Aviva and Sir Walter Scott
05 Mar 2014
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
As part of our conservation programme we have recently arranged for work to be undertaken on the life policy taken out with Edinburgh Life Assurance Co. by the novelist Sir Walter Scott in December 1824.
The conservation of this item has not only slowed the deterioration of the paper and secured its survival for future use but the work carried out has revealed endorsements giving further information on events in Scott’s life. These endorsements had been hidden by the board on which the policy had been mounted at some point in its history to allow it to be framed.
Not knowing anything about Scott beyond his association with some of our constituent companies and his authorship of the Waverley novels I set out to see what I could find out about the people and events mentioned in the endorsements. This research has shown that they add interesting snippets to the information available concerning Scott’s actions following his financial insolvency in 1826 on the failure of Archibald Constable, his publisher, and the Ballantyne Press, his printers and a firm in which he was a partner.
After the collapse of these firms Scott was held responsible for about £121,000 of the liabilities and chose to write himself out of debt by pledging the future income from all his publications to a trust established to repay his creditors. The endorsements discovered on his life policy show that in February 1826 in the weeks following his financial ruin he assigned the policy, which was for £2000, to David Hogarth of Hilton. Scott’s journal entry for the date makes no mention of this but earlier entries include references to Hogarth who appears to have been a friend and advisor as well as the son-in-law of James Ballentyne, Scott’s partner in the failed printing business.
Two years later a further endorsement shows that, with the agreement of Hogarth and Scott’s trustees, James Jollie and John Gibson, half the policy was assigned to Robert Cadell as manager and trustee of Cadell & Co. Booksellers of Edinburgh. Cadell, formerly involved in the collapsed publishing firm of Archibald Constable, had become one of Scott’s principal publishers.
The next endorsement refers to the voyage Scott undertook in October 1831 to Malta and Naples on HMS Barham under Captain Arthur Pigot for which he had to pay an additional premium of 10 shillings. Details of this voyage, and the trip to Naples, which was organised to improve his failing health, are given in Scott’s journal. Sadly the trip did not restore him to fitness and he returned to Abbotsford to die on 21st September 1832. In an interesting aside the Douglas hotel Edinburgh, where he rested before his final trip home, was on the site of what later became the head office of another group company, The Scottish Union and National.
The final endorsement on the life policy confirms that the sum of £2,000 was paid to David Hogarth in January 1833. By the time of his death Scott had managed, at the cost of his health, to pay back all but £53,000 of his debts and the balance was settled in 1847 with sale of his remaining copyrights.
The Aviva group archive holds hundreds of items which provide glimpses of the fascinating stories of the customers and staff of our constituent companies. It is interesting to discover that the material we hold can even add to the information available on someone as written about as Scott.