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Thomas Leyland

Thomas Leyland
The Liverpool merchant and banker Thomas Leyland was one of the wealthiest people in the town, his fortune at the time of his death in 1827 was more than £736,000.

Thomas Leyland was born in Knowsley in 1752. Nothing is known about Leyland's early life, but by 1768 he was living in Liverpool where he worked for an Irish merchant, Gerald Dillon, with whom he went into partnership. In 1776, they won £20,000 in the state lottery and, by 1782, Leyland was in business on his own. and went on to become Mayor of Liverpool in 1798, 1814 and 1820. Young Thomas was a partner in the provisions trade in Water Street, importing Spanish and Portuguese goods.

Thomas tired of the day-to-day business and branched out into privateering. A privateer or "corsair" was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend treasury resources or commit naval officers. They were of great benefit to a smaller naval power or one facing an enemy dependent on trade: they disrupted commerce and pressured the enemy to deploy warships to protect merchant trade against commerce raiders. The cost was borne by investors hoping to profit from prize money earned from captured cargo and vessels. The proceeds would be distributed among the privateer's investors, officers, and crew. He was also involved in slaving – the latter generated much of Thomas Leylands huge wealth. As he became wealthier, Leyland's involvement in politics increased. Liverpool's government was dominated by slave traders in this period. By 1787, 37 of the 41 members of the Liverpool council were involved in some way in slavery and all of Liverpool's 20 lord mayors who held office between 1787 and 1807 were involved. Leyland was himself mayor three times between 1798 and 1820. 

He had a brig called Lottery which made regular scheduled voyages – Liverpool to Lagos to collect enslaved Africans, Lagos to Jamaica where they were sold sailing on from Jamaica to Liverpool. The profit on one voyage made by Leyland's slave ship 'Lottery' in 1798 was more than £12,000 (more than £900,000 today). In 1802, Leyland purchased the estate of Walton Hall north of Liverpool. In the same year he became a partner in the banking firm of Clarkes and Roscoe, which was an unusual alliance because William Roscoe was sympathetic towards the abolitionists. Leyland left after two months and established his own very successful bank. 

The residence of Thomas Leyland,
the Bank and Warehouse, in York Street 1807

With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, Thomas helped found Leyland and Bullin’s Bank in York Street, Liverpool. His business partner Richard Bullin had also invested in slaving. The bank was owned by the Leyland family until 1901. In 1908 it was taken over by Midland Bank, which was later absorbed by HSBC. When he died in 1827, he was one of the richest men in Britain.

On display in the International Slavery Museum, in the Merseyside Maritime Museum building, is the probate copy of Thomas’s will, , a large document written in copperplate.


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