Broker to the British:
Francis Smith and Company
GENE M. GRESSLEY*
T HE BRITISH CAPITALIST OF THE VICTORIAN ERA, HIS BANK TALLY
swollen from the rewards of centuries of mercantilism,' indus-
trialism, economic imperialism," intensified his global search for lu-
crative investment rewards. By 1875 the British financier had invested
over an estimated 1.2 billion pounds in mines, land, and other ven-
tures in places with the strange sounding names of Dobrich and Pran
Buri. In another thirty-five years, British overseas investment would
increase by approximately 2.3 billion pounds."
These figures, more than any single fact, are indicative of the grime
and gloom of Victorian cities. The British entrepreneur scorned home
investment and the modernization of his industrial plant for one
starkly simple reason-profits. Speculation in India or America prom-
ised more pecuniary gain. Combine the low home capital input with
the decline in technology, the failure to develop new markets, and
the unprogressive attitude of the British capitalist toward change,'
and there should be little mystery surrounding the poor economic
performance of the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. In
absolute terms, the British economy was gaining at a fair rate, but
vis-a-vis the world economy, the relative decline was startling."
*Mr. Gressley is director of the Western History Research Center at the University of
1A redefinition of mercantilism can be found in Jacob Viner, "Power versus Plenty as
Objectives of Foreign Policy in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," World Politics,
I (October, 1948), 1-29, and Charles Wilson, "Mercantilism: Some Vicissitudes of an
Idea," The Economic History Review, X (December, 1957), 181-188.
2The concept of imperialism has undergone intensive historiographical examination:
see John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, "Imperialism of Free 'tlade," The Economic
History Review, VI (No. 1, 1953), 1-15, and Richard Koebner and Helmut Dan Schmidt,
Imperialism: the Story and Significance of a Political Word, z84o-96o (Cambridge, 1964).
"William Henry Bassano Court, A Concise Economic History of Britain from x750 to
Recent Times (Cambridge, 1954), 317, 326.
'R. H. Aldcroft, "The Entrepreneur and the British Economy, 1870-1914," The Economic
History Review, XVII (August, 1964), 113-134.
5The summaries of Britain's economic situation in the nineteenth century are abundant;
some are useful: John Harold Clapham, An Economic History of Modern Britain (3 vols.;
Cambridge, 1930-1938) ; Court, A Concise Economic History of Britain from i75o to Recent
Times; and William Ashworth, An Economic History of England, z87o-z939 (London,
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 71, July 1967 - April, 1968. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117145/. Accessed May 6, 2015.