Month: May 2015

Gerard Lee Bevan: fraud, fist fights and rum.

In further investigating the history of the Bevan family, I have come across the case of Gerard Lee Bevan (1870-1936). He was the grandson of one of the professionals in our sample: Robert Cooper Lee Bevan. A number of Robert’s children and grandchildren followed him into banking as partners in Barclays Bank. Gerard Lee Bevan, however, was not deemed quite sharp enough to work for Barclays and so was sent to work as a stockbroker. As Margaret Ackrill and Leslie Hannah have pointed out in their history of Barclay’s Bank, this was a common strategy for dealing with children who were not cut out for life as a clearing banker. Stockbroking was believed to be stable, but easy, work, and the fact that Barclays had extensive dealing with stockbrokers meant it was easy for family members to become partners in stockbroking firms.

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Gerard Lee Bevan.

© / Bibliothèque Nationale de France

In 1893 Gerard became a partner in Ellis & Co, a stockbroking firm; he became a senior partner in 1912. From 1916 he was also chairman of the City Equitable Insurance Company. Although both firms had other directors, there was little oversight, something that enabled Gerard to commit one of the most notorious financial frauds in Britain in the twentieth century. Gerard amassed a significant fortune while working for Ellis & Co. By 1920 his interest in the partnership of Ellis & Co had increased to about £1 million on paper, while the other partners’ interests were about £100,000 in all. This disparity was reflected in the lack of interest the other partners took in the financial matters of the firm, they revealed considerable ignorance of such matters at the trial of Bevan in 1922. The apparent success of Ellis & Co lead to Gerard accumulating various directorships of other companies, including Leyland Motors. There was a similar lack of oversight at the City Equitable Insurance Company, where the board of directors consisted of men with little knowledge of the insurance business.

The end of the First World War saw a period of increasing speculation in the financial markets. Ellis & Co. became, unbeknownst to its other partners, in effect a front through which money was raised and then channelled into speculative investments. Gerard ensured that Ellis & Co could use the securities held by the City Equitable Fire Insurance Company. He also made loans from one company to the other, these were substantial loans, starting at £319,000 in 1919 and rising to £911,000 in 1921. He also directed the City Equitable Fire Insurance Company’s investments into ventures which he himself had an interest in, notably a Brazilian ranch scheme which was designed to increase the value of land he and a few others had purchased in Brazil in 1918. The City Equitable Fire Insurance Company invested £445,374 in that scheme. Unsurprisingly, these unscrupulous activities left Ellis & Co. and the City Equitable Fire Insurance Company in rather perilous positions with large debts and few assets. In order to cover up the situation, Gerard issued false balance sheets in 1919, 1920 and 1921.

The downturn that began part way through 1920 placed increasing pressure on the two companies. In late 1920 he used his position on the First National Re-Insurance Corporation to gain control of two insurance companies: the Greater Britain Insurance Company Limited and the City of London Insurance Company Limited. Gerard proceeded to strip these two companies of their assets to try and prop up Ellis & Co and the City Equitable Fire Insurance Company. Such measures were not enough and in June 1921, Ellis & Co. and the City Equitable Fire Insurance Company owed nearly £2.5 million while the difference between their liabilities and assets was £560,000 (worth about £24.5 million today).

The two companies struggled on, but eventually both failed. Faced with his schemes collapsing around him, Gerard fled to Vienna with his mistress, the French dancer Maria Pertuisot. It has been suggested that he was hoping to reach Soviet Russia, had he done so extradition would have been unlikely.

