Anderson, Edward (1763-1843)

Sailor, Poet, and Primitive Methodist

The task of compiling a bibliography of early works printed or published in Stockport has occupied my attention for many years.  The draft of Stopfordiana: The Printed Works of Early Industrial Stockport now contains hundreds of items dating from the years between 1785 and 1840, and each entry has an annotation.  In pursuing this long-term project, I have been fortunate to receive help from many individuals on both sides of the Atlantic, but in recent years, needless to say, few works have turned up that are completely unknown to me.  It thus came as a pleasant surprise when, in 2014, I was contacted by Julie Ramwell, Special Collections Librarian (Rare Books), of The University of Manchester Library.  She informed me that she had come across The Life of a Sailor by Edward Anderson, a pamphlet printed in Stockport in 1807.  I am extremely grateful to Julie for her sharp eye and her generosity in sharing this information with me.  I had not seen any references to this autobiographical poem, and I naively assumed that Anderson was one of the many unheralded Stockport poets of the period.

I immediately added The Life of a Sailor to my bibliography and began carrying out research for the annotation.  I soon discovered that Anderson was not a Stockport resident at all. He was a seafaring man from Yorkshire who had travelled widely not only to ports in the British Isles but also to far-flung points in the wider Atlantic world.  Virtually ignored by scholars of English literature, his early publications were often undated and presented under a confusing series of titles.  I arranged these various pieces of information into a plausible narrative and assumed that I was more or less finished with the entry on Anderson’s Life of a Sailor.

Then, towards the end of 2015, I read Stephen Hatcher’s most recent article in the Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society.  It contained references to the first camp meeting at Mow Cop, the role played on that day by a man named Edward Anderson, and aspects of Anderson’s subsequent career as a Primitive Methodist.  The accompanying footnotes confirmed that this man was indeed the Sailor poet.  I proceeded to contact Hatcher who kindly shared a great deal of useful information with me.  Among other things, he referred me to materials at the Englesea Brook Museum.  I then contacted the museum’s curator, Randle Knight, and he too was most generous with his advice and assistance.  He suggested that my bibliographic entry might be of interest to readers of The Ranter and also to those visiting the museum website.  I readily granted permission for my entry to be used in both places, but I suggested that I should prepare this brief introduction to provide some background information.

What follows below is a version of the Stopfordiana entry that has some additional explanatory material.  Readers should keep in mind that the main purpose of this rather lengthy annotation was not to furnish a full biographical account of Anderson or a comprehensive survey of his works.  The primary goal was merely to provide some context for the version of Anderson’s Life of a Sailor that appeared in Stockport in 1807.  Two abbreviations may be unfamiliar to many readers.  The ESTC and NSTC numbers refer to items listed in the English Short Title Catalogue and the Nineteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue, both of which are now online.

ANDERSON, EDWARD.  The Life of a Sailor. A Poem.  Pr. Northall & Dawson. 36 pp.  John Rylands University Library of Manchester.

This work was printed for and sold by the author in 1807.  Anderson (1763-1843) was raised on a sheep farm near Kilham in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  As a result of economic difficulties during the American Revolution, this shepherd lad left the family farm at the age of eighteen and became a merchant seaman.  Away for much of the time between c. 1781 and 1801, he sailed to the West Indies, survived a gale off Yarmouth that sank one hundred ships, testified in a London trial regarding marine insurance fraud, captained a ship involved in the trade with Portugal, and was taken prisoner by French privateers.  During an interlude in the early 1790s, he resided briefly in the Lake District.

