The Two Paul Rabeys: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Three

Reading time: 10 minutes

Father teaching his son, 1830s woodcut
Rabys Row, Scorrier. Alas, the street sign has disappeared1


As we saw in the previous post, William Harvey had successfully sued Paul Rabey the Younger for false imprisonment in April 1864. Rabey had been ordered to pay Harvey £125 in damages. That’s around £13K today. Of course, Rabey had absolutely no intention of paying Harvey. But he had every intention of making quick money, and by questionable means, if that’s what it took.

To avoid paying Harvey, Rabey opted for the morally dubious (but not entirely out of character) expedient of declaring himself bankrupt, claiming that he had no assets. His bankruptcy claim was filed in early October 1864.

Of course, it was one thing for Rabey to claim he had no assets. However, as a mine purser and shareholder, indeed, as a gentleman, it most certainly had to be proven that he was truly, and utterly, broke.

(Even Rabey holding shares in his mines is open to question. As William Harvey wryly observed, “Sometimes he is, and sometimes he is not. It depends whether he is sued by any creditor for a debt due from the mine”. In short, if Rabey’s mine was profitable, he was a shareholder; if it was doing badly, he wasn’t2.)

Proving his insolvency would be tricky, as Rabey no doubt realised. After all, his previous period of bankruptcy had only ended in March, 18633.

Therefore, for the purposes of a successful bankruptcy, forestalling Harvey indefinitely, and generating income, Rabey needed assistance.

And the person he turned to was his father: Paul Rabey, the Elder.

Paul Rabey the Elder

Radnor Manor House, near Scorrier. Home of the Rabeys in the 1860s4

Born in 1789, Rabey Senior was by now an elderly man; indeed, he was to die in June 18675. In his day, though, he had been a mine agent6 and a Mine Captain, being in charge of operations at South Wheal Leisure (in a more successful period of its existence), as well as previously being Captain of Wheal Seton, Camborne, and Wheal Damsel, Carharrack7. Besides this, he also owned, and leased, an amount of land8, leading one commentator to note that old man Rabey had, indeed,

…amassed a considerable sum of money and property…

Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3

during the course of his long career. For example, his effects on his death in 1867 were valued at around £450 – that’s £53K today9. In short, he was nobody’s fool, regardless of the performance he once gave in court of an old man with a “very defective memory”10. This performance (in defence of his son and namesake), with its almost comical display of senility (at one point Rabey claimed that he didn’t know “any more than what’s up in the moon”11), raised several knowing laughs from the public gallery. But Rabey the Elder rather gave the game away when he finally let slip the advice he had given to his son:

He was to buy cheap…and to sell dear…

Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3

If ever you want the capitalist spirit of the age captured in one pat epithet, look no further12. Rabey the Elder’s son had, of course, taken this lesson to heart.

Was the Father as big a rogue as his son, or was he, in his dotage, manipulated by his immoral offspring?

Read on…

Sleight of hand

Exeter Post Office, Queen Street. Home to the Bankruptcy Courts in the 1860s13

Rabey the Younger’s action for bankruptcy was filed in October 186414. Including the £125 owing to William Harvey, Rabey claimed to have other debts totalling £945 (£127K today), and “not a farthing” to pay them15.

He certainly didn’t. Before filing for bankruptcy, in June 1864, Rabey transferred all his assets, 3,900 shares in South Wheal Leisure mine (out of a total of 5,671 shares), to Rabey the Elder16. Rabey the Younger was now the penniless purser of a mine in debt (South Wheal Leisure was in the process of “winding up”, ie being closed down17), and he had no shares with which to trade – the shares were worthless anyway. He was now free to declare himself bankrupt.

Rabey the Elder, suddenly the proud owner of meritless shares in a failing mine, stated at the Exeter Bankruptcy Court in November, 1864 that he “could not remember” when he became a shareholder in South Wheal Leisure. This selective amnesia didn’t stop him from selling on the shares – shares of utterly no value – for a profit, naturally, and an “arrangement” existed between father and son that any shares unsold could be transferred back to Rabey the Younger, at a convenient date18.

