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William Bain Anderson

(13 July 1834-10 June 1902)

William Bain A (ca1834-1902)(CR) was one of the Andersons who regularly appeared in the newspapers, either through reports of his activities or as a contributor. He was born around 1834 in Dundee. If he was named for a William Bain, this may have been his maternal great-grandfather, his mother’s grandfather, for whom I have found no record. William began his professional life as a bank clerk in his father’s bank at 105 Murraygate, Dundee. When his father’s will was written in 1858, however, he had become a wool stapler/ merchant in Liverpool. From his own account years later, he also traded in cotton in Liverpool, pig iron in Glasgow, wool wherever he lived, plus grain, wheat, flax, and rabbit skins in New Zealand. In 1894, he was also the Gore agent for the South British (Fire and Marine Insurance Company of New Zealand).

William was living in Kings Cross, Halifax, when he married Emily Annie Sykes

(1846-1876), daughter of oilcloth manufacturer, Miles Sykes (1811-1853) and Sarah Bold Tillotson (1821-1903), in August 1867. Things weren’t going too well. He was in the wool business with his brother, Charles, trading as Anderson Brothers. In 1869, the business became bankrupt although the brothers must have recovered because, a couple of years later, their fleeces were winning prizes at the Halifax agricultural show.


William and Emily

William Wallace                              Marion Tillotson

  (1868-1942)                                  (1869-1950)

Within a couple of years of their marriage, William and Emily had two children. I have

found nothing more about Emily, other than her death on 11 May 1876. She may have been ill for some time, having had no more children after the birth of her younger child in 1869. Shortly after Emily’s death, William migrated to New Zealand where he and his brothers (Charles and John) set themselves up in Dunedin’s burgeoning textile industry.

They traded as Anderson Brothers, Ravensbourne. Ravensbourne is an outer suburb

of Dunedin on the banks of Otago Harbour. His expertise was acknowledged in what the Otago Daily Times referred to in 1878 as an important letter about the consequences of misleading fleece grading for the industry and for the colony. In 1888, he was assisting a committee “in getting up the wool trophy” and in gathering wool samples that would best represent “the Middle Island” (New Zealand’s South Island) at Melbourne’s Centennial International Exhibition.

His Ravensborne house, reportedly with the finest view in the suburb, went on the

market in 1879, he must barely have had time to live in it. “(E)xtremely liberal terms” were offered for purchase of the “perfectly new and very superior Four-roomed” house on a quarter-acre block only three minutes from the railway station. Subsequent electoral rolls had him in Dunedin proper although, unless there were two William Bain Anderson, wool

stapler/merchants in Dunedin at the time, his property qualifications for voting eligibility were in several locations.

In 1883, William married teacher/civil servant Emily Rhoda Inman

(1854-90) who I also found in an 1880 newspaper list of passengers on the barque Rialto from London to Otago. I had not found anything more about Emily Rhoda until offered probate details for an, in the end, unrelated Mrs Emily Rhoda Anderson who died in Leeds in 1925. Probate was to husband John Anderson (congregational minister) and Alexander Anderson (lawyer), neither of whom are our Andersons. On a whim, I entered Emily Rhoda's name in NZ Archives, thinking maybe I'd find a divorce, and was stunned to discover she was "lost at sea" in 1890. Contacting the archivist brought probate details that included an affidavit by William that he had paid £33 for her to travel on the cargo ship Marlborough to England. After leaving Lyttelton on 11 January 1890, the Marlborough vanished and Lloyd's eventually paid out on its loss. If you consult Mr Google, the resulting hits make the Marlborough's disappearance very similar to that of the Flying Dutchman with its ghostly crew. So many unanswered questions, the main one being:  what was Emily Rhoda doing, travelling alone to England on a cargo ship? What a horrible end to her story. What a shocker of a year for William with his brother dying, also by drowning, just six months later.

In the 1890s, William was living in Gore, Southland. It seems he was

already in business there because in 1889 the partnership of George Wood and WB Anderson (“Wood and Anderson”, Waikaka Siding) was dissolved by mutual consent, their general produce and commission business continuing as WB Anderson and Co. Although WD’s memoire says William began a stock agency in Gore, according to Victoria University’s Electronic Text Collection (nzetc), he bought the existing Watson JE and Co, Ltd (est. 1834) in 1890. He sold it on in 1892 to Messrs Tothill and Watson. From various sources, we know the family lived in Gordon House; Gordon was the original name of East Gore. I think that brother Charles' widow, Rebecca, and her sons also lived there for a while in the early 1890s to allow her to restructure her life after her husband's death.
    William was an active member of Gore’s community, so much so that the Mataura Ensign columnist, Cyclops, made ongoing snide swipes at him, professing “unceasing admiration” for William’s versatility in all matters civic. The various press reports have him:
•      a delegate to a Dunedin conference of Racing Club delegates (where he sought to limit government totaliser tax);

•      thanking contributors to a relief fund for the family of David Gray who had died in an accident. The Grays were related by marriage to

William’s recently dead brother, Charles;

•      on the organising committee and a contributor to the new Athenaeum that opened in 1893;

•      an advocate for a traffic bridge over the Mataura River at Gore;

•      making an extended visit to Australia;

•      opening his premises for balls and other events;

•      authoring letters such as one querying the US decision to abolish wool import duties and the likely effect on trade; and

•      writing and lecturing on bimetallism, which appears to be associated with the costs of using gold or silver as a national currency. In his own words “bimetallism refers to a coinage of those two metals at a fixed relative value established by law”. A lecture (sixpence admission) on the topic was reprinted, taking a full page of the broadsheet Mataura Ensign (27 July 1894). Another lecture on “Some men of literature in Queen Anne’s Reign”, mainly about the life of Oliver Goldsmith, was also reproduced in that newspaper (13 July 1894).    

