Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thellusson, Peter
THELLUSSON, PETER (1737–1797), merchant, born in Paris on 27 June 1737, was the third son of Isaac de Thellusson (1690–1770), resident envoy of Geneva at the court of France, by his wife Sarah, daughter of Abraham le Boullen. The family of Thellusson was of French origin, but took refuge at Geneva after the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572. Isaac's second son, George, founded a banking house in Paris, in which Necker, the financier, commenced his career as a clerk, and in which he afterwards became junior partner. Peter Thellusson came to England in 1762, was naturalised by act of parliament in the same year, and established his head office in Philpot Lane, London. Originally he acted as agent for Messrs. Vandenyver et Cie, of Amsterdam and Paris, and other great commercial houses of Paris. Afterwards engaging in business on his own account, he traded chiefly with the West Indies, where he acquired large estates. He eventually amassed a considerable fortune, and, among other landed property, purchased the estate of Brodsworth in Yorkshire. He died on 21 July 1797 at his seat at Plaistow, near Bromley in Kent. On 6 Jan. 1761 he married Ann, second daughter of Matthew Woodford of Southampton, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Peter Isaac Thellusson (1761–1808), was on 1 Feb. 1806 created Baron Rendlesham in the Irish peerage.
By his will, dated 2 April 1796, Thellusson left 100,000l. to his wife and children. The remainder of his fortune, valued at 600,000l. or 800,000l., he assigned to trustees to accumulate during the lives of his sons and sons' sons, and of their issue existing at the time of his death. On the death of the last survivor the estate was to be divided equally among the ‘eldest male lineal descendants of his three sons then living.’ If there were no heir, the property was to go to the extinction of the national debt. At the time of Thellusson's death he had no great-grandchildren, and in consequence the trust was limited to the life of two generations. The will was generally stigmatised as absurd, and the family endeavoured to get it set aside. On 20 April 1799 the lord chancellor, Alexander Wedderburn, lord Loughborough [q. v.], pronounced the will valid, and his decision was confirmed by the House of Lords on 25 June 1805. As it was calculated that the accumulation might reach 140,000,000l., the will was regarded by some as a peril to the country, and an act was passed in 1800 prohibiting similar schemes of bequest. A second lawsuit as to the actual heirs arose in 1856, when Charles Thellusson, the last grandson, died at Brighton on 25 Feb. It was decided in the House of Lords on 9 June 1859. As George Woodford, Peter's second son, had no issue, the estate was divided between Frederick William Brook Thellusson, lord Rendlesham, and Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson, grandson of Charles Thellusson, the third son of Peter. In consequence of mismanagement and the costs of litigation, they succeeded to only a comparatively moderate fortune.[Agnew's Protestant Exiles from France, 1886, ii. 381; Gent. Mag. 1797 ii. 624, 708, 747, 1798, ii. 1082, 1832 ii. 176; Annual Register 1797, Chron. p. 148, 1859 Chron. p. 333; Hunter's Deanery of Doncaster, i. 317; Lodge's Genealogy of Peerage and Baronage, 1859, p. 452; G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerage, vi. 337; Burke's Peerage, s. v. ‘Rendlesham;’ De Lolme's General Observations occasioned by the last Will of Peter Thellusson, 1798; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. xii. 183, 253, 489; Law Times, 1859, Reports, pp. 379–83; Observations upon the Will of Peter Thellusson; Vesey's Case upon the Will of Peter Thellusson, 1800; Hargrave's Treatise upon the Thellusson Act, 1842.]