Lieutenant-Colonel George Henderson (1783-1855) was at the heart of Southampton's economic development in the mid-nineteenth century. He had promoted a railway link with London since the early stirrings in 1830. He was chairman of the committee of management of the London and Southampton Railway in 1834 at a time when the enabling bill was going through parliament. Appointed general superintendent of the line in September 1834, he was a director both of this company and its successor, the London and South Western Railway, until his death on 21 April 1855. He was appointed - with his close ally Captain Peter Breton - a director in March 1846 of the Southampton and Dorchester Railway Company, a prelude to its takeover by the LSWR. The previous month he had been elected director of another part of the LSWR empire, the South-Western Steam Navigation Company. He was a commissioner of the Pier and Harbour Board, chairman of the Southampton Shipping and Emigration Company, a director of the Southampton Gas Company, chairman of the board of directors of the London Equitable Gas Company, a council member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (its annual exhibition was held in Southampton in 1844), a commissioner for supplying vacancies to the commissioners of the Land, Assessed and Income Taxes, a trustee of the south district of the Southampton Turnpike and, as an ex officio member of the Board of Improvement Commissioners, largely responsible for the revolutionary Ordnance Survey Town Map of 1845-46 (see The great map of Southampton, published online as no.5 in the Southampton Occasional Papers series). Such impeccable business connections led to his appointment as an alderman in November 1841 - 'pitchforked' into the position without the preliminaries of election on to the council - and mayor in November 1843, nominated by Captain Breton with the support of both political parties. Despite holding such high office, he had never faced a public vote.

Colonel Henderson was born on 4 June 1783 on the banks of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire. He was the son of an army captain. After obtaining his commission at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he joined the Royal Engineers at Portsmouth in March 1800. He served in Ceylon, 1803-12, and in the Peninsular campaigns of 1812-14. He was present at the siege of St Sebastian and at the battles of the Nive, Nivelle and Orthez. After service in Ireland between 1814 and 1816, he was stationed for three years in Canada. He returned home in August 1819, was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in December 1824 and retired from the army on 9 April 1825. He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in May 1837.

In Southampton, Colonel Henderson lived in some style at 11 Anglesea Place in the ward of All Saints. The 1841 census sees him, a widower, living with three sons, three daughters and six servants. In a smaller household in 1851 he is still served by a cook, housemaid, footman and page.


Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 26.


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