JAMES WILLIAM GILBART, though of Cornish de-scent, was born in London, March 21, 1794. The name of Gilbart is said to be peculiar to Cornwall; Gilbert is common to several other counties.
In the year 1813, when nineteen years of age, he entered, as junior clerk, a London bank, there remaining until the panic of December, 1825, when that establishment, and several others, were compelled to stop payment - the bank in which Mr. Gilbart had been engaged, paying all its creditors in full, with interest, a few months afterwards, though it did not resume business. He was for several years during this period a member of a debating society called the " Athenian," of which the Right Hon. M. T. Baines, Edward Baines, Esq., M.P., Edwin Chadwick, Esq., C.B., Baron Channell, and several gentlemen afterwards at the Bar, were also members. He was subsequently a member of the "Union Society" - a debating club formed in 1825, by Mr. John Stuart Mill, and of which Lord Macaulay was a member. About this time Mr. Gilbart assisted in the formation of the City of London Literary and Scientific Institution, the first of the kind de-bigned for the education of the middle classes, and in furtherance of the views entertained by him he became a liberal contributor to the popular periodicals issued at a price within the reach of all.
Consequent upon the stoppage of the bank alluded to, Mr. Grilbart accepted the place of cashier to a large firm in Birmingham; but the occupation being distasteful to him, he resigned it.
In the beginning of 1827 he returned to London, and published his first book on Banking - "A Practical Treatise on Banking; containing an Account of the London and Country Banks, a view of the Joint-stock Banks of Scotland and Ireland, with a Summary of the Evidence delivered before the Parliamentary Committees, relative to the Suppression of Notes under Five Pounds in those Countries." A few months after the publication of this work, Mr. Gilbart was appointed Manager of the Provincial Bank of Ireland, and opened a branch at Kilkenny.
In 1829 he was promoted to the managership of a larger branch at Waterford.
There, as at Kilkenny, Mr. Grilbart published in the local papers various articles on Banking, with the object of circulating a correct knowledge of the system introduced; and associating himself with several gentlemen of influence, he established the Waterford Literary and Scientific Institution, on the plan of the Institution in the City of London, already referred to; besides which he found time to give a series of lectures on subjects so varied and ex. tensive, that those who knew how industriously and inde-fatigably he applied himself to his daily duties, were at a loss to imagine how he could find opportunities to acquire such knowledge. He delivered ten lectures during the first session of the society. Of these, five were upon "Ancient Commerce," comprising the commerce of Egypt,
Greece, Koine, Tyre, and Carthage, and that of the ancients with the East ladies. The subjects of the remaining five were, "The Philosophy of Language," "The Means of Preserving the Sight," "The Agriculture of the West of England," "Scientific Terms," and "The Commerce of Waterford." While he was thus engaged, his professional labours were signally successful, and his reputation for prudence, intelligence, and ability becoming known in London, he received an invitation which induced him to leave Ireland, and settle in the metropolis. It was in 1833 that a Committee was formed for the establishment of the first Joint-stock bank in London. Almost the first consideration of the Committee was to seek an efficient manager. Without having any personal knowledge whatever of Mr. Gilbart, and guided entirely by his reputation in Ireland, in union probably with that derived from his writings, they made him an offer to become their manager. Having received another invitation from a similar establishment then in the course of formation, Mr. Gilbart came to London, and, after an interview with both parties, engaged with the London and Westminster Bank, on the 10th of October, 1833 - signing the first letters of allotment of shares on the following day. Mr. Gilbart's antecedents were well calculated to qualify him for this appointment. He had been thirteen years in a London bank, by which he had acquired a perfect knowledge of banking, being, moreover, favourably known as an author on the subject; besides which he had for six years and a half fulfilled the onerous duties of manager in a Joint-stock bank - a young establishment which had to contend against popular ignorance and a chartered rival - which two opponents, a new bank in London, founded on similar principles, would probably have to encounter. The London and Westminster Bank was opened March 10, 1834.
As the General Manager from the commencement of the bank, Mr. Gilbart had to withstand the violent opposition of interested and influential bodies which met its rise and early progress. He had to conquer the apathy and distrust of the public, and to contend against law proceedings, injunctions, adverse bills in parliament, and other formidable difiiculties. All were successfully overcome, and at length he had the satisfaction of seeing the bank to a remarkable extent prosper. Year by year it increased in importance, until it became one of the largest and richest Joint-stock banks in the kingdom. An excellently-written history of the undertaking was produced by Mr. Gilbart in 1847, which was printed for private circulation.
About two years after the opening of the bank, a spirit of general speculation arose which became directed towards the establishment of Joint-stock banks throughout the country. It being thought that some of these new banks might appoint the London and Westminster Bank to be their agent, Mr. Gilbart assisted in the formation of several.
