Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

MARCH 23rd  

On this day in history in 1860, was born Horatio Bottomley.

Bottomley was a financier, politician, journalist and swindler, who founded the Financial Times.  

Horatio Bottomley was born on 23rd March 1860, in Bethnal Green, London. After spending his first fourteen years in an orphanage, he was apprenticed to a firm of legal shorthand writers, where he learned something of the legal system. He became particularly adept at company law, a field scorned by self respecting lawyers of the Nineteenth Century, for being rather vulgar and concerned with trade.  

Bottomley learned how to launch a company, how to finance it and how to keep it afloat. He set up his own publishing company, raised finance and started trade. However, Bottomley was neither astute at publishing, nor business, nor keeping his hands off the company’s money. The business collapsed in 1885, and was adjudicated bankrupt, but Bottomley successfully defended the company in court and had the bankruptcy order rescinded.  

Bottomley progressed to promoting Australian gold mining companies, whose accounts he distorted, making worthless companies appear profitable. In 1888, he founded the Financial Times, as a means of publicising his own projects. In 1905, he was elected to Parliament for the seat of Hackney South. In 1908 he was charged with conspiracy to defraud, but his fabricated book-keeping system prevented a conviction. In 1912, Bottomley was forced into bankruptcy, and consequently lost his Parliamentary seat.  

In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, he established the patriotic journal John Bull, and spoke on recruiting platforms, for a fee, and pressing for a more aggressive prosecution of the war. At the end of the war, he returned to Parliament as an Independent MP for Hackney South. Now he started his most ambitious project, The John Bull Victory Bond Club, a savings bank which took deposits from small savers and supposedly lent the money to the Government. In 1921, the scheme was insolvent, and Bottomley was arrested and charged with fraud. After a long trial in which Bottomley vigorously defended himself, he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. A story goes that on one occasion, when Bottomley was sewing mailbags, he was visited by the prison chaplain who asked “Sewing, Bottomley?” to which Bottomley replied “No, reaping!” [A Biblical reference. ‘Whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ Galatians 6.7]  

Bottomley was released in 1927 and spent his remaining years, appearing in a one man show, in squalid music halls. He died penniless on 26th May 1933. His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes scattered at Lower Dicker, Surrey.

Other great financial scandals

The South Sea Bubble

Barings Bank 

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