Early in the new century, he settled in Liverpool where he became a merchant in the Irish trade.  From time to time, he also visited Kilham and various other towns in the North.  This is apparently the period in which he began writing verses that he transcribed in letters sent to family and friends.  In pursuing this pastime, he may have been influenced by the poet Edward Rushton and other literary figures in Liverpool (on Rushton [1756-1814], see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB]).  While residing in Liverpool, Anderson also became increasingly interested in religion and set about searching for a religious group that would fulfill his spiritual needs.  On one occasion after attending a Methodist chapel, he was surprised to discover the identity of the preacher.  It turned out to be his younger brother Henry (1766-1843) who had become a Wesleyan itinerant preacher in 1791 and was stationed in the Liverpool circuit in 1802-3.  Perhaps it was Henry who suggested that Edward’s scattered verses might be interesting and instructive to a wider audience.  Two letters from 1804-5 show that Edward himself was also preaching or exhorting but was not entirely pleased with the growing influence exercised by  the rich Wesleyans in the connexion.  The first of the two letters contains an example of his epistolary poetry (Englesea Brook Museum, ENBPM, 2009.127, Anderson to Richard Belt [his cousin], Liverpool, 26 Sept 1804; same, 4 April 1805).

Anderson’s earliest published works appeared under three main titles–Poems, The Sailor, and The Life of a Sailor.  Careful collation of the various editions is still needed, but it appears that not all of the works with the same title have precisely the same contents.  That being said, all three are closely related, their texts being wholly or partially repeated, abridged, amended, or slightly revised from one work to the next.  The undated Poems may have appeared in the years from approximately 1804 to 1806 in Workington, Newcastle, Leeds, and probably Liverpool.  Workington is a small port in Cumberland on the Irish Sea a few miles north of Whitehaven and close to the Lake District.  Two works that Anderson published in Workington are extant: A Description of the October Gale, 1789… (Workington: printed for the author by W. Borrowdale, n.d.); and Poems. A Description of a Shepherd; His going to Sea and through various Scenes of Distress… (Workington: printed for the author by W. Borrowdale, n.d.; ESTC T142819).  The latter includes the text of A Description (pp. 26-34) followed by an untitled hymn written by Anderson (pp. 35-6).

Anderson’s Poems were soon supplanted by similar works of varying lengths that appeared under the title of The Sailor, A Poem.  The first publication with this title may have appeared in Liverpool, but the only extant Liverpool edition is the 2nd from 1806.  A 72-page edition of The Sailor published by George Wilson in Leeds (Nineteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue [hereafter NSTC] A1219) is especially revealing.  It is presented in three parts that deal with: (1) Anderson’s years at sea; (2) the natural beauties of the English countryside, and (3) Liverpool, the slave trade, and religious topics.  The second section probably reflects the influence of the Lake Poets and their Romantic portrayals of nature.  The Leeds edition also contains a number of informative notes that furnish information on the life of Anderson that is apparently available nowhere else.  Since it mentions Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805, the publication date of 1806 suggested in various sources is quite plausible.

The Sailor became the best known and most often used title under which Anderson’s verses appeared.  In fairly short order, a 12th edition of The Sailor was published in a town near Liverpool(Prescot: pr. for the author by A.T. Ducker 1807).  At that point, the leading transatlantic advocate of religious camp meetings, Lorenzo Dow, edited a book that gave Anderson’s Sailor even greater prominence than Charles Wesley’s poetry (The Sailor’s Biography, and Satan’s Miscellany. Or, Poems Composed by Captain Anderson and Charles Wesley [Hartford, Connecticut?: s.n., 1807]).

