Canterbury pioneer and iron founder.
A new biography of Anderson, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
John Anderson was born at Inveresk, Midlothian, Scotland, and as a boy was apprenticed to a blacksmith. He worked 12 hours a day, attended evening classes at the School of Arts at Edinburgh and gained his diploma and medal. In 1847 he married Jane Gibson and came out with her and his eldest son, John, in the Sir George Seymour in 1850. He went to see the Deans Brothers who advised him to make a start in Christchurch rather than in Lyttelton; he spent his first night on the plains at Riccarton. He set up his forge at the Bricks, the farthest point up the Avon which a boat could reach, and built a small cottage there. His first account–for shoeing–is framed and hangs in the office of Andersons Ltd. He bought a town section on the south side of Cashel Street and in February 1852 moved his forge and his household there. He bought the section which backed on to his first one and gradually spread through to Lichfield Street. Besides his ordinary work, he would sometimes beat a sovereign into a wedding ring for a young couple.
In 1857 he imported a steam engine and boiler and machine tools, and the first real step forward in the history of the Canterbury Foundry was made; for, of course, he was much more than a plain blacksmith. He was an engineer, as he was soon to prove. In 1865 he turned out the first iron lamp post for the streets of Christchurch; it was set up outside Tattersalls in Cashel Street. He also had many orders for screw wool presses. When low wool prices turned the minds of men to flax milling, he designed and manufactured flax-stripping machinery. When Canterbury was fully stocked and before refrigeration had come to the rescue, he made boiling-down plants for the works at Templeton for the Hon. William Robinson at Cheviot Hills and other runholders. In 1863 he made the machinery for the Christchurch Gas Co. of which he became a director. He sent his two eldest sons to Merchiston School, near Edinburgh, and they remained in Scotland until their engineering training was completed.
At the election for the first Municipal Council of Christchurch, when 20 of the foremost citizens were candidates, he was elected second in the list, the first place going to John Hall. When, later, the Christchurch City Council became an incorporated body, Anderson was chosen as its second Mayor. The Duke of Edinburgh visited Canterbury during his year of office; and when the welcoming procession marched through the streets, it was led by the Canterbury Foundry staff carrying their own banner–light blue with a large locomotive in the centre. To Anderson fell the task of presiding at the civic luncheon in honour of the Duke and he carried out his duties in a manner highly creditable to himself and to the pride and delight of his fellow citizens. Soon afterwards the citizens presented him with a silver tea and coffee service to mark their appreciation of the way in which he had represented the city. Anderson had a boyish simplicity, a trait in his character which endeared him to people. He never made a speech without some quaint turn of phrase which produced roars of laughter. To commemorate his year of office he presented an iron fountain with a light on top which was placed on the footpath in front of the Bank of New Zealand.
Every year he entertained his men at a dinner; the number had risen to 30 in 1868. He was one of the first to support and put into practice the Saturday half holiday. When Governor Sir G. F. (Bowen) visited Christchurch, he was shown the Canterbury Foundry as one of the sights of the city.
Anderson was an original director of the New Zealand Shipping Co. and once when he made a trip to England the board asked him to inspect the ships they had building there and satisfy himself that the iron was of good quality. Before he left Christchurch he was given a dinner at which 100 sat down. Rolleston proposed his health, and told him to get his portrait painted when he was in England. On the day he left, there were unprecedented public demonstrations of goodwill.
All his life Anderson was a pillar of the Presbyterian Church, and he made many long trips throughout Canterbury to new settlements to encourage new congregations. He was among those who sent a request to Scotland for a minister for Canterbury and when the Rev. Charles Fraser proved unsatisfactory, Anderson led the party which determined to form a second congregation in Christchurch, he himself laying the foundation stone of the new St. Pauls. When another minister was wanted, he went with two others to Wanganui to persuade the Rev. Elmslie to come to St. Pauls. They succeeded and Anderson's eldest daughter became Elmslie's second wife.
John Anderson founded a firm which, starting off by making ploughs and harrows, became one of the largest contractors in New Zealand. Andersons Ltd. prefabricated some of the biggest and most difficult railway viaducts and bridges. They made gold dredges and coastal steamers, and sent large churns to the other side of the world. The company, moreover, has remained always under the management of one of the family and is an example of small-scale capitalism where every employee is known personally to the management and where, for that reason, relations between them tend to remain friendly. That this has happened is due largely to the honourable and just character of the founder. Anderson died on 30 April 1897, aged 77.
by George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.
- Press (Christchurch), 30 Apr 1897 (Obit).