Fanny Ricardo and the Father of Free Trade

Fanny Ricardo

Born Wilkinson, Fanny endured a tyrannical childhood at the hands of her father – known to the wider family as ‘curmudgeon Wilkinson’ who had a detestable disposition “which makes him unwilling to give pleasure to any human creature unless he is a partaker of it”

Fleeing the family home in her early twenties, she was fortunately given support from her sister who had already broken the bond, and particularly by her brother in law, David Ricardo and his brother Moses whom she eventually married.

With liberal views on parenting (and other matters) David sought by letter to put his father-in-law in no doubt as to his paternal errors, beginning thus:

Dear Sir,
As a spectator of the scene now before me, and as a friend to all parties, allow me, without disguise, to offer my sentiments to you; and if in the course of so doing, you should observe anything bordering on severity, attribute it to a sincere desire on my part of producing harmony and peace to a divided family

On Wilkinsons conduct in general he felt “From the earliest infancy of yr children you have exacted from them the most painful obedience…Y.r system was that of an eastern monarch ruling over abject slaves. When you smiled, they were to smile:—when you felt sad, they were to shew grief; they were to participate in y.r resentments…They considerd you as their tyrant, the source from whence flowed every affliction, instead of the guardian, and anxious promoter of their happiness.”

Regarding Fanny in particular, who had recently fled the family home David noted Fanny has borne her trials with exemplary patience, as the letters, which Priscilla still has, can testify: she has accused you of bringing upon her a premature old age. In your family dissentions she has been the principal sufferer. If a child offended you; if a servant committed the slightest fault, she had daily to witness the effects of an ungovernable temper.”

Whether this correspondence precipitated the production of ‘harmony and peace to a divided family’ we do not know, and can only speculate upon the impact it may have had.

For a young man in his twenties to berate his father in law – an accomplished and respected surgeon – in this way though, belies a certain strength of character (or arrogance) on the part of David, and as his life progressed he achieved fame as a renowned political economist. His key theory – that of comparative advantage – remains the cornerstone of the argument in favour of international free trade. Comparative advantage paved the way for the promotion of globalization via increased international trade, which is the guiding theme in the policies promoted by the OECD and the World Trade Organization, where it is assumed that international trade automatically leads to increased economic prosperity.

David made the bulk of his fortune speculating on the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in a way that seems both familiar and morally odious today. He had arranged to receive early notice of the outcome, and upon hearing – before most others in London – that the English had been victorious, he set about creating the impression that the French has won by openly selling British securities and creating a market panic which saw their price plummet. When they had hit rock bottom, he bought them back at a massive discount. His reward for attacking the finances of the nation during wartime for personal gain was “upwards of a million sterling”.

Married to David’s brother Moses, little else is recorded about Fanny’s life. Moses became a surgeon, but stepped down from practice due to ill health and the couple retired to Brighton. Fanny died at the age of 60 and was buried at the St Nichols northern extension – now the children’s garden. Her monument survived the clearances but was moved from its initial location to a spot at the perimeter behind the houses on St Nichols Road.

This entry was posted in Childrens Playground, Northern Burial Ground, Political, St Nicholas. Bookmark the permalink.

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