“Sewing Mr Bottomley?” “No, reaping”
Horatio Bottomley was orphaned when he was 4-years-old and, to combat his loneliness, developed a fantasy world, a world in which he lived all his life. He became a solicitor’s clerk, then joined a firm of legal shorthand writers, rising to become a partner. He began publishing weekly reports of the doings of local councils and managed to con money out of his advertisers.
By 1885, he owned the Catherine Street Publishing Association. Most businessmen are wary of splashing money they do not have on wild schemes but Bottomley was the opposite. In 1889 he floated the Hansard Publishing Union with £500,000 capital — more commonly known on the Stock Exchange as “Bottomley’s swindle”. In 1891, he filed for bankruptcy and was charged with conspiracy to defraud, but was acquitted. He then founded the Joint Stock Trust and Institute which he used to float the Western Australian gold mining companies he now promoted. In little over ten years he promoted nearly 50 companies with a total capital of over £20,000,000. Bottomley liked to live beyond his means and he bought a villa in Monte Carlo, a country house in Sussex and a luxurious flat in Pall Mall. In 1898 he moved into horseracing, and also established a stable of mistresses. Between 1901 and 1905, 67 bankruptcy petitions and writs were filed against him.
In 1906 he was elected Liberal MP for Hackney South, his third attempt at getting into the House of Commons. He was not welcomed into the Commons and his maiden speech was heard in silence, though hard work and self-effacement did win him a few friends. The same year he became editor of his own weekly newspaper. John Bull, whose masthead claimed that it was written “without fear or favour, rancour or rant” was a success from its first issue in 1906. In 1909 he was successful in winning a fraud case lodged against him by the shareholders of the Joint Stock Trust and in 1910 he was re-elected twice as MP but his colleagues saw through him and he was treated as a pariah in the House.
In February 1912, the Prudential Assurance Company made a claim against him and Bottomley was forced into bankruptcy. He returned to Parliament in December 1918 as the independent member for Hackney South and the following year, raised £900,000 from readers of John Bull investing in government Victory Bonds —it was another scam. In March 1922 he was charged with fraudulent conversion and appeared at the Old Bailey. He pleaded “decidedly not guilty”. The jury disagreed and he was found decidedly guilty on 23 out of 24 counts and sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude. A prison visitor, chancing upon Bottomley working on mailbags, asked: “Ah, sewing Mr Bottomley?” to which he replied, “No, reaping.”
On 29 July 1927 Bottomley was released from Maidstone Prison after serving five years. He tried to start a new journal, John Blunt, and arranged a speaking tour. On 12 September 1932 he appeared at the Windmill Theatre, London in a variety show telling anecdotes to a puzzledcrowd. After a few nights, he collapsed on stage with a heart attack. He died of a stroke at the Middlesex Hospital, London on 26 May 1933.