September 28, 2010

Horatio Bottomley: A Lesson From History

This is, of course, nothing to do with anything. I'm not trying to score any of my usual cheap shots or mount any of my customary childish attacks. See this lump of butter? It's been in my mouth all day and it's still rock hard...

Born in London in 1860, young Horatio Bottomley first made an impression in his twenties, selling stocks in Australian goldmines. No problem there, except for the fact that many of these goldmines didn't actually exist – he was running a straightforward Fraud, whereby rising share values of the real goldmines would cover up the black hole of the fakes. The beauty of the whole scheme being that, if he told someone their goldmine had folded, they were hardly in a position to go and see for themselves. Personally, my knowledge of Australian goldmining is so sketchy that if he'd told me it had all gone tits up because the magic elephants had eaten all the miner's marzipan hammers I'd have just thought “Oh dear, that's bad luck” and taken the hit.

Off the back of all this, the tireless Horatio became the Liberal MP for Hackney. Portraying himself as a fierce patriot, he founded a magazine - “John Bull” - which he used to attack anyone who wasn't as patriotic as he was. Which was everyone. Labour politicians. Tory politicians. Liberal politicians. Foreigners who lived in Britain. Foreigners who lived abroad. Britons who lived abroad. Britons who lived in Britain but had once enjoyed a very nice cup of tea with someone whose sister had once thought of speaking to someone who had been abroad.

Very quickly, and no doubt helped by the fact that War was in the air, “John Bull” soon became a publishing sensation. Bottomley's potent cocktail of xenophobia, easy populism and simplistic solutions found a market among the masses. Even the fact that his financial scams came to light in 1908 didn't derail things: Thanks to the “impenetrable chaos of his record-keeping and accounts” a jury were unable to convict him. He was thrown out of Parliament in 1912, a declared (although nowhere near actual) bankrupt. His in-laws bailed him out of his financial troubles.

But folk were made of sterner stuff in the days of Shackleton, Baden-Powell and my terrifying – looking Great-Grandma, and the mere fact that he was a bankrupt, disgraced and (nearly) convicted fraudster didn't throw Bottomley off his stride one bit. Far from it.

He was only just beginning.

Riding a wave of wartime jingoism, he became a hugely successful public speaker; putting “myself, my newspaper and all of the assets at my disposal to the service of our noble Servicemen”. He did, of course, generally charge hefty appearance fees for this selfless work. As well as helping himself to the money raised in collections and endlessly promoting his bloody awful magazine. Reputed to have pocketed upwards of £25,000 from his “patriotic appearances”, he also had a sideline going in the harvesting of names and addresses from the gullible for his ongoing postal “appeals”. By way of an occasional diversion, he spent a fair bit of time in court (usually defending himself) in various libel cases.

In 1918, standing as an Independent, Bottomley got back into Parliament. The following year he founded “The People's League”: Promoted heavily in his magazine as “The Third Party” and “The Only Real Opposition”, the League didn't actually bother with much in the way of policies, per se, preferring to stick to the tried and tested (and far less intellectually taxing), approach of just slagging off Johnny Foreigner.

But then Horatio Bottomley went a scam too far. He began an operation called the “John Bull Victory Bond Club”. He sold more than £600,000 worth of the things (I've got one. Thinking that, because it was so old, it would be worth at least twice the value of a bar of gold wrapped in a Turin Shroud with a Penny Black stuck to it, I took it to a Valuer in Derby. “Not another one of them - I'll give you a tenner for it”, he said...).

Of course, it was all fraud. But not just fraud: It was a scam put together in such an astonishingly cack-handed manner, that it all fell apart after two years. But the big problem for Bottomley was that the fraud was on such a colossal scale – with clumsily forged receipts, duplicate sets of accounts and secret slush funds - that arrest swiftly followed.

Finally caught, convicted and disgraced, Horatio Bottomley was thrown out of Parliament and sent to prison.

He died, penniless and a national laughing stock, in 1933.

Thank goodness there aren't any people like Bottomley around today.


Landale said...

Well done Andy :-)

Plus ca change....

As you say it's a good job there aren't people around like that today ;-)

Keep thinking that a couple of places near Welshpool might come on the market soon with the owners moving to Croatia or Spain?

Anonymous said...

That article made me think of someone but who was it now.......

Dave T said...

I love the labels for this article

"Horatio Bottomley, Not Nick Griffin, Nothing Like Him"

Excellent. Another great article Andy.

Anonymous said...

Do we have an extradiction (sic) agreement with Croatia ?

Old Sailor

Anonymous said...

Didnt they send Horatio to Australia to do his time?


AndyMinion said...

Tulip - that would've been good, but it was Maidstone.

There's the (apocryphal)story of the Prison Chaplain bumping into him while he was stitching mailbags:

Chaplain. "Sewing?"

Bottomley. "No. Reaping."

Anonymous said...

There's another story abot H.B. which recounts his meeting a rather fierce lady called Cholmondley, which he pronounced as it is spelt. 'It's "Chumley"' said she. 'And you are...?' 'Bottomley, madam, pronounced "Bumley"'.

Kev Scott loves The Jam said...

I notice that cyclops' public appearance booking system on nutzie central is.... well.... bare!

Andy Luke said...

Thanks Andy. Brilliant piece on Ole Slabface. I'll be sure to link to this somewhere. Would you mind telling me which book(s) you sourced this from?