He took a number of precautions to avoid detection – he dyed his hair and moustache, and obtained a fake passport. After four months on the run he was eventually tracked down and arrested. However, according to the Cornishman, the two detectives who found Bevan ran into some difficulties arresting him: ‘Bevan fought the detectives for fully half-an-hour, knocking both men down, before being overpowered, and it is reported that he afterwards tried to poison himself, and later shammed insanity.’ Despite these efforts, Gerard was returned to Britain and put on trial. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Following his incarceration his wife, Sophie Kenrick (a member of the notable Birmingham iron founder family who were closely connected to the Chamberlains), divorced him. He served five of the seven years, his sentence being reduced for good behaviour. The story goes that in his final interview with the prison governor he thanked the governor ‘as one old Etonian to another’. On his release in 1928 he and Pertuisot left Britain and settled in Havana, where they married. Gerard lived out the remainder of his life in Cuba running a distillery.

Besides being entertaining, the story of this rogue banker has a number of implications for our project. It drives home the power that professionals could wield. Gerard came from a highly respectable family, went to Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He entered the world of finance as someone with connections that brought him considerable esteem and trust. He rose to the top of long-standing firms with prestigious histories, Ellis & Co., founded in 1788, had played an important role in funding the war against Napoleonic France. The importance of family and the status of the professions in society as a whole are precisely the issues which we are examining in our project. The regard in which he and his profession were held by people within the City and by his fellow directors (who exercised little oversight) meant he was able to commit fraud on an enormous scale before anyone took an interest. A tale which sounds all too familiar to our ears.

 Dr. Harry Smith



Clear guides to the complexity of Gerard’s fraud are found in:

Matthew Hollow, Rogue Banking: A History of Financial Fraud in Interwar Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 46-54.

P.S. Manley, ‘Gerard Lee Bevan and the City Equitable Companies’, Abacus, 9/2 (1973), 107-15.

Margaret Ackrill and Leslie Hannah, Barclays: The Business of Banking (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 87.

Contemporary newspapers fill in many of the gaps and provide colourful descriptions:

Cornishman, 21 June 1922, p. 3.

Hull Daily Mail, 17 June 1922, p. 1.

Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25 April 1936, p. 1.

Aberdeen Journal, 27 April 1936, p. 7.

Great expectations: sons, daughters and the professional project


Ottilie McLaren, c.1900
©  Musee Rodin, Paris.
(Reproduced in Sian Reynolds’ Paris-Edinburgh: Cultural Connections in the Belle Epoque (Ashgate, 2007), p.67.)


The overarching question of the Victorian Professions Project is whether the professions, as a group, were energized by a professional project. Did sons and sons-in-law enter the same or similar professions to their fathers; rise through the ranks and then in turn order more of the same for their own sons? Were daughters married off into families of allied professionals and was marriage outside of the professions uncommon and perhaps an annuitant-spinsterhood preferred? We can certainly see evidence of this type of project in our emerging cohort database but we are also revealing families for which the project never really gets off the ground, derails abruptly or just didn’t progress in the fashion intended. Just such a father’s frustration with his son’s career choice survives in the letters and family papers of Greenock physician, James Wallace (1826-1904) and his son William (1860-1940). This clash of wills also leads us via William’s marriage to a family of fascinating women – creative professionals and political campaigners in their own right, with all the verve, vigour and society-improving intentions of their male peers.


James Wallace

Dr James Wallace (1826–1904) by unknown artist
© McLean Museum and Art Gallery – Inverclyde CouncilMore about image copyright


James Wallace M.D., the ambitious son of a wire-spinning merchant, was a dedicated and devoted medic, a keen reformer of public heath in his town of Greenock. He was a determined and aspirational man who expected his son William to continue what he regarded as henceforth the family profession. Married well to Mary Williamson (1825-1892), the daughter of the Greenock procurator fiscal, George Williamson (1792-1854) – a very well-established man locally – James invested heavily in his son. When William veered away from his initial training in medicine and chose music instead, his father raged. His surviving letters reveal that he was deeply and furiously disappointed that his son did not follow him into his profession, especially after he had provided William with such a very expensive school education at Fettes.

Although trained as an ophthalmologist and a graduate of Glasgow University (1888), William’s heart was not in climbing the ranks of the medical profession. He served successfully as a medic during the war but otherwise resisted his father’s professional project and devoted himself to a career in musical composition. Although money was an issue, he did eventually marry well – to the upper class Ottilie McLaren (1875-1947), daughter of Lord McLaren – which must have surely pleased his father.


