Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Anderson, John Henry

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ANDERSON, JOHN HENRY (1815–1874), conjuror and actor, was known as Professor Anderson, the Wizard of the North, and during many years appeared before the public as a performer of feats of legerdemain. For brief periods he tenanted in turn several of the London theatres, and travelled with his exhibition and apparatus through the provinces, to the colonies and America. His ‘great gun trick’—in which he pretended to catch in his hand a bullet from a musket discharged by one of his audience—was at one time a much-admired illusion. He occupied Covent Garden Theatre for some months at the close of 1855 and the beginning of 1856, performing his conjuring tricks, producing a Christmas pantomime, and attempting the personation of William in ‘Black-eyed Susan,’ and Rob Roy in the melodrama of that name. His season closed with an entertainment described as a ‘Grand Carnival Complimentary Benefit and Dramatic Gala, to commence on Monday morning and terminate with a bal masqué on Tuesday.’ The bal masqué was ‘a scene of undisguised indecency, drunkenness, and vice.’ Between four and five o'clock on the morning of Wednesday, 5 March, Anderson ordered the National Anthem to be played and the gas to be lowered, to warn the revellers to depart. Suddenly the ceiling was discovered to be on fire. The masquers had barely time to escape. In half an hour the destruction of the building was complete. Anderson is chiefly memorable from his connection with this catastrophe.

[Morley's Journal of a London Playgoer, 1866; Irving's Annals of Our Time, 1871.]

D. C.