Henry Luard, Banker, 1792 -1860
The project to record all of the inscriptions on the gravestones in the church and chapel grounds is now complete and a number of interesting stories have been unearthed, including this one, which shows that financial skulduggery has always been with us! Grave 0218 is that of Henry Luard who, according to the inscription was the:
5th son of the late Peter John Luard Esq of Blyborough Hall in the County of Lincoln formerly of 46 York Terrace, Regents Park, Austin Friars London who departed this life in this parish on the 19th of May 1860 in the 68th year of his age.
This got my enquiring mind going (my daughter says I am the most curious person she has ever met!)
It seems that Henry was a very respectable banker. He was born in 1792, the 5th son of Captain Peter John Luard of Blyborough Hall, Lincolnshire and his wife Louisa, daughter of Charles Dalbaic of Hungerford Park in Wiltshire. The family seemed to have made their fortune in the West Indian sugar cane business and as such were involved in the slave trade. He was one of eight brothers, the other seven all went into the professions but from an early age he showed an aptitude for figures and he was taken on by a mercantile trading house, probably in the City of London. Here he obtained a sound commercial education which laid the foundations for a long career in banking. His widespread family connections meant that he moved between the business world of the City and the diversions of polite society. He married Jane Richards in 1824 and they had 4 sons.
By the 1830s Henry’s career was really taking off and by 1841 he become the General Manager of the London and County Bank, his appointment was due to the unexplained departure of the previous manager, Thomas Dighton, in connection with serious errors of commercial judgement. The bank had gained a reputation for ill-judged and fraudulent activities but Henry worked tirelessly to remedy the bank’s affairs and reform the structure and operation. (By 1875 it had over 150 branches and was the largest British bank, and after many takeovers, it would later become the Westminster Bank) In 1853 a glowing testimonial by other bank managers recorded their gratitude to his valuable and effective management of the bank. However, within 3 years these sentiments must have carried a distinctly hollow ring as on 25 March 1856, Henry resigned on the grounds of irregular conduct of the bank’s affairs which had left him deeply indebted to the bank and several other parties connected with it. An internal investigation following the suicide of the bank’s chairman, John Sadlier, MP, who had been forging shares, showed a number of dubious transactions including unsecured loans in favour of parties to whom Henry was personally indebted. There is a wonderful quote in The Spectator Money Market for March 29th 1856 which says:
The Times states that Mr Luard’s retirement has no connection with the affairs of Sadlier: Messrs Freshfield have pronounced the securities deposited with the bank by Sadlier to be all perfectly in order.
Where have we heard such claims recently? The reality was very different and Sadlier, along with his brother, turned out to be a thoroughly bad lot. He appeared to have had no scruples and somehow Henry Luard became involved with this swindler. Such an impact did Sadlier have on society at the time, that Charles Dickens based the character Mr Merdle in Little Dorrit on him.
Following this fall from grace, little more is known of Henry Luard until his death. At the inquest into his death the following facts were established:
• Henry had been living in the Holsworthy area for at least 6 weeks prior to his death, as Dr Thomas Linnington Ash said he had attended him at this time;
• The Rector of Thornbury, Rev William Edgcombe, said he was a good friend of Henry and that Henry had come to stay with him on the Wednesday before he died. Rev Edgcombe believed Henry intended to pay for his residence but no terms had been agreed;
• Henry stayed Wednesday and Thursday evenings taking his dinner and breakfast as normal;
• On Friday he said he wanted to go fishing and left about 11, asking the rector’s boy to take his donkey gig to Baystone (Bason?) bridge at 1.30, presumably to bring him back;
• The boy returned about 4 saying he had seen nothing of Henry and he was sent back to wait longer but by 8 the Rector was alarmed and went out, with his man, in search for Henry along the riverbank;
• The search was suspended overnight but began again in the morning and at 10 the Rector was told that Henry’s body had been found by Thomas Crossman in a field close to Thornbury Church and Mr Trible’s house (The Barton);
• When found, Henry was half sitting and slumped sideways with his fishing gear laid neatly nearby. He was only about 80 paces from where he had been seen by James Daw at about 11 on the previous day;
• The Rector reported that there was blood about Henry’s upper face and eye which looked like a blow or cut and there was some blood coming out of his mouth but he was adamant that Henry had died of natural causes and nothing was missing from his person;
• The doctor gave the cause of death as disease of the heart and added that Henry had been suffering from intestinal problems and had been agitated about reports circulating about him, and that the appearance of the eyes indicated heart disease;
• The Verdict of the Inquest was: Found dead; cause of death being disease of the heart.
I have been unable to find out with any certainty where he was prior to coming to Thornbury or why he came to this area at all. He is missing from all of the censuses and in 1851, his wife Jane is living with her mother in Richmond. There is the faint possibility that a relative, Peter Shaw Luard was the Master of the Workhouse in Torrington at the time, as in the 1851 Census he gives his place of birth as Blyborough, but in the subsequent censuses he gives his birthplace as both Hull, and London so I am not sure about this connection. Furthermore, I have been unable to trace this Peter Shaw Luard in the extensive Luard family tree so his presence is probably just a coincidence.
In the Grant of Probate in March 1863 to his son, William Charles Luard of Llandaff, Glamorgan, Henry is said to be formerly of York Terrace, London but late of Hampstead, Middlesex and this is where his widow Jane was living in 1861. Henry’s personal effects at death amounted to ‘under £3000’. In his Oxford Dictionary of Biography entry, at death Henry is reported as being on the verge of insolvency with debts to the London and County Bank and to others connected with it of £5500. According to Henry’s GG Grandson, who I have been in touch with, Henry lost the Regent’s Park home but the family home in Hampstead was retained, though heavily mortgaged, and Jane was allowed to stay on until her death in 1880. Her daughter Louise Harriet Luard was allowed to stay on with further help from the family home but eventually it was repossessed by creditors.
It seems as if Henry died a disgraced and lonely man estranged from his family. He probably died of natural causes but brought on by the stress of his situation.
If you interesting in seeing the original gravestone it is in the old part of the churchyard to the right of the church as you enter the gate and is at the far end of the second row from the front hedge.
Henry Luard’s gravestone