Arthur Anderson lived from 19 February 1792 to 27 February 1868. A native of Shetland, he went on to found the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company: which has since become P&O. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Arthur Anderson was the eldest son of the manager of a fish curing station at the Böd of Gremista, just north of Lerwick. The family lived in the Böd, and Arthur was born there. He was one of the small proportion of Shetland children to receive an education at the time. From the age of 12 he was employed on Bressay, curing and drying fish on the shingle beach. Most of his contemporaries went on to crew the traditional Shetland fishing boats, sixerns, but Anderson's education and ability led him to be singled out to work in the office of the estate factor, Arthur Bolt.
In 1807 Anderson was caught by a Navy press gang, but released when Arthur Bolt told the Navy that Anderson proposed to volunteer the following year at the age of 16. He did so, becoming a Midshipman on HMS Ardent. Anderson quickly realised that holding down a post as an RN officer required more money than he had available, so on 8 March 1810 he transferred to become the captain's clerk aboard HMS Bermuda. Anderson served on HMS Bermuda for most of the next five years, leaving the Navy after Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo. He was one of 3,000 men from Shetland to serve in the Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
After the war Anderson became involved in ship-broking in Spain and Portugal, and in 1822 went into partnership with Brodie McGhie Willcox. They bought their first ship in 1825. In the late 1820s and early 1830s Anderson helped the royalist causes in civil wars in both Portugal and Spain, and after the wars reaped the benefits of backing the winning side. Anderson and Willcox then formed what they called the Peninsula Steam Navigation Company. The house flag was formed from the royal red and yellow of Spain, and the blue and white of Portugal. In 1836 they won the Government mail contract to Spain and Portugal and were well on their way to success.
In 1840 the company was incorporated by Royal Charter, becoming the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, with three directors appointed for life: Brodie M. Willcox, Arthur Anderson and Francis Carleton. Willcox ran the company's operations in London, while Anderson travelled widely, resolving problems on the ground.
Despite the demands on his time in London and all points beyond (which from 1841 included his trying to promote the idea of a Suez Canal to an unreceptive British government), Anderson maintained a close involvement in Shetland. In 1836 he launched Shetland's first newspaper, The Shetland Journal, which he financed, edited and largely wrote himself. In 1837 he founded the Shetland Fishery Company in an effort to improve the lot of fishermen usually subject to onerous ties from landowners: and he launched Shetland knitwear to a wider audience by presenting some to Queen Victoria. In 1839 Anderson was largely responsible for Shetland getting its first steamer service. And from 1847 to 1852 he was Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland.
In 1852 Anderson opened a school in Out Skerries; and in 1862 he launched the much larger Anderson Educational Institute in Lerwick, which provided both primary and secondary education. He also funded two schools in Southampton for the children of P&O employees. In 1865 he established a Widows' Asylum on Shetland, erected in memory of his wife, who had died the previous year, and intended for widows of Shetland fishermen and seamen.
When Anderson died in London on 27th February, 1868, he was 76 years old, and still working as Chairman and Managing Director of P&O. Two years previously, on his final visit to Shetland, he had presented the Anderson Institute with a statue depicting his own parting at the age of 16 from Thomas Bolt, inscribed with Bolt's final words: "Doe weel and persevere". Arthur Anderson himself certainly lived up to the inscription, which has since become the school's motto.