Sir John Anderson 1814-86: The Unknown Engineer who made the British Empire Possible

Talk: “Sir John Anderson 1814-86: The Unknown Engineer who made the British Empire Possible”. Tuesday 20th September Mr Gwylim Roberts. RCEA
Sir John was an Aberdonian who served a seven year apprenticeship at a local cotton mill before moving to London. In 1842 he was sent by his employer, David Napier, to the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, to supervise the installation of a steam engine, thereby commencing his thirty year association with the manufacturing departments of the Royal Arsenal and which culminated with his becoming its first Chief Engineer. He was thus responsible for manufacturing the cannon and projectiles for both the Royal Navy and the army during his time there which included the Crimean War and many colonial wars, and also a period of rearmament because of perceived threats from France as well as a possible conflict with the USA.
His forte was in designing the machines for producing the various artefacts, thereby dramatically reducing manufacturing costs as well as transforming production times. When emergencies arose he was frequently able to increase production rates or design new machines in a remarkable short time. In addition to his regular duties at Woolwich, he equipped a floating factory, HMFF Chasseur, to help maintain the army’s machinery in the Crimea as well as visiting the USA to inspect American manufacturing processes for small arms, following which he was instructed to design and equip a new small arms manufactory at Enfield, the birthplace of the famous Lee-Enfield rifle that saw Britain thorough two world wars.
In retirement he was active as a Vice-President of IMechE and as chairman of the machinery sections of the international exhibitions then in vogue, for which he received a knighthood and high foreign decorations. He donated a public library for the part of Aberdeen in which he had been brought up. He died at St Leonard’s, East Sussex, and was buried at Aberdeen. His son, an ardent Anglo-Catholic, installed a crucifixion tableau, rood screen and memorial panels in his memory at Mary Tavy church, Devon, of which he was the rector.
G Roberts