Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Anderson-Seton family

The fur trader and explorer, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, was a younger member of the Anderson-Seton family of Scotland -- a family that resulted from the marriage of a stubborn young gentlewoman named Margaret Seton, who took as her husband a common tenant-farmer. The man Margaret chose to marry became the eccentric and intellectual Dr. James Anderson, Scottish economist, self-trained agriculturist, inventor of the Scotch plough, and editor of the magazine The Bee. This man was Alexander Caulfield Anderson's paternal grandfather.
James Anderson began his life as the child of tenant farmers. He was born near Edinburgh in 1739, and took over his family's two farms at his parents' early death. This was a time when Scottish farmers studied agricultural science at local universities, and James Anderson attended Professor Cullen's lectures on Chemistry. Eventually Anderson sold his parents' farms and took over the uncultivated lands of Monkshill Farm in Aberdeenshire, quickly making it a profitable concern.
In 1768 the young farmer met the heiress of the Aberdeenshire family, Seton of Mounie, who lived nearby. Margaret Seton was the daughter of George Seton of Mounie, and grand-daughter of the intellectual lawyer Sir Alexander Seton, Lord Pitmedden; she was descended from generations of noble Seton men who had fought and died beside their Scottish kings. She could have chosen any nobleman in the country to be her husband, but she chose the tenant-farmer James Anderson.
To marry into the Seton family, James Anderson had to take on the Seton name, something he did briefly and very unwillingly. Margaret gave birth to the couple's first children at Monkshill, a place where Anderson wrote so many knowledgeable articles on farming and agriculture that the University of Aberdeen granted him the degree of Doctor of Law. Dr. Anderson was a brilliant agriculturist, but an indifferent husband and father. Margaret inherited the estates of Mounie and the family took residence in the turreted house for a short time. But in 1783, Anderson moved his family to a rundown farmhouse in Leith, Edinburgh's port city, to be closer to his intellectual friends.
Margaret faded and died within five years, and her children grew up in their father's indifferent care. One by one they found their own path, but James Anderson's unloving and neglectful care affected all of them in different ways. The children knew themselves to be gentlemen and gentlewomen descended from the fine Seton family, but all were somehow cursed by their poverty-stricken upbringing and their father's emotional detachment.
The eldest son, Alexander, inherited Mounie, and as he was required to take on the Seton name to inherit, he changed his name by deed poll to avoid the confusion of his having two surnames. Alexander Seton was an honorable and hardworking man who supported all the younger members of his family financially until his personal fortune was almost depleted.
The third Anderson-Seton son, John, apprenticed as an engraver under the artist Thomas Bewick. Although John learned the trade quickly and showed great promise as an artist and an illustrator, he refused to do his work well, if at all, and was fired from his apprenticeship. John then set up shop in London. His work received much acclaim, but his business fell into disarray and he escaped his debts by sailing to Australia. John abandoned his ship in South America, and died in Africa in 1807.
The fifth son, James, was a grain-merchant who owned a good-sized house and sometimes consulted a craniologist, not unusual in those days. After his eldest brother, he was the most successful businessman in the family and retired well off. Despite his apparent success, James, too, sometimes borrowed money from his older brother and never repaid it.
An Anderson daughter, Margaret, married the civil engineer Benjamin Outram, who gave her five children but died suddenly without leaving her money to raise them. Margaret, an eccentric in her own right, accepted the legal help and the money that Alexander Seton gave her. Although she received an allowance that supported her family for years and put her children through school, Margaret complained to her sons that Seton had entirely neglected her.
Henry Anderson joined the army of the East India Company and, as a Captain, led his men through a series of grueling military campaigns, including the disastrous Monson's Retreat of 1804. In this battle, the East India Company's army attacked a Maratha leader they considered a robber chief, and were forced into a two-month retreat to the safety of the city of Agra, all the while fighting off their well-armed enemy. Only a few hundred of Monson's original force of 10,000 soldiers survived the long march, and it is probable that the appalling conditions of the running battle caused Henry's early death.
The man who became Alexander Caulfield Anderson's father was Robert, born in 1781 at his father's farm at Monkshill. In 1799, Robert Anderson sailed for India to join the East India Company's Army, but jumped ship in Calcutta. A year later, Robert was acting-midshipman on a Calcutta-based trading vessel that sailed between India, China and Australia -- a ship captained by his elder brother, William. The sea had not suited Robert, and when his brother's ship arrived in Australia in 1800, Captain Anderson paid for Robert's commission as ensign in the New South Wales Corps of the British Army.
Robert served at Port Jackson on Norfolk Island, at that time a place of confinement for the worst criminals the British government exported to Australia. In 1804, Robert was reassigned to Port Dalrymple, in northern van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), where his commander sent him on a short expedition of exploration up the Anderson River -- a creek which still bears his name. A short time later, Anderson defended the impertinent behavior of a female convict he called his woman and, in doing so, contradicted his superior officer, who sent him to Port Jackson in disgrace. Ensign Anderson promptly sold his commission and, abandoning the convict woman, sailed for India with his seafaring brother, William.
By 1809, Robert had married Eliza Charlotte Simpson, daughter of a high-ranking East India Company merchant in Madras and Calcutta. By 1810 Robert owned part of an indigo plantation near Ruttanpoor, north of Calcutta. He and his business partner, Alexander Caulfield, had already produced a great deal of indigo.
The demand for Bengal indigo varied, but after 1810, most indigo dye imported into England came from India rather than the West Indies. Anderson and Caulfield soon made their fortunes and, in 1817, Robert Anderson brought his wife and three sons home to London. Alexander Caulfield Anderson, then three years old, had been born on March 10, 1814, on his father's indigo plantation.

Notes: Robert Anderson is not an unusual name; there were two ensign Robert Andersons in Australia at the same time, and some historians mix the two. There were also two John Andersons who were engravers in Scotland at about the same time. Anderson is a very common name, unfortunately, and it sometimes makes research difficult.

Sources for above material:
Mary Frances Outram, Margaret Outram, 1778-1863, Mother of the Bayard of India (London, John Murray, undated)
"Sketch of the Life of Dr. James Anderson," Gentlemen's Magazine, December 1808, p. 1051-2
With special thanks to our English cousin, Virginia, who has researched our family for many many years, and who has shared her information with all of us.

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