Posts filed under ‘Insolvency’
According to the Research Guide “Bankrupts and Insolvent Debtors:1710-1869” on the website of The National Archives (UK):
Until 1841, the legal status of being a bankrupt was confined to traders owing more than 100 pounds (reduced to 50 pounds in 1842). Debtors who were not traders did not qualify to become bankrupt, but stayed as insolvent debtors. Responsible for their debts but unable to pay them, they remained subject to common law proceedings and indefinite imprisonment, if their creditors so wished. … Insolvent debtors were held in local prisons, and often spent the rest of their lives there: imprisonment for debt did not stop until 1869.
Another ancestor of mine, Abraham WOOLF was imprisoned in the Debtors Prison, as this entry from the London Gazette of 1841 shows:
Shortly afterwards he came to trial, and fortunately his petition for release was granted. The following entry in the London Gazette gives more background about him – that he was currently a “General Dealer and Cigar Maker” and formerly a “Cigar Dealer and Ladies’ Shoe Maker”, as well as recent addresses:
In the documents at the National Archives in Kew, London, I could follow the progress of his imprisonment, petitions and release, however even the information available online on websites like The National Archives (UK) and The London Gazette tell me more about the life of this ancestor.
I was searching State Records NSW (the NSW Government archives), looking for background information about my ancestor Samuel HOLMES (otherwise known as Samuel ETHERINGTON – but that’s another story).
A “keyname search” (searching almost all the digital indexes) of the NSW State Records led me to the Insolvency Index, which informed me that Samuel HOLMES, a baker of Sydney, was declared insolvent in July 1862.
Insolvency was the inability to pay your debts, and was originally treated as different to Bankruptcy, which involved a person’s assets being administered and distributed to creditors. Insolvency doesn’t appear to have been particularly unusual – at least not amongst my ancestors – some of whom were declared insolvent or bankrupt a number of times in their lives.
Finding someone’s name in an index should only be the beginning of the story. Almost invariably the full document holds more information than the index entry.
In this case Samuel was also declared bankrupt (in December 1862), and corresponding notices appeared in the NSW Government Gazettes of 1862. The Government Gazette notices were as business-like as any government notice, but the real gems were discovered in the original documents. Those documents can be seen at the Western Sydney Records Centre (of NSW State Records) at Kingswood. In Samuel’s Insolvency file were all the invoices he could not pay.
If Samuel knew in July 1862 that he would be unable to pay his bills, it does not seem to have curbed his spending, as his September 1862 quarterly account from the David Jones (department store) indicates. This invoice includes: 6 white shirts (3 pounds), 6 Cambric handkerchiefs (1 pound, 5 shillings), 1 pair of braces (4 shillings) – and even a bottle of scent (another 4 shillings).
Such documents tell so much more about this ancestor (and his fashion sense!) than an unemotional announcement of his debts, and certainly rewarded the effort of obtaining the original records behind the index entry.