City of London and, in particular, the Bank of England had become very nervous
in the early autumn of 1890, with concern for the “highest houses” as a result
of over ambitious speculation in South America, and in particular Argentina.
The collapse of the Argentine government in August had only heightened the
anxiety. The London Times and The Economist had issued warnings about
the unsustainable nature of the bubble that was being created, and the
activities of some of the” highest houses”, in particular Baring Brothers & Co.
On Saturday 15th November
1890 the London Times wrote:
has passed through a crisis verging upon panic such as has not been known since
the awful Black
Friday that followed the suspension of Overend, Gurney& Co, nearly a
quarter of a century
ago. Happily men have kept their heads better than they have done on former
occasions, and though the
strain was tremendous, though the fall in securities was heavy, and though the
rumours were flying wildly about, we rejoice to be able to announce this
morning that the worst is
seven days earlier, on Saturday 8th November the Governor of the
Bank of England, William Lidderdale met Lord Revelstoke and Francis Baring to
learn that it was indeed the House of
Baring that was the subject of the rumour, and that without help they
would have to stop. Lidderdale sent a message to the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, Lord Goschen, requesting that they meet to discuss a “matter of
great importance”, on the morning of Monday the 10th. Lidderdale
spent a very uncomfortable Sunday 9th because he knew what was about
to happen, and Lord Goschen spent an anxious Sunday because he did not.
Saturday the 8th November is the very same day that Punch published the John Tenniel
cartoon, “Same Old Game”;
Old Lady of Threadneedle Street:
“You’ve got yourselves into a nice mess with your
precious speculation! Well, I’ll help you out of it - For this
It would seem that George Goschen need not
have waited until Monday to be told the awful news by William Lidderdale – he
could have picked up a copy of Punch on the Saturday afternoon……………*
now know that The London Times and The
Economist were on to the story (that
Barings had become dangerously exposed to their Argentinian “speculations”) during
the week ending 8th November, and probably some-time before that, but held back
from anything other than oblique references to avoid precipitating the disaster
in the City that thankfully never happened.
who tipped off John Tenniel and Punch
magazine that the Bank of England was about to bail-out the schoolboys in the
cartoon? And who were the schoolboys meant to represent?
first sight it would seem to be a well timed topical satire on the City in
general, or at least those engaged in South American speculation, but two weeks
later, on the 22nd November Punch
followed up with another article, entitled “For
this Relief Much Thanks”, which confirms, without doubt to whom Mr. Punch was referring in his cartoon “Same
Old Game”. Saturday 22nd of November was also the day that The Economist published its leader “The Liquidation of the Barings”, so
again Punch found itself slightly
ahead of the game………….
piece published on 22nd November 1890 in Punch Magazine reads:
“FOR THIS RELIEF MUCH THANKS”
(Punch magazine, Volume 99,
Saturday November 22nd 1890)
“For this Relief Much Thanks” –
The difficulties in the City, which Mr Punch represented in his cartoon of
November 8th, were by The Times acknowledged to be at an end. The
adventurous mariners were luckily able to rest on the bank and are now once
more fairly started. They will bear in mind the warning of The Old Lady of
Threadneedle Street, as given to the boys in the above mentioned cartoon”.
On the same day, Saturday 22nd of November,
The Times was able to announce
officially that: “arrangements were
concluded this afternoon for the continuance of the firm of Baring Brothers
& co………………..”, or as Mr. Punch
put it “the adventurous mariners were able to rest on the Bank and are now
once more fairly started”. Since the “once
more fairly started” Barings Brothers Bank Ltd was not actually
incorporated until 23rd November, Mr. Punch continued to be very well informed indeed!
“For This Relief Much Thanks” , in sixty five words of
Shakespearian reference delivered an intellectual hammer blow to Edward Charles
Baring, Lord Revelstoke, the references in which may not been decoded for over 120
“For This Relief Much Thanks” is from Hamlet (1.1.10), dialogue
between Francisco and Barnado, and the line goes on “ ‘tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart”, and precedes the famous
line “something is rotten in the State of
Denmark”, referring to corruption and a diseased country, or in this case,
presumably, a bank.
“The Adventurous Mariners” are from The Tempest; Prospero and Miranda stand on the shore of the island
(the bank – of England!), having just witnessed the shipwreck that resulted
from the storm of their own creation.
So it is fairly clear what Mr. Punch felt about Barings (and probably bankers in general) and
that they had brought the crisis on themselves. And so they did.
Lord Revelstoke was a cultured man, with a love of art
and the theatre - indeed according to his son (Maurice Baring, himself a well-known
author in his time) would have been able to act as prompt to any of
Shakespeare’s works. “For this Relief
Much Thanks” was an acerbic attack, which for him would need no
So Mr. Punch
was not impressed by Lord Revelstoke, senior partner at Barings, and he, The Times,The Economist and others had been gunning for him in particular since
the Guinness flotation in 1887, underwritten by Barings, and who had held back
shares for friends and family, and left the public subscribers with little or
in many cases, nothing.
