Fact stranger than Fiction

Peter Thellusson was a was a Swiss businessman and banker who was a director of the Bank of England, part owner of several sugar refineries, and an importer of tobacco and sugar from the West Indies.

After his death his substantial estate was embroiled in the Thellusson Will Case, as he had written an unusual Will leaving his estate in trust for his great grandchildren.

Following protracted legal action known as the Thellusson Will Case the Courts held that the ultimate beneficiaries, were the grandchildren of his eldest son Peter Isaac Thelluson, and one of his other sons, Charles. As a result of the case, the Accumulations Act 1800, commonly known as the Thellusson Act, was passed which restricted the term that property could be accumulated following the death of the Will maker. In the United Kingdom the ability to accumulate property in an estate has been limited further through Legislation.

It has been argued the Thellusson Will case provided one of the examples for the fictional case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House.

Similarly it has been suggested that the litigation around Charles Day a boot blacking manufacturer who died in 1836 leaving a colossal fortune of between £350,000 and £450,000 inspired Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

Charles married Rebecca Peake and fathered one daughter Letitia Caroline, known as Caroline, with her. Caroline eloped with Horatio Claggett, a well-known “playboy” and serial bankrupt, in 1832.

Charles Day also fathered three “natural” sons. His will, was heavily contested for several years, incurring huge legal costs. . Proceedings were commenced in 1837 and not concluded until at least 1854. Rebecca lived in the family home with her daughter and son-in-law until her death in 1843.

Similarly some scholars suggest that Jarndyce v Jarndyce was based upon Jennens v Jennens. The estate of William Jennens a reclusive financier described as the “richest commoner in England” with a fortune worth in excess of £200 million today died in 1798 unmarried with

“A will was found in his coat-pocket, sealed, but not signed; [owing to] leaving his spectacles at home when he went to his solicitor for the purpose of duly executing it.”

A further complication was that William’s grandfather, Robert, had married twice and named sons from each marriage William. Proceedings in the Courts of Chancery began in 1798 when those believing themselves relatives of William Jennens came forward to claim the inheritance.

William was a loan shark; who conducted his business in London, including lending to gamblers in the casinos. He died intestate. Legislation such as The Act of 1664 made gambling debts of £100 unenforceable, the Act of 1710 made debts of £10 unenforceable and the Act of 1854 finally made all debts unenforceable. 

Jennens v Jennens, was abandoned in 1915 (117 years later) when the legal fees had exhausted the estate of funds.

Jarndyce v Jarndyce is a literary device used to satirize the English judicial system, although criticised by the legal profession the novel helped support a judicial reform movement, which lead to the enactment of the Judicature Acts in the 1870s




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