William Francis Wallace

William Francis Stuart Wallace (b. 3 Jul. 1860 – d.1940)



Ottilie Helen McLaren was the youngest daughter of Lord John McLaren (Lord Advocate of Scotland in Gladstone’s government) and Ottilie Schwabe descended from a wealthy Scottish-German Jewish family. Training first in Scotland under Pittendrigh MacGillivray, Ottilie persuaded her parents to let her go to Paris unaccompanied where she became a pupil of Auguste Rodin between 1897-1901 and would become recognized as a creative professional in her own right. Ottilie and William’s courtship was a long one. Her father insisted that his income as a musician should be no less than £600 a year before he and Ottilie could marry. This prolonged their engagement for nine years. Lord McLaren noted: ‘I have a very good opinion of Mr Wallace’s talent and industry, and it is only the fact of his having taken up a rather unremunerative profession that makes the difficulty.’ [See Sources & National Library of Scotland: MS 21535] Their separation as Ottilie pursued her art provoked a sizeable correspondence between them—Wallace wrote almost daily—letters preserved in a series of small books, covered with white vellum and fastened with coloured ribbon. They were finally married on 11 April 1905 in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Although very little remains of Ottilie’s work, we know that she was admitted to Royal Society of British Sculptors (A.R.B.S.). She was also invested as an Officer, Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.). For much of his creative life as a composer, William remained independent of musical institutions and societies. Later, however, he was a committee member of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and served as honorary secretary of the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Society of British Musicians in the years before the outbreak of war. In 1924, at the invitation of John Blackwood McEwen, he joined the staff of the Royal Academy as a professor of harmony and composition, a post he retained until the year before his death. Though based in London, he and Ottilie bought a retirement home, Westport House, in Malmesbury, where he died on 16 December 1940 from bronchitis and the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

It would be nice to round off this blog post by looking to William and Ottilie’s children’s professions, however they didn’t have any children. We can however look backwards and across at Ottilie’s female relatives to see whether her independence was unusual within her own family’s ‘project’. It would seem that an independent and adventurous spirit was encouraged amongst the McLaren womenfolk. Her grandfather, Duncan McLaren (1800-1886), raised himself from poor origins and little formal education to be Lord Provost of Edinburgh and an M.P. His third wife, Pricilla Bright (1815-1906), was a woman who took women’s suffrage support to be her vocation. Pricilla was the sister of Quaker, British Radical and Liberal statesman John Bright and temperance and suffrage campaigner Margaret Bright Lucas. Indeed she founded the Scottish division of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. Both she and Duncan campaigned against the Contagious Diseases Acts and were active abolitionists.

Priscilla McLaren

Priscilla McLaren by Elliott & Fry, 1880s
© National Portrait Gallery, London


This particular project clearly passed down to the next generation. Ottilie’s aunt (step-daughter of Pricilla McLaren), Helen Rabagliati, MBE (née Bright McLaren) (1851-1934), was a local philanthropist and campaigner for improvements in health, women’s condition and political change. For example, she founded a hospice and a maternity home for young women. Another aunt, this time life-long spinster Agnes McLaren (1837-1913), was both a suffrage campaigner and a doctor. In the 1890s, Agnes began studying medicine in Montpellier and Dublin and thereafter practiced as a GP in France. She joined the roman Catholic Church in 1898 and campaigned for Catholic nuns to be trained for medical missions abroad (an aim fulfilled after her death.) In addition, Ottilie’s cousin, Laura McLaren (1881-1964), the daughter of Charles McLaren, 1st Baron Aberconway (1850-1934), was also an activist and was awarded the Mons Star and mentioned in despatches for her work in running a hospital in France during the first months of the First World War. She was also a Trustee of Imperial War Museum and Justice of the Peace for London.