But Mr. Punch
was not quite finished with Lord Revelstoke; a week later in the edition of 29th
November 1890 he continued his relentless Shakespearian theme with:
RIGHT-DOING ON THE RIALTO
OR, THE MODERN SHYLOCK
(A Short Shakespearian Sequel)
Punch Magazine, Volume 99, November 29th
Enter the MODERN SHYLOCK and BARINGO BROTHERS
Shylock: Five Millions sterling for
three months? And this you say they will advance, if you can show sufficient
Baringo: Indeed ‘tis so
Shylock: Well, Well! But how comes it about that you whose honoured name
has so long held the sway of all safe dealing, that men only asked “If a
BARINGO backed it”, to take up unquestioning the newest stock, - should thus
with sudden flash flare up and set in blaze the whole commercial world?
Baringo: Oh! Press me not, nor question
me too closely! “Argentines!” that fatal word sums up the evil spell that in
these latter luckless days has fallen upon our swaying house. Shylock: I see your case! A cry for gold
finds you all unprepared, your capital locked beyond the seas. You cannot
Baringo: Alas! Too true! That is the
Shylock: Badly done! Ah! It has been a
sorry piece of work, your “management”
Baringo: I bow my head to that! But you
will lend your aid? You’ll pull us through?
Shylock : Listen BARINGO. Many a time
and oft in this English land men have rated me about my moneys and my usuries.
But that is long ago; the times have changed, and feeling in more righteous
channel set, now turns itself in flood to sweep away the wrongs of vanished
years. Nay, more than this. But yesterday one of my ancient race, filled with
his Christian colleagues heartiest will, the civic throne; and at this very
hour a protest from all classes in the land from low and high, from peasant and
from peer, goes forth to plead with the despotic power that ‘neath brute
persecutions iron heel would trample out my brethren’s life. So there, which
way I look I meet a greeting hand. So, not repeating here the vengeful plot of
the old Shylock of the play; without my pound of flesh or pound of anything,-
but solely for the bond of brotherhood that should link loyal workers in one
field, count on my help in this your stress – for I will be your guarantee!
Baringo: You will! Oh, thanks for such
Shylock: Such help is only right,- so
say no more!
Baringo; (aside) Thank Heaven! That ends
(Dances wild fandango of delight
as Curtain descends)...................................
Right Doing on the Rialto refers, of course, to the City
Guarantee Fund that was set up by Bank of England Governor, William Lidderdale,
to underwrite any losses that the Bank might incur whilst liquidating the
assets of Barings. Shylock (aka Lord Nathaniel Rothschild) was at first
reluctant to join the Guarantee Fund, but quickly realised that exerting his
right to” a pound of flesh” would
destroy everything, not only for Rothschilds but the whole of the City of
London. Itwas published on the 29th
November, the same date that The
Economist ran a leader entitled “The
Reconstruction of the Barings” outlining how Barings Brothers & Co Ltd was to be re-established under the
control of Revelstoke’s son, John Baring (who was later to become the second
Lord Revelstoke), who, within ten years had restored Barings to a position of
In some respects the Baring Crisis of 1890 was the “crisis
that never happened” because certain individuals “kept their heads”, created a Guarantee Fund (that in the end was
never needed) and left the City of London intact but shaken.
Not so lucky were the senior partners in Barings, in
particular Edward Charles Baring (Lord Revelstoke); the Bank of England
demanded its own “pound of flesh” by sequestering their assets and estates to the
benefit of the Bank.
Lord Revelstoke’s wife Louisa Emily was devastated by
the turn of events and died within 18 months. Lord Revelstoke never recovered
and died in 1897.
Mr. Punch continued to attack the “fat
cats” of the day before eventually being overtaken by other world events. We will probably
never know who Mr Punch’s informants
were over the Baring crisis, but I’m guessing that a staff writer at The Times never got his Guinness share
This chapter is from the (still!) as yet unpublished “Same Old Game!”, which I believe will
be the most detailed analysis of the events leading up to and during the1890 Baring Crisis so far written.
*Punch Magazine has been digitized by Project Guttenberg so is now readily
available, and therefore easy to confirm that the publication went out on
Saturday, every Saturday, and that this particular edition was not published
edition would have been typeset and
printed a day or two earlier, and any artwork, e.g. cartoons drawn at least a day or so before
Magazine and the London Times had no
official affiliation, but The Times would use pieces from Punch on an attributed basis during the period. The source for the
John Tenniel cartoon is most likely to have been The Times.................