26th February 1844
Guernsey’s first banker dies
Thomas Priaulx was born in 1762 and on 26 February 1844, aged 82. We can thank him for bringing Guernsey much of its wealth – for he set up the first bank on the island. If his name is familiar, that’s probably because his nephew, Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx, later went on to establish the Priaulx Library.
From privateering to banking
Thomas owned a small fleet of merchant vessels. These allowed him to carry on the family privateering business, along with his brother. They worked together from a house on Cornet Street.
Privateering was effectively acting as an army for hire. A privateer would maintain an armed boat and accept commissions from governments to patrol certain areas. Sometimes they would be tasked with warding off pirates so that a nation’s merchant shipping was kept safe, and sometimes they’d be asked to go to war, effectively bolstering the nation’s retained navy. It was a cost-effective means of defence for the country in question and a profitable business for the privateer.
Indeed, the privateering business was successful enough that it financed the founding of Priaulx, Le Marchant, Rougier & Co. Becoming Guernsey’s first bank, it was established with capital of £40,000. Its official name was a bit of a mouthful, but it was also known as the much more manageable Guernsey Banking Company. Once other banks set up rival businesses on the island, it became the Guernsey Old Bank.
Expansion and amalgamation
Over time, the Guernsey Old Bank moved to larger premises at 19 High Street, St Peter Port. It opened branches in St Pierre du Bois, St Sampson and Alderney, and by 1827 was issuing its own bank notes.
It was acquired by the National Provincial and Union Bank of England in 1924. This became National Westminster Bank in 1970 following its 1968 merger with Westminster Bank. In March 2000, Nat West was acquired by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. Thus, a direct link runs from Guernsey’s very first bank to the multinational banking organisation that is RBS today.