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Sir William McArthur

Lord Mayor of London and Founding President of the London Chamber of Commerce 1809-1887
Sir William McArthur

On 6 July 1809, William McArthur was born at Malin, Inishowen, Co. Donegal. He attended school at Stranorlar in Donegal, and Newtownstewart in Tyrone, and aged 12 he was apprenticed in 1821 to Hugh Copeland, a woollen draper in Enniskillen.  In 1825 to Lurgan, where he worked for William Johnstone, a manufacturing tobacconist and spirit merchant. In 1831, with Joseph Cather, he started a woollen export business in the Diamond in Londonderry. When Cather emigrated in 1835, the partnership was dissolved, and McArthur continued the business alone. In 1841 he became a member of the town council, and that same year his younger brother Alexander went to Australia for his health. William sent his firm's woollen goods to his brother, who began to operate as an import-export merchant in Sydney and the McArthur brothers became wealthy. In 1857 William transferred the headquarters of the firm to London, and settled in Brixton Hill. By the mid-1860s the brothers had extended their activities into banking and insurance.  William became the Chairman of the Star Assurance Company and Director of the City Bank, Bank of Australasia and The Australian Telegraph.


In July 1865 McArthur unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary seat of Pontefract in the Liberal interest. In 1868 he was elected junior member for Lambeth, and continued to represent that constituency until the dissolution in 1885.


William McArthur became Sheriff of London in 1867, an alderman in 1872 and Lord Mayor in 1880. Throughout his mayoralty he showed an active interest in colonial matters and in religious enterprises, setting a pious tone by forbidding wine, card playing and dancing at the Mansion House. He was one of the founders of the London Chamber of Commerce in 1881, and its first President. On 17 November 1882 he was made KCMG. He was always generous towards Methodist causes, including contributing to the establishment of Methodist College in Belfast, and laying its foundation stone in 1865.  He had several interests in social and reforming organisations including the Orphan Working Stock School of Haverstock Hill and Hornsey Rise, and the Aborigines Protection Society. 


McArthur died from heart failure on the London Underground on 16 November 1887 when travelling to a City board meeting. He left a fortune of almost half a million pounds, bequeathing over £150,000 to Methodist charities. He is buried in Norwood cemetery