Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814

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The Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 was a hoax or fraud centered on false information about the Napoleonic Wars, affecting the London Stock Exchange in 1814.

The du Bourg hoax[edit]

On the morning of Monday, 21 February 1814, a uniformed man posing as Colonel du Bourg, aide-de-camp to Lord Cathcart, arrived at the Ship Inn at Dover, England, bearing news that Napoleon I of France had been killed and the Bourbons were victorious. Requesting this information to be relayed on to the Admiralty in London via semaphore telegraph, "Colonel du Bourg" proceeded on toward London, stopping at each inn on the way to spread the good news.[1] Three "French officers" dressed in Bourbon uniforms were also seen celebrating in London, and proclaiming the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.

Effects on the stock market[edit]

Rumours of Napoleon's defeat had been circulating throughout the month, and the combined events had a significant impact on the London Stock Exchange. The value of government securities soared in the morning, after the news from Dover began to circulate among traders at the Exchange. Lacking official confirmation of the news, prices began to slide after the initial rush, only to be further propped up at noon by the French officers and their handbills.[clarification needed]

However, the entire affair was a deliberate hoax. In the afternoon, the government confirmed that the news of peace was a fabrication. The affected stocks' prices immediately sank to their previous levels.


The Committee of the Stock Exchange, suspecting deliberate stock manipulation, launched an investigation into the hoax. It was soon discovered that there had been a sale that Monday of more than £1.1 million of two government-based stocks, most of it purchased the previous week. Eight people were eventually convicted of conspiracy to defraud, including Lord Cochrane, a Radical member of Parliament and well-known naval hero, his uncle the Hon. Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, Richard Butt, Lord Cochrane's financial advisor, and Captain Random de Berenger, who had posed both as du Bourg and as one of the French officers. Six, including those involved in the purchases, were tried, and sentenced to twelve months of prison time, with the most prominent also sentenced to the public pillory; fines were also imposed.[2] Lord Cochrane was stripped of his naval rank and expelled from the Order of the Bath and from the House of Commons.

Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone fled the country after hearing the verdict of the trial.[3]

Culpability of Lord Cochrane[edit]

Though convicted of the fraud, Lord Cochrane continued to assert his innocence. In 1816, he brought an (unsuccessful) charge of "partiality, misrepresentation, injustice and oppression" against Lord Ellenborough, the presiding judge in his case. Popular opinion certainly backed Cochrane; his sentencing was followed by his re-election unopposed to the House of Commons for Westminster. The pillory portion of his sentence was dropped, for fear of public reaction. Due to public outcry over his treatment, the punishment of the pillory was limited to those found guilty of perjury in England and Wales in 1816. Its use was completely discontinued in 1837 in England and Wales (though the stocks, a similar device, were used over the rest of the nineteenth century).

Lord Cochrane continued to petition the government for redress; in 1832, he was granted a free pardon, including reinstatement to his rank of Rear Admiral. Restoration of the Order of the Bath and other honours followed in the subsequent decades, and, in 1877, a Select committee found that his treatment since 1832 constituted "nothing less than a public recognition by those Governments of his innocence."

Lord Cochrane's culpability has been a subject of continued debate. In 1965, the judge Henry Cecil set out an argument that supported Lord Cochrane's guilt in A Matter of Speculation: The Case of Lord Cochrane; Brian Vale's 2004 book The Audacious Admiral Cochrane also argues for his guilt.[4] In his 1981 PhD thesis, John Sugden argued that "the question of his guilt cannot satisfactorily be resolved."[5] Two other historians, Christopher Lloyd in 1947,[6] and David Cordingly in 2007,[4] concluded that Lord Cochrane was innocent.

Literary references[edit]

Security speculation based on allegedly accurate news delivered by semaphore telegraph forms a plot event in the novel The Count of Monte Cristo (published 1844).

The Great Stock Exchange Fraud forms the basis for the 11th novel in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series, The Reverse of the Medal (published 1986).

The Great Stock Exchange Fraud is a key plot element in Katherine Cowley's The True Confessions of a London Spy (published 2022).[7]


In the terminology of 1814, stocks refer to interest-bearing securities of the type that are today called bonds. The fraud particularly involved government bearer bond instruments called 'Omniums', which were partly-paid government bonds, where the purchaser initially only had to pay 10% or 15% of the face value and later made further installment payments. This feature gave the securities a great deal of price volatility, as a small change in the value of the fully-paid bonds would represent a much greater change in the value of the partly-paid Omniums.[10]


  1. ^ Justin Pollard (2011). Secret Britain: The Hidden Bits of Our History. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-1848541986.
  2. ^ William Brodie Gurney (June 1814). The Trial of Charles Random de Berenger, Sir Thomas Cochrane et al (2007 ed.). Project Gutenberg. p. 600. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  3. ^ Cordingly, David (2007). Cochrane The Dauntless: The Life and Adventures of Thomas Cochrane. Great Britain: Bloomsbury. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-7475-8545-9.
  4. ^ a b Cordingly, David (2007). Cochrane The Dauntless: The Life and Adventures of Thomas Cochrane. Great Britain: Bloomsbury. p. 359. ISBN 978-0-7475-8545-9.
  5. ^ Sugden, John (1981). Lord Cochrane, naval commander, radical inventor (1775-1860) : a study of his earlier career, 1775-1818 (phd thesis). University of Sheffield.
  6. ^ Lloyd, Christopher (1947). Lord Cochrane, Seaman, Radical, Liberator: A Life of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald. New York: Holt. p. 190. ISBN 978-0805055696.
  7. ^ "The Big Idea: Katherine Cowley". Whatever. 3 March 2022. Retrieved 5 March 2022.
  8. ^ Piero Sraffa, Piero. Ricardo in Business - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo. Vol. 10 Biographical Miscellany [1795]. p. 77.
  9. ^ Climateer Investing (16 January 2011). "How The Richest Economist In History Got That Way". Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  10. ^ These are described in [8] also discussed in [9]

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