A couple of road mishaps made the news. In 1891, the Otago Witness ran a story about William finding “himself wrong side up on the

road” when a wheel of the buggy he was driving came off. His passenger “Miss Finlayson, a visitor from Dunedin” (another of his brother’s in-laws perhaps visiting her bereaved sister) “behaved with rare coolness and pluckily stuck to her seat without any fuss”. Four morals came from the story. The first was that, in the event of such circumstances, behave as had Miss Finlayson; the fourth was that, if you’re lucky enough to own one, look after your buggy so that its wheels don’t come off through lack of maintenance. The second incident, first reported in the Mataura Ensign, was thought newsworthy enough to be reproduced nationwide in the NZ Observer. It seems ten passengers saved themselves more serious injury by “falling on top of our esteemed townsman, Mr WB Anderson, who sustained several contusions, which are very painful”. The Observer concluded “probably Anderson was never so much esteemed before” (14 April 1894).    


But in 1895, William was on the move again. At his official farewell, the Mayor paid tribute to

William’s honesty and ability. In response, William was candid about the major loss he had taken “in a big line of oats” and thanked his financial backers for their consideration. Another report of the farewell said William had “proved himself a citizen who can ill be spared”. Noting that he had met with many business reversals in Gore, the Otago Witness said he left with the good wishes of the community. William had been a Councillor (once making an unsuccessful bid for mayoral office) which caused an Extraordinary Election to be held to fill his vacant position when he left the district. Although it seems he had intended to move to the North Island, William in fact moved to Riwaka, a small community in the Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island. Unsurprisingly, he was just as active in his new location, serving on committees, writing letters, and continuing to lecture on bimetallism. He was now, in his 60s, an orchardist and, again capitalising on regional strengths, a wine grape grower – of particular interest to my generation of Andersons who might be inclined to stake an ancestral claim to part of the Cloudy Bay wine empire. By 1899, William was vice-president of the Motueka Agricultural and Fruitgrowers’ Association, the establishment of which he had advocated the previous year. Its March meeting had been convened to discuss his “capitally written” (i.e., interesting and humorous) paper on fruit growing and its troubles. Some of the pest-control preparations discussed could very easily be, and possibly are, used by fruit growers in the twenty-first century. A Government attendee at the meeting said he was happy to assist “any institution such as this”, noting the industry was worth around £40,000 annually to the Nelson district. Never one to do things by halves, William’s produce was winning prizes in 1902 for “4 sorts cooking apples, 12 of each sort”; “London pippin apples”; and it scored the greatest number of points in Class 3 at a local horticultural show.    

But, inevitably, his story was coming to an end. After ailing for some time, the "highly respected"

William Bain Anderson suddenly and unexpectedly died in his sleep on 10 June 1902. The 14 June 1902 edition of the Mataura Ensign reported:

A well-known old identity of Gore, in the

person of Mr W.B. Anderson, died at Motueka

(Nelson district) on

Tuesday last. The

deceased gentleman was a prominent figure

in local affairs up to some seven years ago,

when he went to reside at Motueka. He

leaves a widow and a family ofTwo – Mr

Wallace Anderson (now in South Africa) and

Mrs J Graham,
 of East Gore.The late Mr

Anderson formerly conducted the business

Now comprised in the local branch of Messrs

Tothill, Watson and Co.    


In 1896, he had married for the third time, to Eleanor Florence (Nellie) Crofts (1864-1945) who was granted probate of his effects

(£917/15/4). In keeping with her late husband’s entrepreneurship, in 1915 Eleanor F Anderson invested £300 (30 x £10 shares) to help establish the new Motueka Cool Storage Co, Ltd. Curiously, probate of the estate (£917/15/4) of William’s first wife, Emily, was granted in 1904, nearly 30 years after her death, to Halifax-based “Eliza Jane Jenkinson widow and William Ernest Jenkinson cashier” who were named as Nellie’s attorneys. Eliza Jane Jenkinson, widow of stockbroker George Jenkinson, was Emily’s sister. Presumably William Earnest Jenkinson was Eliza's brother-in-law. It looks as though Nellie was tying up any loose ends of William’s affairs. The amount recorded separately in William and Emily's probate has to be the same pot of money but why probate of Emily's estate didn't happen after she died in the 1870s remains a mystery. Other than leaving his double-barrelled, breech-loading gun to his son (but nothing to his daughter), William left all real and personal estate to Nellie. The probate records do not include an inventory of his estate.    

William seems to have been a restless chap. After leaving home, the longest he stayed anywhere was in Halifax. His moves may have

been driven by financial disappointments or by the search for the next best thing or maybe it was the challenge of building something new. He clearly was broadly and well read and intellectually agile. Whatever he turned his mind to, he did so in depth. His public contributions earned admiration from his peers (with the exception of Cyclops) and I regret having not found a photograph of William Bain Anderson for us to meet a remarkable man.

Evening Star

30 June 1894


Mataura Ensign

26 September 1893


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