It should be emphasized that the exact chronology of Anderson’s earliest published verses remains controversial.  The British Library and other repositories have suggested dates for some of his works ranging from 1792 to 1800, and these dates have been widely disseminated by the ESTC and reference sources such as John Burnett, David Vincent, and David Mayall, eds., The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography, vol. 1, 1790-1900 (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1984), p. 7, item 15.  While publication dates before 1801 seem unlikely, suggestions of earlier possibilities have sometimes morphed into absolute certainties, and as such, they may have led some scholars astray.  Recently, for example, Kevin Binfield wrote: “Edward Anderson’s The Sailor…, published in 1792 as a poem of 36 pages, is probably the first purpose-written laboring-class autobiography of the Romantic period” (“Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography,” in Eugene Stelzig, ed., Romantic Autobiography in England [Farnham: Ashgate, 2009], p. 162).  Since there are workers’ autobiographies published in the late 1790s and early 1800s, it is probably not prudent to regard Anderson’s as the first.  Bridget Keegan discusses Anderson in British Labouring-Class Nature Poetry, 1730-1837 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 138-9, 142, 156-7.  She states that his writings provide evidence for the view that “with sailors of the eighteenth century we see the beginnings of a collective labouring-class consciousness” (p. 139).  Anderson spent approximately half of his time at sea as a captain, however, and may have written his verses as a captain or ex-captain after 1800 under the influence of Methodist teachings.  This suggests that readers will have to be cautious about accepting Keegan’s conclusions and especially skeptical about apparent signs of the “labouring-class consciousness” she claims to have found in Anderson’s poetry.

Episodes in Anderson’s ongoing religious quest led to the third incarnation of his verses published at Stockport and elsewhere.  On 31 May 1807, evangelicals held an important camp meeting at Mow Cop on the Staffordshire-Cheshire border.  Revivalists from Congleton, Macclesfield, and possibly Stockport attended along with hundreds of others, including William Clowes (1780-1851).  He of course would become a major figure among the Primitive Methodists (see the ODNB).  Clowes was one of the first to arrive on Mow Cop that morning, and he wrote in his journal that many of the faithful who arrived early had trouble finding the exact location of the meeting.  “Accordingly a Mr. Edward Anderson, from Kilham, in Yorkshire, unfurled something like a flag, on a long pole, in a conspicuous and elevated position, which became the centre of attraction.”  Clowes addressed the crowd first, and an Irishman followed with an exhortation.  Then, Edward Anderson spoke: “He read us a part of his life and experience, which was written in verse, interspersed with exhortation” (The Journals of William Clowes, Primitive Methodist Preacher [London, 1844; NSTC 2C27182], pp. 68-9; emphasis added).

Anderson was active in other camp meetings in the months that followed, and before the year was out, at least three editions of The Life of a Sailor had appeared.  For most of the last two centuries, the only two copies known to exist were those in the university libraries at Oxford and Cambridge.  Both are 3rd editions (Prescot: pr. for the author by A.T. Ducker, 1807; NSTC A1218).  Their title pages give a summary of the contents: “Describing his going to sea, and through various scenes of his life; his remarkable escape from a shipwreck; being taken prisoner, and safe return to friends, who had not heard of him for several years.  With observations of the town and trade of Liverpool.”  In other words, the Prescot Life of a Sailor was merely a shortened version of The Sailor.  The same is true for the Stockport Life, which was presumably the first or second edition.  The remaining early edition is not extant.  Perhaps it appeared in Warrington where Anderson published two verse accounts of camp meetings in 1807 (on these and related matters, see Stephen Hatcher, “The Prims in Print: The Changing Character of Primitive Methodism as Seen Through its Literature,” Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, lx [2015-16], 126-7).  No editions of Life of a Sailor dating from after 1807 have been found.  This suggests that the Life of a Sailor was closely associated with the early English camp meetings and the resulting demand for publications that would justify and commemorate this oft-criticized religious phenomenon.

