Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anderson, George William
ANDERSON, Sir GEORGE WILLIAM, K.C.B. (1791–1867), an Indian civil servant, was the son of Mr. Robert Anderson, a London merchant. Entering the Bombay civil service in 1806, Anderson was principally employed upon judicial duties until December 1831, when he was placed in administrative and political charge of the southern Mahratta districts, under the designation of principal collector and political agent. Both as a judicial officer and as a revenue and political administrator, Anderson's work repeatedly elicited the commendations of successive governments of Bombay, including those of Mr. Elphinstone, Sir John Malcolm, and Lord Clare, and also of the court of directors of the East India Company. In those days the superintendence of the police was vested in the district or zillá judge, and Anderson's exertions for its improvement, especially at Surat, were attended with marked success. He was employed by Mr. Elphinstone in framing the systematic code of laws attempted in British India, known as the ‘Bombay Code of 1827,’ which was a great advance upon anything previously attempted in India, and served to prove by thirty years' experience of its working that there was no difficulty in applying a general code, founded upon European principles, to the mixed populations of India.
Partly in consequence of the experience which Anderson had gained in the performance of this duty, and partly in consequence of the ability which he evinced as a judge of the company's chief court of appeal, the Sadr Diwáni and Foujdári Adálat, and as a judge of circuit, in which latter capacity he submitted several valuable reports on the condition of the people and on the judicial administration, Anderson in 1835 was selected by the court of directors as the Bombay member of the newly constituted Indian Law Commission, of which Mr. (afterwards Lord) Macaulay was president. This important office Anderson held until March 1838, when he was appointed a member of the council of the governor of Bombay. In April 1841, on the retirement of Sir James Carnac, he succeeded as senior member of council to the office of governor of Bombay, and held that important post until relieved by Sir George Arthur in June 1842 [see Arthur, Sir George]. The period during which Anderson officiated as governor of Bombay was a very busy and, during the latter part of it, a very anxious time in India. The first war with China was in progress, and, Bombay being the headquarters of the Indian navy and the nearest Indian port to England, many of the arrangements connected with the expedition had to be made through the government of Bombay. The position of our army in Afghanistan was a cause of still greater anxiety, especially after the destruction of the Cabul force: posts were still held by Bombay troops in the neighbouring countries of Beluchistán and Sind, and all the arrangements connected with their relief and reinforcement devolved upon the government of Bombay. As the temporary head of that government, Anderson was brought into close relations with the governor-general, and both from Lord Auckland and from his successor, Lord Ellenborough, he received most cordial acknowledgments of the effective aid rendered by him during that critical period. The court of directors, as a special mark of their recognition of Anderson's public services, extended his term of office as a member of council for one year beyond the prescribed period of five years. Anderson finally retired from the Indian civil service in February 1844, on which occasion the governor of Bombay, Sir George Arthur, placed upon record a minute reviewing his long official career, and testifying to the ‘zeal, judgment, and ability,’ combined with ‘the most conscientious integrity and strict impartiality,’ which had given peculiar value to his advice as a member of council.
In 1849 Anderson, having previously received the honour of knighthood and having been made a companion of the Bath, was appointed governor of Mauritius, which island at that time was in a very depressed condition. After having held this post little more than sixteen months, he was transferred to the government of Ceylon,—but during the short period that he remained at Mauritius, he effected or inaugurated several important reforms. Among these was the introduction of municipal government into Port Louis, the principal town in the island, the establishment in the districts of local magistrates who were invested with a summary jurisdiction in petty civil suits, the establishment of trial by jury, the introduction of a paper currency, arrangements for increasing the supply of labour by immigration, and for establishing steam communication with England viâ Aden, and a reduction of the public expenditure. On relinquishing the government he was presented with addresses by representatives of all the leading bodies in the colony.
Sir George Anderson's appointment to the government of Ceylon at the time at which it was made was a distinguished mark of confidence; for owing to a rebellion on the part of the Cinghalese which had recently taken place, the ill-judged measures which had accompanied its suppression, and the personal differences which had arisen between the late governor, Lord Torrington, and some of the chief officials in the island, the colony was in a very disorganised condition. The state of feeling which resulted from these occurrences could not fail more or less to embarrass the position of the new governor. Party spirit ran high, and the situation was aggravated by differences which unfortunately arose between the bishop of Colombo and several of his clergy. Anderson seems to have fully sustained his previous reputation. As in India and in Mauritius, so also in Ceylon, reforms in the judicial system, having for their object promptitude in the administration of justice and simplification of the procedure of the courts, engaged much of his attention. He developed the resources of the colony by improving the communications, exercised a strict control over the expenditure, and by his conciliatory bearing towards the chiefs and principal headmen of the central province, he restored the confidence of the Cinghalese portion of the population. After governing the colony for nearly four years and a half, the failure of his health compelled him to resign his post in the spring of 1855. He had been advanced to a knight commandership of the Bath on his appointment to Ceylon. He died 17 March 1857, in the sixty-seventh year of his age.
Anderson was married three times, and left a widow and fifteen children, the eldest of whom, the late Sir Henry Lacon Anderson, K.C.S.I., also a Bombay civil servant, rose to a high position in that presidency, and died in March 1879, being then a secretary at the India office.
[Annual Register, 1850, 1851, 1857; Records of the Government of Bombay; Mauritius Adresses, 1848-9; Records of the Government of Ceylon; private correspondence.]