To secure the right to attend their meetings, he took shares, and urged upon all the shareholders and directors the advantage of connecting their business relations in London with London Joint-stock banks. The London and Westminster Bank thus obtained a large and valuable country connection.
In this year the directors, under the advice of Mr. Gilbart, opened several branches in London.
In June, 1837, Mr. Gilbart was examined as a witness before the Committee of the House of Commons upon Joint-stock banks.
This Committee was appointed "to inquire into the operation of the Acts permitting the establishment of Joint- stock banks in England and Ireland, under certain restrictions, and the expediency of making any amendment in the provisions of those Acts." The Committee had made a hostile report in 1836, but this session they resolved only to report evidence. In the course of the same year the Bank of England obtained an injunction against the London and Westminster, prohibiting their accepting any bills drawn at less than six months after date. It was supposed that this decision would be fatal to the connection of the country banks, but it was not so. When in Ireland, Mr. Gilbart had seen bills drawn by the Bank of Ireland upon the Bank of England, "without acceptance," and it occurred to him that the country establishments might draw upon the London and Westminster Bank in the same manner. With the sanction of his directors, he visited all the country banks, and made the suggestion. It was universally adopted, and consequently the London and Westminster Bank lost none of its connections.
The "Association of Joint-stock Banks" was formed in the latter part of 1838, and all such establishments in England, Wales, and Ireland, were invited to attend a public meeting in London. This meeting appointed from their number a Committee "to communicate with the Government, and to promote the passing of such laws as might be beneficial to Joint-stock banks."
This Committee was styled "The Committee of Deputies," and those members who resided in London were authorized to act, in ordinary matters, on behalf of the whole Committee. Mr. P. M. Stewart, M.P., a Director of the London and Westminster Bank, was Chairman; Mr. Oliver Vile, the Manager of the Westminster Branch of the London and Westminster Bank, was the Honorary Secretary, and the circulars to the banks and the correspondence were written chiefly by Mr. Gilbart.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time was Mr. Spring Rice (Lord Monteagle), who had been a Director of the Provincial Bank of Ireland during the time that Mr. Gilbart was Manager, and the Government being thus readily accessible on banking questions, several important improvements in the laws respecting Joint-stock banks were passed on the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In consequence of the pressure of 1839, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1840, "To inquire into the effects produced on the circulation of the country by the various Banking establishments issuing notes payable on demand." Mr. Vincent Stuckey, of Bristol, and Mr. Gilbart, represented, by request, the English Joint-stock banks, and received the thanks of those companies for the manner in which they had given their evidence.
In 1844, Sir Robert Peel passed his Bill, renewing the Charter of the Bank of England, and regulating other banks; by this enactment, the London and Westminster, and other similar banks, acquired the power of suing and being sued by their public officer, and to accept bills at less than six months after date.
Another pressure on the money market occurred in 1847, when both houses appointed a Committee of Inquiry, the chief question being - "Whether the pressure of 1847 was produced in whole or in part by the Act of 1844?" To this Mr. Gilbart gave an answer in the fifth edition of his "Practical Treatise" published in 1849, a work dedicated to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, a sixth edition following in 1859.
A prize of £100 was offered by Mr. Gilbart in January, 1851, for the best essay "On the Adaptation of Recent Inventions collected at the Great Exhibition of 1851, to the purposes of Practical Banking." The prize was gained by Mr. Granville Sharp, of Norwich. In 1854, the object for which Mr. Gilbart had frequently contended, viz., the admission of the Joint-stock banks into the clearing-house, was attained. In 1859, he published his "Logic of Banking."
In the course of the same year, the Directors of the Bank, in acknowledgment of his long and eminent services, passed a resolution to allow him to retire at the close of the year, with a pension of £1,500 per annum; and on their recommendation, he was appointed an extra director in anticipation of the next vacancy.
Mr. Gilbart received further gratifying tokens of the estimation in which he was held.
Prior to his departure from Waterford, the Members of the Literary and Scientific Institution requested him to sit for his portrait to be placed in the Lecture-room, - complimentary resolutions passed being accompanied by a letter from the President.
In the year 1846, a service of plate was presented to him by the Joint-stock banks, in acknowledgment of his exertions in favour of Joint-stock banking.
On the 10th of March, 1860, a testimonial of plate was presented to him by the officers of the London and "Westminster Bank on his retirement from the office of General Manager, an address accompanying it.
Mr. Gilbart was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a life member of several literary and scientific associations, and a Member of the Statistical Society, to which he contributed various valuable papers.
He died on the 8th day of August, 1863, in the 69th year of his age.