Florence McLaren

Florence Priscilla McLaren- by Bassano Ltd, 1917 
© National Portrait Gallery, London


By Alison C Kay





National Library of Scotland: MS 21504, cl2 and MS 21505, c53


‘Mrs Ottilie Helen Wallace’, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011 (Last accessed May 16th, 2015)


Carson, Valerie (1999), ‘A Protean Spirit’: William Wallace: artist, composer and catalyst. Durham theses: MA, 1999, Durham University. E-Theses online:

“His father’s sense of betrayal is evident in the surviving family letters at the National Library of Scotland, and it would appear that his outlet for these feelings was in the form of rage and verbal abuse. Their differences of opinion were a recurring cause of contention between the two men, in spite of the son’s redeeming claim that he had saved his father’s life after an operation where he lost a finger, in about 1891.” [National Library of Scotland: MS 21504, cl2 and MS 21505, c53]


Sian Reynolds, Paris-Edinburgh: Cultural Connections in the Belle Epoque (Ashgate, 2007).


A Gude cause maks a strong arm’: Biographical sketches of leading figures in the women’s suffrage movement around the time of the Edinburgh procession and women’s demonstration of 1909. (Edinburgh Council) [Last accessed: May 16th, 2015.]

All Creatures Great and Plagued: a Scottish Veterinary Surgeon in America


© Manitoba Archives.

British Boundary Commission Officers; among them are astronomers, geographers and a Scottish veterinary surgeon, named W.G. Boswell (sitting front row, far right, whip in hand). 

The American Frontier has been a draw for children and adults around the globe ever since European empires began to steal their way into North America. With its mesmeric mix of romance, lawlessness, exploration, industry and brutal wars (pitched between Europeans, Native Americans Mexicans and the newly established American nationals), it became a myth in its own time and a draw for adventurers of every ilk and nationality. This includes a fascinating Dundee veterinary surgeon, James Wighton Booth (1850-92), who also worked in North America and Canada in the 1870s. This was a time when the veterinary profession was establishing itself globally and his family’s history may be closely linked to their professional experiences of that time.

The Dundee Trade Directory of 1850 lists his father, George Booth (1818-68), as veterinary surgeon at Meadowside Road, Dundee. At this time, veterinary surgeons were derogatorily called ‘Horse doctors’ and polite society considered them largely with the illiterate and labouring classes. Nevertheless, it was a fledgling profession in George’s lifetime. A Royal Charter in 1844 recognised veterinary surgeons as a profession and gave colleges the power to administer examinations. Almost three decades after the Medical Act, there also came the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1881, which legally ratified the qualified practitioner. Although George may have been untrained – as were many practising veterinary surgeons – he may also have been one of the pioneering veterinary surgeons who qualified at Scotland’s first veterinary college. William Dick was the son of an Aberdeenshire farrier, but he established the Clyde Street Veterinary College in Edinburgh in 1839. A contemporary description of William Dick’s lectures noted that above his head was ‘suspended a portion of inflated and injected intestine, with its mesenteric expansion dangling in the air, something like a lure for flies; whilst all around the room, and especially in the corners, are heaped together vast quantities of diseased bones, and other preparations, seemingly without order, and without arrangement.’ From inauspicious beginnings the College gained global renown, later becoming The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Similarly to William Dick, George Booth was born in Aberdeenshire, the son of Alexander, a blacksmith, before moving to Dundee in the 1830s. George married Margaret Buist and together they had 3 children: Margaret, Christina and James. Whilst Margaret has proved elusive to trace, Christina had two illegitimate children with David Inglis Rea, a forest labourer from Glamis, Forfarshire. Of those, George Rea Booth (1865-1909) rose to Master Mariner, but, speculatively, perhaps his scandalous birth may have hastened his grandfather’s death – George (snr) died of ‘supposed…cramp of the heart.’ Christina and her two children continued to live with the widowed Margaret. George’s son, James Wighton Booth, meanwhile had trained as a veterinary surgeon, and in 1872 he is listed as veterinary surgeon, 30 Meadow Place, Dundee.

