Page images
PDF
EPUB

tions began to bring to light the true state of affairs, the six directors appear to have regarded these sums as part of the available property of the shareholders. This being the actual state of the accounts, the dividend was raised in 1854 from 7 to 8 per cent., and in 1856 to 9 per cent. Nine per cent. was the dividend declared in June, 1857, at which date a very slight acquaintance with the books must have led to the strongest suspicion, not to say to the clear conviction, that for some time a considerable portion of the capital had been lost.

“ This bank had 101 branches throughout Scotland. It had connections in America, who were allowed to draw upon it for the mere sake of the commission. At home it made advances upon ‘indents;' or, in other words, provided the manufacturer with the capital with which yet unmade cloth was thereafter to be produced. Its discounts, which in 1853 were £14,987,000, had been increased in 1857 (till 9th November) to £20,691,000. With what care this business was conducted may appear from the circumstances that Macdonald's bills were accepted by 124 different parties; that only 37 had been inquired about, and in the case of 21 the reports received from the correspondents of the bank were unsatisfactory, or positively bad. Yet the credit given to Macdonald continued undiminished. The rediscounts of the bank in London, which in 1852 had been £407,000, rose in 1856 to £5,407,000. The exchanges of notes in Edinburgh have been always against the Western Bank, and for an average of the last six years to an extent of not less than £3,000,000 a year. This circumstance is accounted for by Mr. Fleming chiefly by reference to the nature of the transactions with Macdonald's and other houses in accommodation bills ; £988,000 were due to the bank from its own shareholders.

“ About the end of October the Northumberland and Durham Bank applied for assistance to the Bank of England. It was declined, as they could not give any satisfactory explanation of their real position. They applied a second time, urging the great peril in which they were placed by the continued discredit, and by the constant drain of small deposits; they urged also the fear of disturbances and breach of the peace which might ensue if they were to fail, they being so largely connected with collieries and ironworks. Accordingly on Tuesday, 24th November, Mr. Hodgson went down to Newcastle, and told the directors that he had been sent down by the Bank of England to examine into their books, and see whether it was possible to render them such assistance as would enable them to go on; but that the first condition of the bank doing anything was that they should prove themselves solvent. The result was that Mr. Hodgson found the liabilities, as then stated, amounting to £2,600,000, of which there were £1,350,000 of deposits, £1,150,000 accounts current, and they had rediscounted £1,500,000, of which they expected that £100,000 would come back upon them, and for which they would ultimately be liable, making altogether £2,600,000. Their assets were of a very peculiar nature indeed, the early realization of which would be almost impossible. They held about £1,000,000 in securities of different kinds. They held in trade bills, that is to say, small bills on shopkeepers of Newcastle, about £250,000 bills which were probably good in themselves, but which were not available anywhere out of Newcastle; they were not bills which could have been discounted in any other part of the money market. They had in overdrawn accounts £1,664,000, without any specific securities attached to them. Of these £1,664,000, there were £400,000 which one of the directors very candidly confessed must be considered as totally

[ocr errors]

bad, and which ought to have been written off long before, but which still remained in the account as good debts. The capital of the concern was £656,000 nominally, but in reality it was considerably less than that; because in 1847 they had been in trouble, and in order to get out of that trouble they had made a call of £5 or £10 a share, which was not paid upon some of the shares, which shares were forfeited, and taken by them into the stock of their bank, to be reissued should occasion warrant their doing

The consequence was that the subscribed capital of the bank was about £600,000. This statement at once showed that any attempt to help them, short of taking up the whole concern and liquidating it for them, would be perfectly useless. It was evident that the whole capital was gone; and, looking at the character of the securities, Mr. Hodgson came to the conclusion, not only that the capital was gone, but that the bank was totally insolvent. Being very much struck with the extraordinary loss which had taken place in the bank, which, when a private bank, he knew to have been a very flourishing one, he inquired whether there was not some old sore of which nothing had as yet been said. He was told that there was one ; there was rather a disinclination to mention what it was, but he felt it his duty to press it, and they told him they had a very large debt with the Derwent Iron Company. He inquired the amount of this debt, and found, much to his astonishment, that it amounted to £750,000, the capital of the bank being £600,000. For that debt there was a kind of security, which consisted of £250,000 of what were called Derwent Iron Company's debentures, which were, however, in reality, nothing but the promissory notes of the directors, there being very few persons in this Derwent Iron Company. The bank had also £100,000 mortgage on the plant, and the remaining £400,000 was totally

unsecured. In addition to this original debt then mentioned of £750,000, there is now another charge upon it of £197,000, resulting from bills which have not been paid, and which, in order that the Derwent Iron Company might get them discounted, the bank had endorsed or otherwise guaranteed. These have now come back, so that the total liability for which the Derwent Iron Company is indebted to the bank is about £947,000; very nearly £1,000,000. The Derwent Iron Company appears to have been, almost from the time of the conversion of the bank into a joint-stock bank, very intimately connected with it. Mr. Jonathan Richardson, who was the moving spring of the whole bank, in fact the person who managed everything, was, though not a partner in the Derwent Iron Company, very largely interested in it as holding the royalties upon the minerals which they worked. It appears that the concern has been worked extremely badly; that it has never made any profits at all, even in the very

finest

years, for the ironmasters, and it has gone on absorbing the money of the bank unchecked by the directors.

“ Mr. Hodgson says that £1,000,000 of securities were taken of the most extraordinary nature for any bank to hold that he ever saw; that £1,000,000 of securities, which was the only tangible asset which they had against the £2,600,000 of liabilities, consisted of £350,000 of the Derwent Iron Company's obligations, £250,000 being debentures, and £100,000 mortgage on the plant. They had besides these, £100,000 on a building speculation at Elswick, near Newcastle, which however was not a primary mortgage, there being a mortgage of £20,000 on that land belonging to Mr. Hodgson Hinde. They had also another £100,000 on other building land and houses in the neighbourhood of Newcastle. They had about £350,000 in securities of works and manufactures of different sorts,

and they had about £50,000 in navigation bonds guaranteed by the railway, but which railway was the only security to which they could look in any given time to realize

any sum of money; that made about £1,000,000 altogether. The other securities were absolutely unmarketable. This bank had derived assistance from the Bank of England in the former crisis, that of 1847. Almost exactly the same circumstances arose then which arose in 1857, and almost from the same cause. The bank, however, applied at that time to the agent of the Bank of England at Newcastle, and he, on his own responsibility, made them a very large advance, which carried them through; he taking at the same time a very considerable security from them in various mortgages, pretty much of the character which has been above mentioned, but better in quality, although not any more banking securities than these; between £700,000 and £800,000 altogether.

“The whole of the advance made in 1847 was repaid to the Bank of England, was it not?'— Yes. With regard to the late occasion I represented at the same time that, though the bank could not be assisted, yet the fact of its failing, which it would do the moment it was known that the Bank of England would not help it, would be at that moment a very serious thing for the district, because it was so much connected with the collieries and ironworks that it paid every week, either for persons who had balances with it, or for persons whose bills it discounted, and thus gave them the money, about £35,000, on which the wages of 30,000 people were dependent; and as their pay-day was on the Friday, and the bank would stop on the Thursday, it was very desirable that something should be done to prevent the confusion which would arise if there was no preparation made for that conjuncture. In consequence of that the Bank of England requested me to go

« PreviousContinue »