Annuities and Tontines









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The government organised eleven schemes of life annuities and tontines between 1693 and 1789. An annuity earned a regular (annual) income in return for a lump sum subscribed earlier. In effect the sum was repaid with interest during the life of the beneficiary, who was often a child of the subscriber, so that the returns were paid for as long as possible.

A tontine also raised money for the government but the total interest from all the lump sums invested was shared between all the surviving beneficiaries. So, as the subscribers died off, the interest for the remainder increased. It must have been quite exciting for the recipients as time went by. Were there any cases of foul play amongst the last few survivors?

It sounds like the plot for an episode of Blackadder.

If Hannah’s annuity was a tontine then, living into her late eighties, she would have done very well out of it.

According to my main source of historical facts, “Outlines of English History”, the National Debt originated in 1693, the same year that the first annuity was organised by the government. From the same book I have discovered that the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) added more than 75 million pounds to the National Debt and that the American War of Independence (1775-1783) added a further 100 million. This at a time when a landowning family could live well on an income of £300 a year. No wonder the government wanted to raise cash.

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