[London: William Bowyer, 1728]. Broadside, 12 1/2 x 8 inches. Docket title printed on verso. Previously bound, stab holes in left margin. Old horizontal folds, light tanning to edges. Near fine. Item #WRCAM55100
In this rare broadside Robert Surman (c.1693-1759) sets forth an account of his role in the collapse of the South Sea Company, his cooperation in subsequent investigations, and appeals to the state for mercy in restoring his finances. The South Sea Company was founded in 1711 as a joint-stock company and private-public partnership to consolidate and reduce the national debt. In reality, it was an early get-rich-quick scheme. The Crown granted the company a monopoly on trade in South America and nearby islands, even though Britain was involved in the War of Spanish Succession and Spain and Portugal controlled most of the continent. However, international trade was never the real purpose of the company. Stock value quickly rose incredibly high, as a result of insider trading and speculation on debt consolidation, before crashing in 1720 to just about its original flotation price; the event was subsequently known as the South Sea Bubble. The results were catastrophic - many people were ruined, the national economy suffered, and a parliamentary inquiry followed. The state restructured the company and seized property and assets from disgraced company directors, and several government officials were impeached for corruption. In this appeal Surman maintains he was only a junior officer with the company, serving as Deputy Cashier and that he did not benefit directly from the bubble. Although he complied with Parliament's investigation and voluntarily forfeited his estate, he had only received an allowance of £5000, substantially less than he had started with (he fails to mention that that the company benefited significantly from his banking expertise, and that his uncle, Robert Knight, was Chief Cashier). While it does not appear that Parliament fulfilled his request, Surman managed to get back on his feet quite quickly, finding work with Martin's Bank. In 1724, he purchased the Valentines Mansion, and by 1731 Surman was listed as a bank partner along with James Martin, James Leaver, and Richard Stone; by 1744, he had a bank of his own. A rare survival of a surprisingly familiar plea for leniency from an inside player. We could find no copies in U.S. libraries; ESTC lists only three copies: two at the British Library and one at the Guildhall Library. ESTC T12370.