It’s perhaps obvious, then, that the two Paul Rabeys were in cahoots with each other. It’s a trick pulled again, later in our story. Rabey the Younger dragged the case out for as long as he could (he avoided at least one hearing by claiming illness19), and he may have begun to think himself clear of his financial obligations to William Harvey. At the hearing in Exeter, his other debts were viewed with the highest suspicion, inasmuch that they were probably “fictitious”, and that the whole process had been instigated by Rabey the Younger in order to “render” Harvey’s judgement against him “useless”20.

Strong Opposition

“Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow”, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1806. Copyright British Museum

William Harvey would not go away. He was actually the Official Assignee in Rabey the Younger’s bankruptcy case, meaning he was the court-appointed individual responsible for dealing with Rabey’s assets, distributing these assets to pay off his debts, and checking on his activities. He also had a vested interest in fighting the bankruptcy tooth and nail to get the money he was owed. And he was very nearly successful, for Rabey the Younger’s discharge from his debts was almost refused altogether.

It was the belief of the court that Rabey had previously used his father’s money

…in the ostensible purchase of shares…if the speculations turn out well, he reaps the benefit…he will transfer them to the father as security…if the worst comes to the worst he can make himself bankrupt again…and…enter into possession of his father’s property…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, February 3, 1865, p7

The court believed Rabey the Elder was being manipulated by his “clever and unscrupulous” son21. With hindsight, they were almost definitely wrong, and it’s also rather surprising Rabey the Younger wasn’t charged with bankruptcy fraud.

He was, though, finally declared bankrupt on January 26, 1865, for a period of two years – the normal duration was twelve months. He was also ajudged to be unprotected from the bankruptcy for six months, meaning his creditors could move against him to reclaim their debts during this time, if it could be proven he was in any way solvent22.

For the next two years, Rabey couldn’t direct a company, start a company without court consent, or indeed manage a company under a different name. He couldn’t legally conduct business. But, to Paul Rabey the Younger, these were mere challenges for him to overcome.

Harvey, no doubt seething, would have to wait yet again for his money. But as assignee he could officially monitor Rabey the Younger’s movements very closely. Someone needed to.

By the late spring of 1865, Rabey was operating again, this time in Bristol…

Click the link below for part four of They Died With Their Shoes On:

Paul Rabey and the Bristol Con

Many thanks for reading!


  1. A branch of the Rabey family was living at Rabys Row, Scorrier, in 1890. (See: Cornubian and Redruth Times, June 13 1890, p5.) I have yet to discover when this street was so named, and if it was definitively named in connection with the Rabeys. However, it seems reasonable to think so, considering the proximity to Radnor and the obvious status of Paul Rabey the Elder. For the woodcut image, see:
  2. From the Royal Cornwall Gazette (hereafter RCG), August 26, 1864, p7.
  3. RCG, February 2, 1865, p7. He was also declared bankrupt in 1856: North Wales Chronicle, September 13, 1856, p2.
  4. As mentioned in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, August 9, 1866, p3.
  5. England & Wales Civil Registration Death Index 1837-1915, vol.5c, p166, Ancestry
  6. Census, 1851 and 1861.
  7. Western Daily Mercury, August 23, 1862, p7.
  8. RCG, July 18, 1845, p1.
  9. 1875 England & Wales, National Probate Calendar Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1995 for Paul Rabey, Ancestry.
  10. Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3.
  11. Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3.
  12. Indeed, Eric Hobsbawm’s 1975 book on the era is entitled The Age of Capital 1848-1875.
  13. See:—8384-queen-street.html
  14. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  15. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  16. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 December 1864, p9.
  17. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 December 1864, p9.
  18. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 December 1864, p9.
  19. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  20. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  21. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  22. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.

3 thoughts on “The Two Paul Rabeys: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Three

  1. 1. On Raby’s Row – John Raby, my X3 Grandfather lived nearby and the family always believe he was responsible for the building of Rabys Row – Paul Raby was his cousin. John’s daughter married Richard Holloway’s daughter. They lived at the pub just along from Raby’s Row the Fox and Hounds


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