Although there was probably a market for tales of an Englishman in the Portuguese trade who survived being captured by the French, it is not immediately clear why Anderson would have selected a Stockport printing firm in 1807 or why Northall and Dawson would have been interested in the verses of this minor poet.  There had been some local publications containing related subject matter, including the popular epistolary collections of Jane Davis of Congleton (see, for example, her Letters from a Mother to Her Son: Written upon his Return from his First Voyage at Sea [Stockport: pr. Joseph Clarke, 1801]).  Her advice had been addressed to her son, a sailor whose first voyage was to Portugal.  It may not be a coincidence that Edward’s brother, the preacher Henry Anderson, was stationed in Congleton in 1804-5.  During that year, Stockport revivalists attended major lovefeasts in Congleton on two occasions, and Hugh Bourne (1772-1852) attended the same gatherings along with some of the Staffordshire faithful (John Walford, Memoirs of the Life and Labours of the Late Venerable Hugh Bourne, ed. W. Antliff [2 vols., London, 1855-6; NSTC 2W1871], i. 98-9; see also the ODNB).  It is at least possible that in the course of his numerous travels, Anderson visited Congleton and Stockport.  He may also have encountered Stockport revivalists at camp meetings or religious gatherings elsewhere.  If so, he may have come to appreciate the strength of revivalism in early nineteenth century Stockport and concluded that there existed a market for his writings in that town.

Other factors probably also influenced the publication of the Stockport Life of a Sailor.  In the year that Parliament was debating a bill to abolish the slave trade, John Northall (d. 1807), a Unitarian, and his young partner may have been attracted to Anderson’s antislavery message.  He regards the “poor negroes as my fellow men” and reaches a crescendo of dramatic intensity (pp. 31-2).

Can Christians join in such a trade as this!
‘Tis not the way to gain eternal bliss:
The cruelties which they commit on board,
Will come to light when all shall be restor’d;
Of these poor negroes they again may hear,
When at the day of judgment all appear….

Northall and Dawson were printing works by Nonconformist evangelicals, including at least one by a notable Methodist New Connection preacher (R[ichard]Watson, A Sermon Preached in Mount-Tabor Chapel, Stockport, March 9, 1806; for the Benefit of the Methodist Sunday School [Stockport: pr. Northall& Dawson, 1806]).   Northall’s partner, John Dawson (1775/6-1831), has not been linked to any religious group.  When he was printing after the death of Northall, however, he seems to have been quite sympathetic to the Nonconformists (see especially [Independent Methodist Churches], Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Independent Methodists, held at Macclesfield, On the 10th, 11th, & 12th of June, 1808 [Stockport: pr. Dawson, 1808]).

At the same time, these two Stockport printers may also have appreciated that the moral content of Anderson’s verses was not overtly sectarian and was often rather loosely associated with suggestions of direct divine intervention.  While he inserts references to God, Anderson never mentions that he joined or favoured any organized religious group.  Instead, the prevailing message in Life of a Sailor is that, when considered rationally, his wide-ranging experiences furnished him with enough wisdom to offer practical guidance on some of the most troubling aspects of human behaviour.  Anderson would almost certainly have agreed the maxim written by William Blake in the 1790s: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Not surprisingly, the moral advice offered by the ex-sailor deals with “excessive” behaviour of various kinds.  Notable topics include drinking and prostitution (pp. 28-9), both of which were also growing problems in industrial Stockport.

Sailors no more disgrace the British name  —
A drunken English seamen [sic]—what a shame!
Whose character’s so much above the rest,
Yet, when drunk, is ev’ry body’s jest.

Go not ’mongst harlots, shun the fatal snare,
Flee from those stews, infectious, come not there;
Nor wound your bodies, nor your soul debase,
Nor risk damnation for a snatch’d embrace.

It may also be significant that the hymn at the end of the Stockport Life of a Sailor is given the title “Experience” (pp. 35-6).  It opens: “While safe at home you landsmen keep, /Remember those who plow the deep.”  Amidst the factories of inland Stockport, there were undoubtedly many readers who would have been fascinated by accounts of life on the open seas, either on merchant or naval ships.  Thus, while Northall and Dawson probably would have had little interest in a typical evangelical conversion tract of the period, there was much in Anderson’s account that might have appealed to them.