James married Isabella Paton (c1850-1883) in 1870, in accordance with the Free Church in Dundee. They had at least six children, of which two were born in the USA, one in Canada and the rest in Scotland. Emigrating Scots were not unusual for this time, nor were the Booths’ destinations. Nonetheless, James’ occupation as a veterinary surgeon, and the fact that he returned to Scotland to continue practising, do indicate a less than usual story. To the vexing conundrum of image and reality that all historians face, it immediately poses the question of what sort of veterinary surgeon was James Wighton Booth?

Even as the Wild West was waning, American ‘heroes and villains’ were using media and international touring to bring the symbolism of their young nation to the rest of the world. For example, there is a striking image (held in Birmingham City Archives) of William F. Cody – a.k.a. Buffalo Bill – parading his Wild West show through the streets of Birmingham in 1900. A postmodern eye just cannot help to be entranced by the convoluting layers of constructed reality, nationalism, imagery and ‘history’ working in tandem. Hollywood renditions of the Wild West have placed the clash between image and reality in our international subconscious, but this seems a universe away from Dundee and its Jute manufacturing citadel. It is tempting to imagine an Elliot-esque ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ ‘Vet’ relocating from a Scottish idyll to the wilds of North America. But perhaps his travels were likely to have been a little more down to earth, if no less exciting.

In the 1860s and 1870s, North America and Canada were suffering from what was commonly called ‘bovine plague’. The nation’s livestock was valued at multi-millions of US dollars (billions in today’s terms) and the annual loss hampered economic growth. At this time, the huge cattle drives, made famous in countless mid-twentieth century Hollywood blockbusters, were re-directed and blocked by local ranchers and farmers. The context explains the antipathy towards cattle drivers who left devastated cattle in their wake – and huge economic losses. Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois all suffered huge losses, leading to some states prohibiting the driving of cattle through their lands. The birthplaces of three of James’ children place him tantalising close to the epicentre of America’s ‘bovine plague’: Canada (1872); 1874 Michigan (1874); 1875 Ohio (1875).

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Source: Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual (London: Purnell & Sons, Ltd., 1959) © T.V. Boardman & Co., Ltd.

The US Department of Agriculture was founded in 1862 to analyse the impact of the diseases in North America. J.R. Dodge, a statistician, revealed that contagious pleuro-pneumonia was spreading westward and that cattle fever (a plight in Britain too) was causing loss of cattle across the nation. ‘Blackleg, abortion, glanders, distemper, anthrax and buffalo gnats’ were also causing severe loss of animals. Horses were also affected by a wide variety of diseases, and swine were so infected that Dodge considered them ‘unfit for consumption’. In turn, veterinary surgeons were commissioned and despatched from the UK to carry out research in the Americas, of which many had originated from (and qualified in) Scotland. For example, the Ontario Board of Agriculture visited Professor William Dick in Edinburgh because they were concerned about the plagues decimating European cattle. Dick suggested one of his graduates, Andrew Smith (1834-1910), who went out to Canada to advise and teach veterinary surgery, establishing the Ontario Veterinary College in 1862. Other Scottish ‘Vets’ founded institutes, such as Cornell University’s veterinary faculty, the veterinary department at Harvard University, Chicago Veterinary School and Montreal Veterinary College. This research is a work in progress, and, presently, we do not know what role James Booth played in this broader context, but it is tempting to imagine that he was in some capacity involved in this transnational veterinary history.


B.W. Bierer, A Short History of Veterinary Medicine in America (Michigan State University Press, 1955)

J.M. Isa and C.A.V. Barker, ‘Walter George Boswell: Veterinary Surgeon for the British North American Boundary Commission of 1872-76’, The Canadian Veterinary Journal 31 (1990): pp. 715-22.

S.D. Jones, Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and their Patients in Modern America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002)

RCVS Knowledge, an independent charity associated with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

University of Edinburgh, The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies:

Birmingham City archives

Dr. Kim Price