Alexander Balfour was born in 1824 in Fife, Scotland. Upon leaving school he worked in the family business until 1844, when due to the onset of financial problems he moved to Liverpool in search of employment. He settled in Birkenhead and lived in Grange Lane, where he came under the influence of Rev James Towers, who ran a Sabbath School there. Though he was already converted, he was brought into a much closer walk with God through his ministry. He later became a member of Canning Street Presbyterian Church, under the ministry of Rev Joseph R Welsh. In 1851, with the help of two friends he set up the firm of Williamson & Company, to trade with Chile, with Balfour running the Liverpool end of the operation, while his partners drummed up business in Chile. The company prospered greatly and over the forthcoming years of his life he used his wealth to support a number of Christian ministries, and many other worthy causes in Liverpool, and beyond.
At the outset of his business life he established a principle of tithing a percentage of the Company’s profits for religious and benevolent purposes. He lived by the counsel of Paul in which he stated "as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). On one occasion when his business became very prosperous he was unable to sleep over it, saying to himself that they must find new outlets for that with which God had so abundantly blessed them. The number of people and good causes, which benefited from him, are far too many to mention. Two of those who were greatly blessed have already been mentioned in this booklet, i.e. Rev William Garrett, and Canon Hay Aitken. William Garrett testified that it was through the influence of Balfour that he was able to stay in Liverpool and supervise the magnificent work of the Methodist Mission. On numerous occasions he supported and encouraged him in his ministry, and on one occasion when he had had a breakdown he took him into his own residence in Mount Alyn, near Chester, and watched over him for many weeks. This kindness caused Garrett to realise the importance of such ministry and shortly afterward he established a House of Rest in Colwyn Bay, for the benefit of ministers and their families needing rest. Canon Hay Aitken also benefited on a number of occasions from Balfour’s benevolence, who took a keen interest in his remarkable evangelistic labours. For 15 years he was chairman of the YMCA in Liverpool, and the acquisition of the premises in Brownlow Hill was largely through his efforts and support. The young people of Liverpool occupied a special place in his heart. He was quoted as once saying, "Get the young men of Liverpool imbued with Christian principle and adequately taught and trained and the Liverpool of the future with be a new Liverpool. He was also the joint founder of the Seaman’s Orphanage, Seaman’s Institute and a Sailor’s Home. As already mentioned he took a very active part in the visit of Moody/Sankey and the acquisition of Victoria Hall, and he was the chairman of the committee, which in 1883 secured their second visit.
Although Liverpool was not the place of his birth, he had a passion and zeal for his adopted city, which I think would shame most of us. I will conclude with a quotation from a sermon given after his death by Rev R H Lundie, who wrote the biography of his life.
Liverpool that great community for which he so greatly pleaded daily till the day when he lay down to die – Liverpool was graven on his heart, like Jerusalem on the heart of the exiled Jews. To succeed to elevate, to bless Liverpool was the consuming passion of his life.
Within St John’s Gardens (behind St George’s Hall) there are six monuments of the city’s leading citizens and social reformers. One of these is Alexander Balfour. He died in 1886 aged 61 years, and was buried in Rossett. A special train was laid on for those in Liverpool who wished to attend his funeral.