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Barbon, Nicholas (DNB00)

BARBON, NICHOLAS, M.D. (d. 1698), a writer of two treatises on money, and the originator of fire insurance in this country, was born in London, and entered as a student of physic at the university of Leyden on 2 July 1661. He was probably the son of Praisegod Barbon [see Barbon, Praisegod]. In October 1661 he graduated M.D. at Utrecht, and was admitted an honorary fellow of the College of Physicians in December 1664. He represented Bramber in the parliaments of 1690 and 1695. After the great fire of 1666, Barbon was one of the first and most considerable builders of the city of London, and first instituted fire insurance in this country. He ‘hath sett up an office for it,’ writes Luttrell in his ‘Brief Relation,’ under date 30 Oct. 1681 (i. 135), ‘and is likely to gett vastly by it.’ While engaged in rebuilding London, he purchased ‘the Red Lyon feilds, near Graies Inn Walks, to build on,’ and 11 June 1684 a serious riot took place between his workmen and ‘the gentlemen of Graies Inn.’ As late as 1692 he was engaged in improving Chancery Lane and Lincoln's Inn. A square near Gerrard Street, Newport Market, is said to have been called Barbon Square in the reign of George II. Reynolds's ‘Wells Cathedral’ (pref. p. 67) gives the following from Chyle's (unpublished) history of the church of Wells. Exeter House, belonging to the see of Exeter, first went to Lord Paget, then to R. Dudley, earl of Leicester, and then to the Earl of Essex, and was called Essex House, ‘which ever since has kept the name, till last year, when one Dr. Barbone, the son, I am told, of honest prays God, bought it of the executors of the late Duchess of Somerset, d. of the said Robert (E. of Essex), not to restore it to the right owner, the Bp. of Exeter; but converted into houses and tenements for tavernes, ale houses, cooks-shoppes, and vaulting schooles, and the garden adjoining the river into wharfes for brewers and woodmongers.’ Barbon was the author of ‘A Discourse of Trade’ (12mo, London, 1690), and a ‘Discourse concerning coining the new money lighter, in answer to Mr. Lock's considerations about raising the value of money’ (12mo, London, 1696). This latter work was one of the numerous pamphlets which issued from the presses of London on the subject of the great controversy which raged at that time, when there was such urgent demand for a renewal of the currency—a controversy in which, as Flamsteed, the astronomer royal, is reported to have said, the real point at issue was, whether five was six or only five.

Barbon ranged himself under the banner of William Lowndes, whose ‘Essay for the Amendment of Silver Coins’ had become the text-book of a party composed partly of dull men who really believed what he told them, and partly of shrewd men who were perfectly willing to be authorised by law to pay a hundred pounds with eighty (Macaulay, Hist. of Eng. iv. 632). Barbon, in the preface to his second treatise, makes allusion to having, in the ‘Discourse on Trade,’ defined money differently from Mr. Locke; and begins his argument by disputing Locke's fundamental proposition that silver has an intrinsic value, asserting that there is no intrinsic value in silver, ‘but that it is money that men give and take and contract with, having regard more to the stamp and currency of the money than to the quantity of fine silver in each piece.’ With this as one of his premises, he argues in favour of debasing the currency, or, as he euphemistically terms it, raising the value of money. Mr. Cunningham (English Industry and Commerce, p. 368) quotes a passage from the second discourse for a lucid argument against the balance of trade. Barbon took part in the land-bank speculations of the time. He founded one, which is stated by Luttrell, under date 15 Aug. 1695, to ‘goe on very successfully,’ and under date 4 Feb. 1695–6 to have been united with another land-bank conducted by one Mr. Brisco, and to have offered to advance two millions of money. He died in 1698. His friend Asgill [see Asgill, John] was the executor of his will, which directed that none of his debts should be paid. Asgill was also soon afterwards his successor as member for Bramber.

[Barbon's Discourse on Trade, and Treatise on Coining; Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs, i. 309, ii. 403, iii. 572, iv. 13, 364; Notes and Queries (first series), vi. 3; Macaulay's England, chaps. xxi. xxii.; Walford's Encyclopædia of Insurance; Hist. of Fire Insurance; Munk's College of Physicians; Names of Members of Parliament, i. 555.]

R. H.