Turtle Bunbury

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HISTORY

HEROES AND VILLAINS

Frank DuBédat – A President Avec Tache

Many of the leading financial families in 19th century Ireland descended from the wily French Huguenots who set themselves up as merchant princes in Dublin in the early 18th century. Amongst these were the La Touches, whose bank lives on today as the Bank of Ireland, and the DuBédats whose stock-broking firm W.G. DuBédat & Sons was one of the oldest and most respected in the city. The family motto was ‘Sans Tache’, meaning ‘Without Stain’, but in 1890, the truth of that motto was to be seriously called into doubt. Frank (Francis E) DuBédat was born in 1851 and went on to succeed his father as head of the family stock-broking firm, head-quartered at 2 Foster Place, Dublin. In 1880, Frank was elected President of the Dublin Stock Exchange.

As President, this man of ‘an ancient and honourable name’ became involved in several mining and manufacturing concerns which went bust. The 20-stone charmer became increasingly edgy and was considered a reckless speculator. He had large dealings in Bristol brewery and American Brewery shares and Irish Distillery Shares, all of which were in decline, and he sustained considerable loss in Hammond’s Meat shares.

On 30 December 1890, his company was declared bankrupt. However, the President of the Irish Stock Exchange was already on the run. Knowing the game was up, he had managed to cash two checks worth £1000 before sailing from London to South Africa. Meanwhile, investigations got underway and it soon became apparent that DuBédat had debts of over £100,000. An impressive litany of misdemeanours emerged. In 1887, he had invested and lost £2000 of his clients money in the Waterford & Limerick Railway Company. He had kept rooms in Paris and his lavish lifestyle betrayed a fondness for theatre. For a long time he traded on the fact that DuBédat owned 3,325 shares in the Indianapolis Brewery; it transpired these had been sold on almost as soon as they bought them. 1890 was a terrible year for stock-brokers. Frank DuBédat twirled his moustache and watched his investments go up in smoke, one after another. The men who had helped build ‘Frankfort’, his ‘magnificent new mansion’ in Killiney, must have muttered about where he would find the money. In the end, DuBédat ran.

An honest man, said the Judge, would have faced the music. But DuBédat had made a ‘rush for riches, and the race of greed, as too often happens, ended in ruin to himself, and bitter misery to many-in benefit to none’. DuBédat returned from South Africa to face trial in July 1891. The Times described him as ‘bronzed and healthy-looking, and there was nothing in his appearance when he entered the dock today to suggest that he had undergone much mental suffering since his departure’.

The Judge seems to have been a family friend of sorts and underlined how it was his painful duty to pass sentence on a man who had ‘occupied a foremost position in the commercial life of the city … and had acquired the friendship of many of the prominent citizens’. But friendship was certainly put aside. DuBédat was given 12 months hard labour for absconding from Ireland with money that was not his. Rather more seriously, the Judge slammed him for abusing his position as President – a role with which he had been granted the utmost confidence and trust of the Irish people – and sentenced him to a further seven years penal servitude. Not surprisingly, DuBédat was ‘greatly affected during the delivery of the sentence’ and then removed. He returned to South Africa where he became involved in a number of other frauds. He died penniless in the tiny village of Kommetjie on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa in 1919.[1]


See: "The DuBedat Story, Killiney to Kommetjie," Maria Wootton, paperback, (1999, Tram Cottage Productions, Gray's Lane, Howth, Co. Dublin).

FOOTNOTES

[1] He was married twice. His first wife, Rosa Waterhouse, was a daughter of Samuel Swinburne Waterhouse, gold and silversmith appointed to Queen Victoria. His second wife was an actress. He had four children, two by each marriage.

With thanks to Eneclann.

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