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Saturday, 1 October 2011


I’ve been sifting through another bundle of letters from the writing desk of my 3x great uncle Charles Castle. This lot are from his niece Mary, who married the Rev Edmund Thomas Daubeny. To be honest, these letters, from early 1871, are rather dull as correspondence – concerned with a series of delays in the reinvestment of interest received on mortgages which Mary and her sister Augusta had funded with some sort of inheritance. Not my field, anyway! But as ever they are littered with fascinating references to the family and to the times they lived in.

Mary's sister Augusta married Edmund’s brother Albert James Hesketh Daubeny in 1866, a year after Mary and Edmund’s wedding. One imagines Albert in his dress uniform turning heads at the earlier occasion; he had joined the 12th Regiment of Foot in 1862 as an ensign and was working his way up through the ranks. By 1866 he was a lieutenant, and he eventually retired as a Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment.

Uniforms of the 12th Regiment of Foot in 1848
probably procured by Cox & Co, Army Agents

In 1870, just before the correspondence in front of me began, he was posted to India with their wife and their two children to date, Augusta (nearly four years old) and Margaret (two). Mary wrote to Charles in February 1871 of news from Augusta that they had “got over the effects of the climate, and are strong and well.”

Mary was saddled with having to sort out the financial complexities by herself on behalf of both her and her sister, about which she probably understood almost as little as I do. She turned to her uncle, who had a lifetime of business experience behind him and she was at great pains to get everything in writing, often repeating in her replies what she had understood from his letters to her.

The interests and dividends, when they did come, were easy enough to transfer to her account. But in the days of Empire before global banking, how to get Augusta’s share out to her in India? Needless to say, the British Army had a system.

Richard Cox (1718-1803) by Sir William Beechley
banker and freight agent to the British Army

It all started in 1758 when the Right Honourable John, Viscount Ligonier, colonel of the First Foot Guards appointed his secretary Richard Cox as a “military agent” with responsibility for paying Ligonier’s troops. Cox had been in Ligonier’s service for some 15 years and had an understanding of soldiers’ ways and requirements. Soon other regiments were taking advantage of his expertise not only in financial matters but in the shipping of property, the selling of officer commissions and the provision of uniforms and even armaments. By the time of Cox’s death in 1803, Cox & Co were bankers to virtually the whole of the British Army.

Cox’s grandson continued the business, expanding as the British Empire expanded. They were the natural choice for Mary Daubeny to use when sending funds to Augusta. At the outbreak of the First World War, troop numbers rose rapidly of course, and Cox & Co were there to take advantage of the fact. Their staffing levels rose from 180 in 1914 to 4500 in 1918.

Cox & Co played another, surprising humanitarian role during the war. Often the cashing of a Cox & Co cheque in Hamburg or Hanover was the first intimation that a missing British officer was captured and not dead, and the company was able to trace prisoners this way to the relief of their families. (Truly, they were different times, when a captured officer was able to cash a cheque!)

Sir Henry Seymour King (1852-1933) by Bassano
banker and unlikely women’s lib pioneer

Like many companies whom war benefited, Cox & Co struggled in the ensuing peace. They hung on long enough to buy out their main rivals in India, the Henry S King Bank, in 1922. (King’s deserve recognition for being in 1887 one of the first firms to employ women typists, some 25 years ahead of the field.) But as Cox’s and King’s they were in turn swallowed up by Lloyds only a year later. Cox’s and King’s formed the basis of Lloyds new Eastern Department, based at their Pall Mall branch in London.

In the 1930s changes in banking regulations forced Lloyds to sell off its non-banking activities, including the travel and shipping aspects of Cox’s and King’s. The resulting independent company survives to this day as prestigious travel agents Cox & Kings.

A cheque from Cox & Co c 1880 
during their heyday at Craig’s Court, Whitehall

All of which is why Mary Daubeny wrote to her uncle on 2nd February 1871, “I enclose a statement (as you wished) of the Interest due up to that date; Augusta’s share has to be paid in to Messrs Cox Army Agents, Craig’s Court, but I will gladly see to that matter, if more convenient to you to send the whole sum to us.”

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