Sir Thomas McCall Anderson 1836-1908

Figure 1. McTaggart,William: SummerBreezes( 2368) Glasgow Museums Resource Centre © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums  Collections.

Donors: Mary Constance Parsons, Helen Muriel Buchanan

The Glasgow Corporation Minutes of 1943-44 detail the donation of the McTaggart painting shown above. The offer of donation was from Mrs Muriel Buchanan of Helensburgh and she offered the painting on behalf of herself and her sister, Mrs Charles Parsons. (1)

Figure 2. Sir Thomas McCall Anderson 1836-1908.

Sir Thomas McCall Anderson and Lady Margaret McCall Anderson were the parents of the two donors of the painting. Sir Thomas McCall Anderson was the son of Alexander Dunlop Anderson, who was a doctor and President of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow. His mother was Sara McCall. (2)

Sir Thomas came from an eminent Glasgow family with noted clerical and medical ancestors. These included William Dunlop, Principal of Glasgow University 1690 – 1700; Reverend Mr Anderson, Minister of the Ramshorn Church in Glasgow; and John Anderson, Scientist. (3)                                                         

Figure 3. William Dunlop. Principal of Glasgow University 1690-1700. University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections, University Photographic collection, GB248 UP2/11/1

William Dunlop (1645-1700) was a Covenanter, Minister and  latterly principal of the University of Glasgow from 1690 to 1700. He was the son of an Ayrshire minister. He came from a Covenant supporting family and as a young man he  worked as a tutor for the family of Lord Cochrane, who was also a Covenanter. He went to Carolina, which at that time was known to be a place sympathetic to Protestant Non Conformists and he served there as both a minister and as a member of the militia. He came back to Scotland after the Revolution of 1688 and the accession to the British throne of William III  and was appointed Principal of Glasgow University in 1690. His appointment was believed to be helped by the influence of his brother in law and cousin, the royal adviser William Carstares and to Dunlop’s role in exposing a plot to undermine the authority of the King in Scotland. He invested In the ill-fated Darien Scheme and persuaded Glasgow University to match his considerable donation. (4)

John Anderson (1668-1721), noted in the Dictionary of National Biography as a theologian and controversialist , (5) was ordained minister of Dumbarton and became embroiled in the controversy between the Episcopal and the Presbyterian churches. He was a stout defender of Presbyterianism. In 1720, after much debate within the church about his appointment, he was appointed Minister of the Ramshorn Church in Glasgow. His tenure was short. He died in 1721 at the age of 53. He is buried in the Ramshorn Churchyard. His grandson, Dr John Anderson erected a tombstone in his memory. (6)

Figure 4. John Anderson: Strathclyde University Archives. Image courtesy of the University of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections (reference:OP/4/1/6)

Dr John Anderson (1726 – 1796) was the founder of Andersonian College, Glasgow and a noted contributor to the advancement of science throughout his life. He graduated from Glasgow University in 1745. He enlisted as a volunteer officer in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-1746. In 1755 he was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages at Glasgow University. Known as ‘Jolly Jack Phosphorus’ to his students, Anderson was less popular with some of his colleagues, becoming involved in quarrels and even legal disputes with them. He developed an Experimental Philosophy evening class which was advertised in local papers and which was available to the working classes. In 1786 he published a book , The Institutes of Physics  to help his students. It ran to five editions in ten years. Anderson’s will showed plans for the foundation of Anderson University, which stipulated that women should be allowed to attend lectures. Andersonian College is now Strathclyde University (7)

Sir Thomas McCall Anderson became a noted physician who held the chair of Medicine in Glasgow University and who was also an Honorary Physician to the King in Scotland.

Sir Thomas began his medical studies at Glasgow University in 1852 and went on to study in Europe – in Paris, Wurzburg, Berlin, Vienna and Dublin. In 1861, he founded the Glasgow Skin Dispensary with Andrew Buchanan. In 1865 he became the Professor of Practice of Medicine at Anderson’s College. In 1874 Thomas McCall Anderson was appointed Chair of Clinical Medicine at Glasgow University. He held this post until 1900, in conjunction with the post of Physician to the Western Infirmary. In 1900 he became Chair of Practice of Medicine at Glasgow University. Sir Thomas maintained family tradition through his medical work, but also through his lifelong membership of the Church of Scotland. He was an elder in Park Church, Glasgow and also had interests in his life outside of work, being a keen cyclist and golfer. He died suddenly on 25 January 1908 in the St Enoch Hotel Glasgow after making a speech at a dinner there. He is buried in the Necropolis.  The only son and the youngest child of the family, also named Thomas McCall Anderson, went to America in 1908 to study medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School. He became physician to the Actors’ Fund of America and the St George Society of New York. He died of a heart attack on 24 March 1939 aged 57. (8)

Sir Thomas and Lady McCall Anderson had six children. The oldest Anderson daughter, Katherine,  followed her father into medicine, becoming matron of a hospital in Newcastle Infirmary, then moving to become Matron of St George’s Hospital in London. She served with the Red Cross during the South African War for which she was awarded the Royal Red Cross. She returned to military nursing during the first World War, serving as matron in several Military hospitals.(9)

The donors of the painting were the two youngest daughters of the family, Mary Constance, born in 1873 and Helen Muriel, born in 1879. Both women were married and lived in Scotland, Muriel Buchanan in Helensburgh and Mary Parsons in Glasgow.

The object file for the painting identifies the two children in the painting as being the daughters of Sir Thomas McCall Anderson. The painting was completed in 1881. Looking at the children in the painting and at the ages of the two youngest Anderson daughters, it seems likely that the two donors are the two children in the painting. Helen Muriel would have been aged two and Mary Constance would have been aged seven at the time the painting was completed. The older sisters at this time would have been aged eleven, thirteen and fifteen and do not seem to match the ages of the children in the picture. If the two younger sisters are the subject of the painting, this would explain why it was in their possession and was theirs to dispose of as they wished. (10)  Lachlan Goudie’s History of Scottish Art acknowledges that these paintings of children were McTaggart’s bread and butter and enabled the artist to spend his summers in Kintyre, working on the seascapes for which he would become famous. (11)

There is little further available information about the donors. Mary Constance was born in Largs in 1873. In 1900 she married Charles Parsons, a stockbroker. Helen Muriel born in Glasgow in 1879 married Andrew Buchanan, a chartered accountant in 1915. Muriel Buchanan died in Helensburgh in 1950. Mary Constance Parsons died in Glasgow in 1963. (12)

1.Glasgow Corporation Minutes. November 1943 – April 1944 p.815


3. The Baillie July 31st 1907, Men you Know no.1815


5. COOPER, James, 1912, Dictionary of National Biography : London: Smith,       Elder and Co

6. BLAIKIE,  William Garden, 1901: ANDERSON, John  in:  STEPHEN, Leslie: Dictionary of National Biography :London: Smith Elder and Co

7. Strathclyde University Archives      https/

8. Glasgow Herald: 27.01.1908; 28.01.1908; 30.01.1908; 03.02.1908

9.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2020. Introduction

10. Object File, GMRC. Summer Breezes, William McTaggart 2368

11. GOUDIE, Lachlan , 2020: The Story of Scottish Art :London.:Thames and Hudson

12. Scotland’s People,

Anderson Thomas McCall, Birth 646/3 1 472: 1906

Anderson, Mary Constance, Birth 602/6 8 1873

Anderson, Helen Muriel Dunlop, Birth 644/9 1879

Other sources consulted: Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909 pp.4