Anderson married in 1814 and settled in the East Riding where he ultimately joined the Primitive Methodists (Hull Packet [5 July 1814], 3e)    For a death notice, see Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury (1 Sept 1843), 3d.  A few decades later, his work was recognized, if not exactly lauded, by Frederick Ross in his Celebrities of the Yorkshire Wolds (London, 1878; NSTC 651390), pp. 21-2.  Ross states that The Sailor was “a poem somewhat doggerel in style of composition, but very popular, as is evident by the fact of a 14th edition having been published, at Hull, in 1872.”  At least one more edition appeared before the end of the century (Driffield, 1878; NSTC 852925).

Much more remains to be learned about the life of Edward Anderson and the sources, dates, distribution, and reception of his work.  These investigations can now gain additional insights from the Life of a Sailor printed in Stockport in 1807 but neglected for over two centuries and only recently brought to light.


ANDERSON, E[DWARD].  Botany Bay; or, the Way to make Better Times.  Pr. by John Dawson.  Single sheet.  West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees).

This ballad was printed for the author but contains no date.  Dawson, the printer, was in business on his own from 1808 to 1831, and the text refers to the restoration of King ‘Lewis’ of France.  The date range can thus probably be narrowed to the reign of Louis XVIII (1814-24), most likely closer to 1814 than to the later date.  Because its depiction of the deplorable state of public affairs resembles the deteriorating situation in Stockport in 1816, it might tentatively be placed among publications of that year (see also The Death of Calico Jack; or the Weavers’ Downfall [no imprint but Stockport, 1816], single sheet).  Note, too, that Botany Bay echoes many of the themes found in Anderson’s Bad Times among the Farmers ([Sheffield]: pr. for the author by John Crome, [1815]), single sheet.  For a slightly earlier Stockport publication that dealt with the fate of local residents who had been convicted of crimes and transported to Botany Bay, see the Rev. William Marriott, A Good Conscience and a Honest Life. A Sermon preached at Disley Church, On Sunday the 15th day of September, 1811 (Stockport, pr. Dawson, 1811).

The text of Botany Bay contains seventeen verses of four lines each with a two-line chorus to be sung after every verse.  Its main objective is to identify the numerous categories of people who should be transported to Australia, including fraudulent bankers and tradesmen, ‘play-actors,’ drunken husbands, and scolding wives.  Two of the verses illustrate how Anderson deals with his targets.

There’s monopolizers who add to their store,
By cruel oppressions and starving the poor,
Who keep back by fraud the poor labourer’s pay,
They all should be shipp’d off to Botany Bay.
.      .     .

These night-walking harlots that troll in the street
Proclaiming their vices to all that they meet,
These corrupters of youth should be all sent away
To people the country at Botany Bay.

In his only other Stockport publication, The Life of a Sailor of 1807 (see above), Anderson emphasized that religion furnished important solutions to many social problems.  In Botany Bay, by contrast, he mentions religion only briefly and makes no reference to camp meeting revivals.  In fact, during the dozen years or so after 1807, Anderson’s precise religious affiliation is unclear.  If Botany Bay is any indication, he seems to have been perplexed and perhaps even overwhelmed by the myriad social changes and public disorders of the Regency period, a tumultuous decade that witnessed Luddite attacks in its opening years and the Peterloo Massacre at its close.  The former sailor’s search for a quiet harbor did not last long, however.  After Primitive Methodism arrived in the East Riding in 1819, Anderson became an active member and, for a time, served as a local preacher in the rapidly growing new connexion.

This gave him the opportunity to continue to share his views on many moral issues.  Evidence of this can be seen in his poem entitled Vices of the Times (Hull: John Hutchinson, 1832) and in his outspoken advocacy of temperance (Hull Packet [8 April 1836], 3c).


The two sections above have been extracted (with permission) from Robert Glen’s forthcoming Stopfordiana: The Printed Works of Early Industrial Stockport.  For additional information, see Robert Glen, “Edward Anderson (1763-1843): Sailor, Poet, and Primitive Methodist,” Ranters’ Digest, no. 13 (2016), pp. 16-24.


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