Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bankruptcy in England in the early nineteenth century

Shrewsbury Prison main entrance
Shrewsbury Prison main entrance
It seems that my fourth great grandfather, William Pulteney Dana (1776-1861), went bankrupt and was gaoled for it. Notices in the London Gazette include insolvency and I found some concerning William Dana that give some of the story of his financial experience. The Gazette commenced in 1665 and is now digitised and searchable. 

(On their own Petitions.)
Recorded in The Gazette (London Gazette), Publication date: 18 August 1840 Issue: 19885 Pages: 1921-2 retrieved from
A few months later he was out of gaol and living in lodgings. We learn that as well as being on half-pay from the army, Dana was running a printing business.

Recorded in The Gazette (London Gazette), Publication date: 13 November 1840 Issue: 19913 Pages: 2558-9 retrieved from
Some months later his case was adjourned.

Recorded in The Gazette (London Gazette), Publication date: 5 March 1841 Issue: 19958 Pages: 627-8retrieved from
I have found no further mentions of the case. I assume Dana settled his debts. At the time of the 1851 and 1861 censuses he was living with his married daughter and her husband in a terrace house in Shrewsbury. It would seem his finances did not recover.  It was quite different to living in Roughton Hall.

Bankruptcy featured a lot in Victorian literature. Charles Dickens's character of Mr Micawber springs to mind. In 1824 Charles Dickens's father, John Dickens, was imprisoned for debt under the Insolvent Debtors Act of 1813. It wasn't until 1869 that debtors no longer went to prison. For a brief history of insolvency law in England the Wikipedia article at is useful. However I found the chapter on the subject of Bankruptcy, Debt and Money lending in What Jane Austen ate and Charles Dickens knew : fascinating facts of daily life in the nineteenth century by Daniel Poole very readable and informative.

Pool, Daniel What Jane Austen ate and Charles Dickens knew : fascinating facts of daily life in the nineteenth century. Robinson, London, 1998.

Earlier this month, Susan Donaldson wrote about a book on Victorian life and this is another but containing many references to novels of the era. Bankruptcy and debt featured in many novels and this presumably was based on the experiences of living in the era. My forebear was one of those who experienced this misery.

Anne Young blogging at


  1. oh looking forward to reading WJAAandCDK! Thanks for to info.

  2. Fascinating! Great post, thank you!

  3. Thank you, Anne, for mention of my last post. Your article was fascinating, on two accounts - I too discovered an entry in the London Gazette of the bankruptcy of an ancestral connection who unfortunately later committed suicide - I traced a report of this in British Newspapers Online. . (See my March post), I was interested too, in the Bridgenorth connection as my father grew up in Broseley near Ironbridge - the local historical society there has been particularly helpful in my research. .


Hello, thanks for leaving a comment on the World Wide Genealogy Blog. All comments are moderated because of pesky spammers!

Best wishes
World Wide Genealogy Team