John Anderson (1726-1796)

John Anderson is best remembered for founding Anderson’s Institution, which went on to become the University of Strathclyde. Before this, however, he was very active as a teacher at the University of Glasgow, from which he graduated MA in 1745. He was also a soldier during the Jacobite uprising of the 1740s, defending Stirling from the Jacobite army as an officer on the Hanoverian side.

After travelling to the Netherlands and working in London, Anderson was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of Glasgow in 1754. Three years later, he transferred to the Chair of Natural Philosophy. Beside his interests in languages and natural philosophy, Anderson was also known for his inventiveness. In 1772 he was responsible for installing the lightning conductor on the College steeple, which was Glasgow’s first. Because of his experimental lecturing style, he was endearingly nicknamed ‘Jolly Jack Phosphorus’. 

His military interests did not cease following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden. His Essays on Field Artillery (1788) was reprinted in French in 1791 - the same year in which he presented the French nation with a canon he had designed. His other published works display Anderson’s true diversity: a trait shared among many Glasgow figures of the Enlightenment. His first, Compend of Experimental Philosophy (1760) was followed by Institutes of Physics (1777). As a collector and antiquarian, much of his local knowledge was published posthumously in Observations upon Roman Antiquities, Discovered between the Forth and Clyde (1800). 

In his final years Anderson was known to be cantankerous and was involved in legal disputes with his colleagues, rendering him an isolated member of the faculty. His vast array of models and apparatus, to say nothing of his natural history collection and library was therefore bequeathed to what he hoped would be a new university in Glasgow. In the same year as his death, Anderson’s Institution began to offer courses to students. Roy Campbell remarked in 1990 that both Universities in Glasgow therefore grew ‘from the fertile soil of the eighteenth century.’