Robert Anstice 1757 – 1845

ROBERT ANSTICE (1757-1845) was a ship-owner and merchant, civil engineer and Somerset’s first County Surveyor. He was baptised 9 December 1757, and died 30 April 1845 aged 88.

Anstice was the son of William and Mary Anstice. In c1788 Robert eloped to Gretna with Susannah Ball, a Bridgwater Quaker girl. Susannah’s younger sister, Hannah married William Reynolds, a Shropshire Ironmaster, and after William’s death in 1803, one of the eight children of Robert and Susannah, also William, took over the running of the Madelely Wood or Bedlam Ironworks, near Coalbrookdale from his uncle.

Robert Anstice followed his father as a ship-owner and merchant, and later took over his brother-in law’s share of the Coalport China Works.

He lived at first in a house near the Town Bridge, facing the river, and latterly moved to Dampiet House. He was Comptroller of Customs by 1794, Town Councillor from 1799-1834, and Mayor in 1804, 1817 and 1825. He was Alderman from 1827. He was a member of the Commission for Sewers, the body responsible for drainage questions on the Levels. He was an active anti-slavery reformer and was a Freemason.

He was a keen amateur geologist and ornithologist, and wrote two books on mathematics. He was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1818. His correspondence on ornithology with Col. George Montagu was published in 2003.

His professional work in the county covered roads and bridges, sea-wall work at Huntspill and Blue Anchor, and much drainage works, including Kings Sedgemoor Drain at Dunball He was involved in the design of a proposed waterworks for the town located at Saint Matthews’ field that pumped water from the Durleigh Brook to a reservoir nearby.

On his death his collection was sold by Sotheby’s in 1846, but, according to Jarman his fossils were sold to the Bridgwater Literary and Scientific Institution. Some of his antiquarian collection was acquired by the British Museum.


Remarks on the Comparative Advantages of Wheel Carriages of different structure and draught. by Robert Anstice, Publisher: Bridgewater : The Author, 1790.

An enquiry into the laws of falling bodies, etc, by Robert Anstice,  Publisher: London : Printed for J. and A. Arch, 1794

Catalogue of the Collection of English Coins and Medals, of the late Robert Anstice, Esq. ... : 20 March 1846 Publisher: London: Sotheby, [1846]

Anstice (Robert, F.G.S.) Catalogue of a Collection of Antiquities, Shells, Minerals and Fossils, and objects of Art, formed by the late R. Anstice, F.G.S., of Bridgewater ; to which are added many miscellaneous articles of antiquarian interest. Sold Sothebys, March 23rd, 1846. 8vo. Lond.

Published Sources

David Greenfield, in Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers, Vol 1, 2002, pp 17-18

S. P. Dance, Letters on ornithology 1804-1815 between George Montagu and Robert Anstice, 2003, G. G. Books, Wigtown.

H S Torrens, ‘The Reynolds-Anstice Shropshire geological collection – 200 years of history and its lessons’, in Wheeler, A. & Price, J.H. (eds.). History in the service of systematics Papers from the conference to celebrate the Centenary of the British Museum (Natural History), 13-16 April 1981. Society for the Bibliography of Natural History Special Publication, 37-41, 1981.

H S Torrens, ‘The Reynolds-Anstice Shropshire geological collection – 1776-1981’, Archives of Natural History, 10, 429-441, 1982

Archive Sources

Prof Hugh Torrens’s research notes on the family in Shropshire Record Office

A number of papers relating to Anstice and William Baker (see below) are in the British Library.

British Library Spencer George Perceval Collection Add. Mss. 35173

Anstice (Marcia). Letter to W. Baker 1845. Add. 35173 f. 283
Anstice (Robert). of Bridgwater, F.G.S. Correspondence with W. Baker 1823-1843.Add. 35173 ff. 17-265 passim
Anstice (Robert). of Bridgwater, F.G.S. Obituary notices 1845. Add. 35173 ff. 288, 290, 291
Anstice (Robert). of Bridgwater, F.G.S. Portrait (?) 19th cent. Add. 35173 f.1
Anstice (Robert). of Bridgwater, F.G.S. Synopsis of articles in his collection 1833. Add. 35173 f. 308
Buckland (William). Professor of Geology at Oxford; Dean of Westminster. Letter to R. Anstice 1829. Extract.Add. 35173 f. 60
Natural History. Lists, etc., of shells belonging to R. Anstice 1829. Add. 35173 ff. 314-323, 333

A P Woolrich 26 January 2011