The 1866 collapse of Overend Gurney sparked widespread panic as investors flocked to banks and other institutions demanding their money back. Failure to provide substantial liquidity threatened to bring down the entire financial system. The Governors of the Bank of England asked the Chancellor to relax the constraints of the 1844 Bank Charter Act, by granting an indemnity to allow the issue of unbacked currency. The Chancellor’s reply, and the policy response it initiated, would save the day, and go down in central banking history as pivotal in the foundation of the “lender of last resort”, a function which has been fundamental to central banking practice ever since.
Huaxiang Huang and Ryland Thomas.
The financial crisis of 1847 has often been dubbed “The trial of the Bank Charter Act of 1844 (Morgan (1952)). The Act sought to remedy the errors of crises past by trying to prevent the overissue of banknotes that many had felt was the major cause of previous crises in 1825 and 1837. The Act gave the Bank of England an effective monopoly in the issue of new bank notes and those additional notes had to be backed one for one with gold. But this had a crucial unintended consequence: it made it difficult for the Bank to act as a lender of last resort. When the crisis struck, the limits imposed by the Act effectively had to be suspended.
The collapse of Northern Rock in 2007 and Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG in 2008 renewed the debate over how a lender of last resort should respond to a troubled systemically important financial institution (SIFI). Based on research in the Bank of England Archive, this post re-examines a crisis in 1890 when the Bank, supported by central bank cooperation, rescued Baring Brothers & Co. and quashed a banking panic and a currency crisis, while mitigating moral hazard. This rescue is significant because it combined features similar to those mandated by recent U.K., U.S., and European reforms to ensure an orderly liquidation of SIFIs and increase the accountability of senior management (e.g. Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act (2010); the U.K. “Senior Managers Regime”).