At the end of July 1827 London’s financial world was rocked when Stock Exchange trader James Henty defaulted on his creditors. It was, according to the newspapers, ‘one of the most extensive failures that ever occurred’ involving ‘astonishment’, ‘grief’ and ‘tears’. Not only did other members of the Stock Exchange place James Henty’s name at the Exchange on eight, rather than the usual one, ‘black boards’ naming serious defaulters, they also published their disapproval in an advertisement in The Times which accused Henty of ‘aggravated dishonesty as to be almost without parallel in the history of the Stock Exchange’.
Australians know the Henty name in a very different context, as a pioneering British family in the Port Phillip district where Melbourne now stands. The Australian Dictionary of Biography celebrates Thomas Henty and his many sons as quintessential characters in our ‘pioneering legend’: ‘notable not merely for being the first to settle in Victoria but also for their number and quality: a father and seven educated sons experienced in farming and trading, occupations of prime importance to a new colony, and importers of unusually substantial capital in money, skilled workers and thoroughbred stock.’
Thomas made his decision to emigrate in 1828 yet no historian has mentioned the defaulting relative James Henty, none other than Thomas’ nephew with the same name and of almost the same age as Thomas’ own eldest son. This James may have felt the scandal more keenly than other family members: while family correspondence certainly puts financial motivation foremost in the decision there is a letter from him intimating that reputation may have also been a factor: ‘on account of the infamous conduct of our relations in this country’, wrote James in December 1828, ‘our prospects are very much blighted.’
By the end of 1827 the stock exchange defaulting James Henty had lost his London home and all its contents. His cousins, initially – and subsequently – financially secure, had anxious years during the 1840s’ depression in the Australian colonies. In our barely post-GFC time we might sympathise with all members of the Henty family.
Karen Downing is a visitor in the School of History. She writes further on the Henty family in the forthcoming August issue of History Australia.