Anderson, John (1747?–1820), developer of Fermoy, Co. Cork, was son of David Anderson of Portling, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, who was the jailer at Dunfries. He moved to Cork in 1780, set up in business, and developed the quay bearing his name and the Charleston Maltings at Ballinacurra, on the east shore of Cork Harbour. In 1789 he obtained from the Post Office a contract to operate a new mail service between Cork and Dublin, and in 1793 one between Cork and Limerick; the profitability of which was achieved only by his enterprise in acquiring a financial interest in, and then improving, the roads and staging posts. He went on to develop other routes, most notably those from Dublin to Limerick, Galway, Waterford, and Enniskillen, and from Cork to Waterford. By 1820 Cork was a public transport hub second only to Dublin.
Anderson rallied Cork merchants in favour of the union of Ireland with Great Britain, not from any political ambition (he refused an offer of a seat in parliament) but because he considered a union beneficial to trade, as it had been for Scotland. It is as developer of Fermoy (in the eighteenth century a village of fifty houses on the River Blackwater in north Co. Cork) that Anderson remains famous. In 1791 he purchased two-thirds of the Forward estate at Fermoy, borrowing heavily, as the fortune he had amassed as a Cork merchant (some £25,000) was invested in mail coaches and road works. He borrowed £50,000, and may have obtained advice and inspiration from Sir William Douglas, an entrepreneur from his own part of Scotland who had already developed the town of Carlingwark, Kircudbrightshire, and renamed it Castle Douglas. In 1808 Anderson added to his lands at Fermoy by purchasing part of the Barry estate at Castlelyons. He buiIt Fermoy House on the north bank of the river, widened the bridge in 1797, and laid out streets on the south bank. Also in 1797 he began turning Fermoy into a garrison town by tendering to build a temporary military barracks; in 1800 he agreed to build a permanent barracks for 1,400 men and 100 horse; by 1809 a second large barracks was being completed to bring the capacity up to 3,300 men. Anderson also went into banking by opening a bank in Bank St. (1800), probably with much support from Sir Robert Shaw (qv), whose half-sister Caroline later married Anderson's son.
In 1808 Fermoy obtained a measure of local government by an act of parliament. A courthouse, constable's house, jail, and fire station were built. Thomas Dix Hincks (qv) moved from Cork to Fermoy under Anderson's patronage. A large porter brewery and a large flour mill began operating shortly after 1800, both owned by Scots and making use of ample water power. A distinctive feature of the town, unusual in Ireland, was the riverbank streets (or quays); the other streets were parallel or at right angles, the new town being designed on the grid pattern (like Castle Douglas). But in the economic recession that followed the peace of 1815 Anderson became bankrupt. His creditors met on 19 June 1816; Anderson retired to London, where he died on 13 July 1820. With some hyperbole the Limerick Gazette commented on his career: ‘where Mr Anderson found miserable villages, the haunts of sloth and beggary, he has left handsome and flourishing towns, the seats of industry, comfort and prosperity, and enriched by several important and advantageous institutions’. John Bernard Trotter (qv), a man of liberal instincts, met Anderson at Fermoy in August 1817 and was impressed by his ‘unaffected manners and intelligent conversation’ (Walks, 279).
In 1770 he married Isabella, daughter of Daniel Welsh of Colin, Galloway, and had two daughters; by his second marriage, to Elizabeth, daughter of Dr James Semple of Waterford, John Anderson had a son, Sir James Caleb Anderson (qv) (1792–1861), who conducted a milling business at Fermoy and achieved fame for his publications on steam traction. The baronetcy James received in 1813 was intended as an honour for John.