In 1808, at the age of 16, he joined the Royal Navy. He was released from the Navy after 10 years, and was employeed as a clerk in Brodie McGhie Willcox's shipping company. He became a partner in the company in 1822, and later they formed the "Peninsula Steam Navigation Company", which later became the "Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company".
Despite living most of his life in London, he never forgot the islands where he was born.
In 1836 he founded Shetland's first newspaper, the Shetland Journal. He both financed, edited and partly wrote the newspaper himself.
In 1837 he founded the Shetland Fishery Company at the island of Vaila. It was an attempt to break the monopoly of the Lairds.
He served as a radical Liberal Member of Parliament for the Orkney and Shetland constituency from 1847 to 1852. He was elected as the first MP for Orkney and Shetland not from the land-owning class
He a founded a school in Out Skerries in 1852, and provided the funds for the building of (and later endowed) the Anderson Educational Institute which was opened in November 1862, now the Anderson High School, "providing a school such that from it the youth of Shetland could proceed to any University". He also provided funds for the building of Widows Homes in Lerwick, in memory of his wife.
He died in London on the 27 of February 1868, and is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.