Subscribers to the scheme came to be known more
commonly as “proprietors”, this being the more accurate
term, as the people who initially subscribed to the tontine did
not always remain involved. Often, the subscriber would die
before the nominee. In this circumstance, the share in the
tontine could be bequeathed to another individual in the
Frequently a subscriber would leave their tontine share to
their nominee, so that the nominee became the proprietor
of the share on their own life. The proposals for the scheme
state that subscribers were permitted to “assign or transfer all,
or any part of his interest therein.”
However, some shares in the tontine were actually sold.
One 1793 document from the Freemasons’ Tontine archives
advertises the sale by auction of two shares. One share was on
the life of a “healthy gentleman aged 33 years, or thereabouts”,
the other share on the life of a male, 23. Perhaps, surprisingly,
the share staked on the life of the older man sold for £55,
which was £5 more than that of the younger man.
Along with the proprietors and the nominees a number
of Tontine Trustees were also appointed “for securing in the
most effectual manner the due payment of the … yearly
interest of £250 for the benefit of the subscribers.”
Proprietors of shares only received their twice-yearly
dividends once they had proved that their nominee was still
alive. A visit by the nominee to the Tontine Committee
treasurer or secretary usually confirmed this. Alternatively
proprietors could send certificates written by a local official
such as a Justice of the Peace or church minister as proof that
their nominee was still alive. Nevertheless, it must have been
difficult at times to verify that nominees were still alive,
especially if they moved overseas.
Where any dividend or dividends were unclaimed for
a period of 12 months or more, a letter was sent to the
proprietor requiring him or her to apply for payment and to
provide proof of the existence of their nominee. If the person
could not be located then a notice was inserted in the London
Gazette and in another public newspaper (the expense of
which was deducted from the accrued dividend amount).
Six months were allowed for the production of proof, after
which the accrued amount would be divided and paid equally
to the remaining proprietors. In practice, several years could
pass without the dividend being forfeited.
The first year’s dividend in the tontine was paid at
Midsummer 1776. Proprietors received £2 10s (worth
around £158 today). Subsequent dividends were paid in
half yearly instalments. Ten years (and a few deaths) later,
proprietors received an annual total of £2 13s 4d per share.
In 1806 – 30 years after the beginning of the tontine –
proprietors were receiving £4 6s 1d for each share they
possessed. By 1816 this had risen to £4 10s 10d.
The last extant tontine dividend book records receipts
of payments up to the Christmas of 1845. At this time there
were only five nominees still in existence. With only five
proprietors sharing the £125 half yearly interest, they each
received a dividend payment of £25, the equivalent of just
over £1,000 today.
The final survivor of the tontine was Anne Ellis. She was
just two years old when her father, Sir Peter Parker, had
nominated her. Parker had a successful naval career and was
a great friend and patron of Horatio Nelson. As the senior
naval officer, he was appointed chief mourner at Nelson’s
funeral in 1805. He was a prominent Freemason, Senior
Grand Warden in 1772 and Deputy Grand Master 1787-1811.
The death of Ann Ellis, aged 89 in 1862, meant the end of
the Freemasons’ Tontine. Her death was reported at Grand
Lodge at a time when they were looking to rebuild the site
So was the Freemasons’ Tontine a success? It raised a large
sum of money in a very short time, but proved an expensive
form of finance – over the 87 years the scheme was in
operation, Grand Lodge paid £21,750 of interest.
Researchers are welcome to study the tontine
documents in the Library and Museum and more
information about the tontine can be found in The Library
and Museum book, The Hall in the Garden: Freemasons’ Hall
and its place in London, available from Letchworth’s Shop
(www.letchworthshop.co.uk) and which is reviewed
Photograph courtesy of the Library & Museum of Freemasonry
Admiral Sir Peter Parker, whose
nominee was the last surviving
member of the Tontine
Web site created by Mark Griffin