- Richest of the Rich position: 165
- Birth/Death: 1776-1865
- Origin of wealth: Finance
- Wealth: £2.8m
- Net National Income: £768m
- Net National Income Percent: 0.36%
- In Today’s Money: £3.995 billion
The value of inside information was well demonstrated in 1812, by Richard Thornton, an insurer and merchant based in the City. Learning of the defeat of Napoleon at Moscow before the news was public, he secured a large contract for the delivery of Russian imports to Britain at peak wartime prices, even though with Napoleon on the retreat, the prices would inevitably fall. Thornton made a huge profit and earned the lasting sobriquet, ‘the Duke of Danzig’.
The son of a Yorkshire yeoman farmer, Thornton was educated in London and then apprenticed to his uncle, a hop merchant, before branching out on his own in 1798. The Napoleonic blockade and the British government’s need for naval stores offered exceptional opportunities for profit. Thornton ran blockade-braking armed merchantmen through the Baltic in 1810, and made a fortune in trade described as ‘the most lucrative in the world’. After the war ended, Thornton redirected his trading efforts to the East Indies, and became a financier supporting Spanish loans. By the 1840s, he was the leading merchant, financier, ship owner and marine insurance broker in the City.
He retired from active trading in the 1850s and died in 1865, at 89, leaving £2.8m in his will, one of the largest ever recorded up to that point. It represented 0.36% of the £768m net national income of the day. In today’s terms that would be £3.9bn.