He was born in England and moved to Canada in 1911. He settled in Victoria, British Columbia where he found work as a bookkeeper for the Victoria Brewing Company eventually becoming manager of the company even though he was a tea-totaller.
Anscomb entered provincial politics and was elected to the British Columbia Legislative Assembly in the 1933 provincial election as an Independent (the Conservatives had decided not to run in the election) and re-elected in 1937 as a Conservative. The Conservatives joined the ruling Liberals to form a coalition government led by John Hart following the 1941 provincial election. Following the death of Conservative leader Royal Lethington Maitland in 1946 Anscomb became Conservative leader and Deputy Premier as well as Finance Minister. A fiscal conservative, Anscomb introduced British Columbia's provincial sales tax at a rate of 3% in 1948. When Hart retired in 1947 the Conservatives wanted Anscomb to succeed him as Premier of British Columbia but the Liberals had more seats in the legislature and insisted that the Premier should remain a Liberal resulting in the appointment of Byron Johnson as premier. The conflict strained relations between Johnson and Anscomb and their parties in the subsequent coalition. The Conservatives were riven into three factions, one led by W.A.C. Bennett called for the Tories and Liberals to fuse into a single party, a second faction supported the status quo and a third wanted the Conservatives to leave the coalition. The Liberals, meanwhile, began to doubt the need to continue the coalition rather than govern on their own. The coalition was re-elected in the 1949 provincial election winning 39 seats against 7 for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation opposition. Growing divisions within the Conservative Party resulted in Anscomb's leadership and the party's continuation in the coalition being unsuccessfully challenged at the 1950 party convention. W.A.C. Bennett, who was now in the anti-coalition faction, quit the party and crossed the floor to join and eventually led the British Columbia Social Credit Party.
In October 1951, the Liberal Party decided to dissolve the coalition and Premier Johnson dismissed his Conservative ministers including Anscomb and continued as a minority government with Anscomb as Leader of the Opposition beginning in February 1952. The government soon collapsed and in the ensuing 1952 provincial election the Liberals were reduced to 6 seats, the Conservatives to 4 and Johnson and Anscomb both lost their seats while the Social Credit Party was able to form a government under Bennett that would rule the province for the next two decades.
- Herbert Anscomb, Oak Bay Encyclopedia
- Hans J. Michelmann, David E. Smith, Cristine De Clercy Continuity And Change in Canadian Politics: Essays in Honour of David E. Smith, University of Toronto Press (2006), page 184