through it'”, and the lads received a loud cheer for their efforts.
In 1897, he set up a legal practice on 3 Point Street, as a solicitor and Notary Public. This address was also the hub of his many commercial operations: Coal Merchants, Corporate Accountants, Importers of Building Materials, Insurance Agent, Shipbrokers and Steamboat Agents. One wonders how he found the time to devote to his many public offices, nearly twenty in all. In that same year, he was elected Provost of Stornoway, a position he held until 1909, during which period he was deeply involved in the arrangements which brought the Town Hall into being in 1905.
By the 1920s, John Norrie Anderson was getting on in years and was more than happy to discuss with Colonel Neil MacArthur, an Argyll man, the possibility of MacArthur taking on the legal business, with the provision that the company’s name be changed to Anderson MacArthur, which it is to this day.
Anderson retired to Portobello, Edinburgh, where he died in September 1925, still in full possession of all his faculties. On his death, the Press, carried many public and personal tributes to a man of highly unusual abilities who had devoted his life to public and community service. It says something of his character, that he is still well remembered in Stornoway today.
Frank G Thompson
** Photograph of John Norrie Anderson Courtesy John Macqueen