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Horatio Bottomley

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Category: General Interest
Reference No: 6219
Status: Available
Price: £18.00
  Horatio Bottomley

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Audacious, larger-than-life British fraudster, the Bernie Madoff of his day.

After spending the first 14 years of his life in an orphanage, Bottomley developed a huge appetite for the good things in life.

In his heyday he owned a large country house near Eastbourne, a luxury apartment in Pall Mall and several racehorses. With his wife installed in a house in Monte Carlo, he also enjoyed the favours of countless mistresses, two or three at a time and set up in rented houses. Frank Harris, one of his friends, commented that he had an "intense greed for all the sensual pleasures”.

Bottomley funded all of this with a variety of scams.

Early publishing ventures, floated with other people’s money, came and went before he founded the Financial Times in 1888. This proved useful for slipping in entirely fictitious stories that boosted the share price of companies he was trying to sell and undermined those he wanted to buy.

Not content with swindling people out of money, he set about making himself a highly respectable member of British society and was elected to Parliament in 1905 as Liberal MP for Hackney.
In 1908 he was arrested by the police and charged with fraud relating to a number of worthless Australian gold mining shares that he had been selling. The case dragged on for four years before he was acquitted due to lack of evidence but his reputation was ruined and the Liberals ousted him from his seat.
When World War I broke out, Bottomley turned a magazine he was running, John Bull, into an unofficial journal for the rank and file soldiers. As the army grew, so did the sales of the magazine. Bottomley went on a series of recruitment drives, using his magnificent oratorical skills and flair for publicity to recruit tens of thousands of volunteers into the army - and so to become purchasers of his magazine. Throughout the war he maintained a highly patriotic stance, while earning a fortune from the magazine and the products it promoted. On several occasions he was accused of profiteering from these products, but each time he sued for libel and in most actions he won.

In 1918 he stood as an independent candidate for his old seat of Hackney and won a landslide victory.

The following year, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the government issued Victory Bonds to help offset the ruinous costs of the war. Priced at £5 they were out of the reach of most ordinary people at a time when an unskilled worker might earn as little as £2.50 a week. Bottomley - ever the people's friend - instituted a scheme whereby the poorer members of society (especially returned, unemployed soldiers) might benefit by sending him £1 for a fifth share in a Victory bond.

Vast amounts of money flowed into his coffers and with no trustees to keep an eye on him Bottomley used the money to enjoy life, buy two newspapers and pay off debts. At last it dawned on the public that this was all a massive swindle. Life became increasingly difficult for Bottomley. Whenever he spoke to meetings he found himself confronted by aggrieved subscribers demanding their money back.

The law finally caught up with him and he was brought to trial in May 1922 on a charge of "fraudulently converting to his own use sums of money entrusted to him by members of the public".

Bottomley was sent to prison for seven years. He was sixty-two years old and completely unfit to face the rigours of prison life. He weighed seventeen stone and the authorities were unable to find a regulation uniform to fit him.

When he was discharged from prison in 1927 he disappeared into obscurity, and one of the last public accounts of him in the London Daily News in September 1932 shows just how far he had descended:

The strangest turn in the new non-stop variety programme at the Windmill Theatre last night was the appearance of an old man in a dinner suit who walked slowly to the middle of the stage and cast a sad and patient eye upon a puzzled audience. ... he told a little string of anecdotes from his Parliamentary, journalistic and racing experiences ... the occasion had a curiously disconcerting air of pathos

He was not destined to enjoy a new career on the halls. Horatio Bottomley died less than a year later in May 1933.

This is a fine signature in black fountain pen ink on a neatly cut piece of paper (3.25" x .5") which has been laid to a compliments slip of Bottomley's magazine, John Bull. The compliments slip has itself been laid to grey card. A small newspaper photograph has been attached to the right of the signature.
The fact that "With Mr Bottomley's compliments" has been typed onto the item, together with the date, "Feb 2nd, 1915", suggests that the whole thing has been put together by Bottomley's secretary! In very good condition.