From the files of the DIB…The broker baron

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2009), News, Volume 17

The broker baron

by C. J. Woods

DU BÉDAT, Francis Edward (1851–1919), stockbroker, was the third son of William George Du Bédat (1815–89), a stockbroker in College Green, Dublin, and his wife Anne Letitia, daughter of Thomas Copperthwaite of Dublin. He was brought up at Ballybrack House, Killiney, Co. Dublin, and was a brilliant pupil at Tipperary grammar school. In 1872, when he turned 20, he completed an apprenticeship in stockbroking and married Mary Rosa, eldest daughter of Samuel Swinburne Waterhouse of Glenalua House, Killiney, Co. Dublin, a silversmith whose firm made imitation antique Irish brooches. The marriage brought him a dowry of £3,000 and enabled him to move to Glenalua Lodge near the Waterhouses. Frank E. Du Bédat (the form of his name that he preferred) joined his father and elder brother, William (1850–76), in the family firm, which became known as William George Du Bédat & Sons, government stock and share brokers, with a prestigious address at 1 and 2 Foster Place, Dublin (beside the Bank of Ireland), and the motto ‘sans tâche’. After the premature death of his elder brother (1876) he took on more responsibility. His father’s death (February 1889) left him in sole charge.
A flamboyant, popular figure (known as ‘the baron’), Du Bédat travelled much and acquired a base in Paris. He was secretary and then (from 1889) treasurer of the French Huguenot fund—consisting of stocks and shares, which paid dividends, used to assist needy members. In 1889 he acquired a well-located house and lands at Killiney called Stoneleigh, which, with the expenditure of nearly £7,000 and the assistance of the Dublin architect Albert E. Murray, he extended and renamed Frankfort. Partly to pay for this work and for an extravagant lifestyle, he disregarded the financial rectitude for which the Du Bédats were known; he persuaded clients to let him sell their stocks and shares and purchase others upon which he converted the proceeds to his own benefit and made regular payments to the clients, pretending them to be dividends. He also fraudulently converted stocks and shares in the French Huguenot fund.
In October 1890, aged 40, he was elected president of the Dublin Stock Exchange; two months later the stock market crashed and Du Bédat was ruined, with debts of over £100,000. On 24 December he absconded; five days later the committee of the Dublin Stock Exchange declared him a defaulter and his firm was struck off the list of members. In June 1891 Frankfort was put up for auction by the Bank of Ireland and Du Bédat was arrested in Cape Town, South Africa, where he was living in a lodging house. Back in Dublin, he was tried on charges of bankruptcy and fraud, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour and seven years’ penal servitude (21 October 1891). He remained popular and many petitions for his release were presented, including one from his father-in-law, who himself had suffered serious loss as a result of Du Bédat’s dishonesty. On 30 November 1896, in poor health since his trial, he was released and some months later left Ireland for South Africa, where he set himself up in Johannesburg as a finance agent. He became associated with Emilio de Roure, who apparently was acting for a syndicate that had a concession from the Portuguese government of land at Delagoa Bay, a condition being that the syndicate should construct a pier or dock at Lorenzo Marques—the main port for the Rand. By the end of the year Du Bédat was back in Ireland with power of attorney for de Roure.
During the next few years he was in London obtaining investments for the Delagoa Bay concession. A Dublin barrister, Eustace Johnstone, became his agent in Ireland, where several Irish investors were found. In 1901 Du Bédat was living at Malahide, Co. Dublin, with a vivacious Brazilian actress known as Rosita Tennyson. Eleven days after Rosie Du Bédat’s death (6 November 1902) Frank Du Bédat and Rosita Martinez (her real name) married, he aged 51, she 27. The outbreak of war in South Africa in October 1899 disrupted Du Bédat’s plans: work on the pier did not begin and investors became restless. On 23 February 1903 Du Bédat and Johnstone were arrested in Dublin and seven months later were tried for fraud for falsely pretending to an investor that the Delagoa Bay concession was still in force when it had in fact been withdrawn by the Portuguese authorities. The pair denied knowledge of the withdrawal but were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. On 4 August 1904, fresh evidence having come before a judge, Du Bédat was released unconditionally after serving only one year. He returned to South Africa, settling at Kommetjie, a small fishing village on the Cape Peninsula. He died penniless on 20 July 1919 at his home there.
There are likely allusions to Du Bédat in Shaw’s The doctor’s dilemma and to his second wife in Joyce’s Ulysses.

C. J. Woods was formerly an editorial assistant with the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography.

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