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John Henry Anderson

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John Henry Anderson
BornJuly 16, 1814
The Mearns (near Aberdeen), Scotland
DiedFebruary 3, 1874 (age 59)
Resting placeSt. Nicholas Churchyard, Aberdeen

John Henry Anderson (1814 – 1874) was a professional magician who performed as The Great Wizard of the North. Anderson is credited with helping bring the art of magic from street performances into theaters and presenting magic performances for the purpose to entertain and delight the audience.


Orphaned at the age of ten, Anderson started his career appearing on the stage with a traveling dramatic company in 1830. At seventeen, he began performing magic. At the age of twenty-three, he performed at the castle of Lord Panmure whose endorsement of Anderson inspired him to put a touring show together which lasted for three years. In 1840 Anderson settled in London, opening the New Strand Theatre. Sir Walter Scott is said to have given him the stage name, The Great Wizard of the North.

Anderson's success came from his extensive use of advertising and popular shows which captivated his audience. Anderson declared: "It is the duty of all magicians to give entertainment," and he was not content to perform an illusion to simply demonstrate that he could accomplish something that the audience could not explain. If the effect was not enthusiastically received, Anderson would remove it from his act. Anderson is famous for a lifetime of successful performances of the Bullet Catch illusion. Although he did not invent the trick, he made it widely popular and several of his rivals copied Anderson's version in their own shows.

In 1840, "The Great Wizard of the North," opens at the New Stand Theatre in London. One of his favorite tricks is to produce a rabbit from a hat, becoming one of the early magicians to popularize this trick.

In 1842, Anderson married Hannah Longherst from Aberdeen, an assistant with his show. The following year their son, John Henry Jr. was born. In 1845, Anderson's mistress Miss Prentice died giving birth to Philip Prentice Anderson. Anderson, however, supported the child for its entire life. Anderson would also have two daughters who assisted in their father's show and later became successful magicians, and a second illegitimate son through a member of his touring troupe.

1845 also saw the completion of Anderson's second theatre, the City Theatre in Glasgow. In November, only four months after opening, the theatre burned and Anderson's financial losses were considerable. Through the aid of his show-business friends, Anderson was able to launch a new show at London's Covent Garden Theatre in 1846 and then toured Europe the following year, traveling to Hamburg, Stockholm, and lastly St. Petersburg where he met Czar Nicholas who arranged a command performance for Anderson after an awkward chance meeting.

In 1849, Anderson returned to London to perform for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The following year, Anderson toured America, Canada, Australia, and Hawaii. Upon returning to Britain, Anderson found that he had a rival in fellow magician Robert Houdin so he returned to America in 1853 and performed in Boston. An illusion involving Anderson's dispensing of various alcoholic beverages to the audience caused a legal controversy regarding temperance in that city.

In 1854, John Henry held a farewell performance in Aberdeen. The success of this show was enough to inspire Anderson not to retire. Rather, he began to concentrate his efforts to exposing Spiritualism fraud. In his shows, he used his daughters to duplicate spiritualist effects. Anderson was one of the magicians of his day who exposed the frauds of the Davenport Brothers. The show played at the Lyceum in London and then moved to Covent Garden in 1855. The following year, after a gala performance, the theatre caught fire destroying all of Anderson's properties, bankrupting him for the second time in his professional career.

In 1859, after a brief period as an actor, Anderson began another world tour.

"One or two anecdotes of the Wizard are worth repeating. He had the misfortune to pay his first visit to America when the War of Secession was at its height. Sutton was sent ahead to make the 'boom,' or, as we should say in this country, to do the advertising. He found himself in Virginia on the day Fort Sumner [sic] was bombarded. He had some bill stickers with him posting up gigantic placards of the 'Wizard of the North,' with Professor Anderson's portrait at the top. The Southerners eyed the stranger with deep suspicion. To sound the praises of the 'Wizard of the North' in the rebellious south was a most perilous procedure. The placards were seized, the poor bill stickers ruthlessly buffeted, and Sutton himself had to fly for his life. Every placard was torn off the walls, and the head of the 'Wizard of the North' exhibited as a traitor." [1]

Anderson's second daughter Alice Hannah Anderson assisted him as "Flora Anderson" and "F. Anderson" by 1858 to as late as 1868. She did the Magic Portfolio and Hindu Decapitation, as well as singing.[2]

In 1862, at the age of eighteen, John Henry Anderson, Jr. left his father's troupe and began his own independent career as a conjurer. This started a bitter feud between father and son and the two never spoke again. Greatly in debt, Anderson returned to England in 1864. He would tour once more in 1866.

Another son, Oscar Longhurst Anderson was also a magician.

Anderson died in 1874. He was buried next to his mother in Aberdeen. Harry Houdini, who was born in the same year as Anderson's death, revered Anderson one of his inspirations and in 1909 arranged for the upkeep of the grave site which had fallen into disrepair.


  • The Fashionable Science of Parlour Magic (1843)
  • Note-Book: or Recollections of His Continental Tour (1860)


  1. Isn't it Wonderful? A History of Magic and Mystery, by Charles Bertram (1896) pp 40-41
  2. Who's Who in Magic: An International Biographical Guide From Past to Present by Bart Whaley (1990)
  • A man of magic: John Henry Anderson, Wizard of the North. Selbit's Wizard, 1906, page 365
  • Biography of John Henry Anderson by Edward P. Hingston (1858)
  • Anderson and His Theatre by J.B. Findlay (1967)
  • The Great Wizard of the North: John Henry Anderson by Constance Pole Bayer (1990)
  • Victorian Magic: Chapter One - The Wizard of the North by Geoffrey lamb (1976)