South Sea Company: Letters of attorney

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Letters of attorney given by holders of South Sea stock in Amsterdam, The Hague and Geneva to London merchants respecting their stock, 1731-1739.

Administrative / Biographical History

The South Sea Company was founded in 1711 to trade (mainly in slaves) with Spanish America, on the assumption that the War of the Spanish Succession, then drawing to a close, would end with a treaty permitting such trade. The company's stock sold well, but the Treaty of Utrecht made with Spain in 1713, was less favourable than had been hoped, imposing an annual tax on imported slaves and allowing the company to send only one ship each year for general trade. The success of the first voyage in 1717 was only moderate, but King George I of Great Britain became governor of the company in 1718, creating confidence in the enterprise, which was soon paying 100 percent interest. In 1720 there was an incredible boom in South Sea stock, as a result of the company's proposal, accepted by Parliament, to take over the national debt. The company expected to recoup itself from expanding trade, but chiefly from the foreseen rise in the value of its shares. By September the market had collapsed, and by December South Sea shares had plummeted in value, dragging other, including government, stock with them. Many investors were ruined, and the House of Commons ordered an inquiry, which showed that at least three ministers had accepted bribes and speculated. Many of the company's directors were disgraced, but the company itself survived until 1853, having sold most of its rights to the Spanish government in 1750.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the supervised environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Access to archive collections may be restricted under the Freedom of Information Act. Please contact the University Archivist for details. 24 hours notice is required for research visits.

Acquisition Information

Many of the papers were in the collection of Edmund Waller, and were acquired in 1912 from the Waller family. MS 394 was bought from Myers and Co in 1953.

Other Finding Aids

A calendar of documents in MS 89 and 218 is available in Reginald Arthur Rye Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Autograph letters in the University Library (1921).

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Sarah Smith as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project. Date(s) of descriptions: Aug 2000.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.

Corporate Names