McArthur family

Sir William McArthur, MP (1809-1887) was born on 6 July 1809 at Malin, Co. Donegal, the son of an Ulster preacher, the Rev. John McArthur. Apprenticed to a woollen draper in Enniskillen at the age of 12, he later worked for a tobacco and spirit merchant in Lurgan and as a salesman for a Dublin woollen draper. He then built up his own woollen drapery business in Londonderry and with his younger brother Alexander extended the business to Australia, where it profited from the gold rush.

In 1857 he moved to London, where he became sheriff (1867), then alderman (1872) and Lord Mayor (1880). The following year he entertained the first Ecumenical Methodist Conference at a reception in the Mansion House. He was knighted in 1882. Though politically conservative in his early years, he was elected Liberal MP for Lambeth 1868-1885 and was an ally of Hugh Price Hughes in his progressive work at Brixton Hill. He provided an article on London Methodism in the first issue of the Methodist Times. He was noted for supporting many philanthropic projects, including church extension (notably through the Metropolitan Chapel Building Fund) and overseas missions, especially in the South Pacific, giving his support to Disraeli against Gladstone in the move to annex the Fiji islands. He never lost his connection with Irish Methodism. After the introduction of lay representation he was a member of both the British and the Irish Conferences and was a key figure in establishing Methodist College, Belfast. Disillusioned by his failure to gain Newington West in 1885, he died suddently from heart failure while travelling on the Underground on 16 November 1887 and was buried in Norwood cemetery. Most of his substantial fortune was left to Methodist causes. Though an outstanding example of 'self-help', his humble origins and struggle to achieve success limited his horizons and sympathies.

His brother Alexander McArthur (1814-1909) was born on 10 March 1814 at Enniskillen. Apprenticed to a merchant in Omagh in 1829, he suffered from a recurring fever from which he did not recover until he settled in Australia in 1841. He established a successful business selling his brother's products in Sydney, later extending it to Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Auckland. In the 1850s, following the discovery of gold, his gold shipment agency made him substantial profits and he took a more prominent part in the social and political life of the colony. He joined the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, held a number of directorships and from 1859 to 1861 was a member of the state Legislative Assembly, before being appointed to the upper house, the Legislative Council. He was also an active supporter of the Methodist Church, the YMCA and other charities.

His wife was a daughter of the Rev. William B. Boyce. Returning to England in 1863, he became a partner with his brother in the family firm and from 1874 to 1892 was MP for Leicester. He died at Sydenham after a long illness, on 1 August 1909. One of his sons, William Alexander McArthur, (1857-1923) became a prominent Liberal and was MP for St. Austell 1887-1908 and a staunch supporter of the Forward Movement..

  • Methodist Times, 25 January 1894
  • Thomas M'Cullagh, Sir William McArthur (1891)
  • M. Stenton (ed.), Who's Who of British MPs, vol.1 (1976)
  • N.W. Taggart, The Irish in World Methodism (1986) pp.59-63, 188-9