Welcome toThe Rothschild Archive'swebsite

Sources for business history: catalogues of bank files

Sources for art history: Catalogue of the pictures of Alfred de Rothschild 1901

Sources for yachting history: Plans for Nathaniel von Rothschild's yacht Veglia 1905

Sources for natural history: Walter 2nd Lord Rothschild and his zebra carriage: c.1910

Sources for global financial history: Map of lines of the Brazil Railway Company: c.1920

Sources for business history: index cards to bank files

Sources for social history: Rothschild Hospital Paris: 1920s

Sources for business history: detail of a Rothschild bond coupon

Sources for architectural history: Halton House: 1890s

Sources for the history of travel: Lionel de Rothschild's tours of Spain: 1909

Sources for local history: Tring Park: c.1900

Sources for Royal history: shooting party with Edward Prince of Wales: 1893

Sources for political history: Lionel de Rothschild: first Jewish MP: 1858

Sources for sporting history: St Amant winner of the Derby: 1904

Sources for local history: gardeners at Aston Clinton: 1899

Sources for Rothschild family history: Lionel de Rothschild's yacht Rhodora: 1927

Sources for London history: entrance to New Court: 1965

Sources for design history: plans for Lionel de Rothschild's Rolls-Royce: 1930

Sources for business history: Rothschild gold bars produced by the Royal Mint Refinery: 1930s

Sources for business history: letters of August Belmont Rothschild Agent in New York: 1860s

Lionel de Rothschild and the Suez Canal

Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808-1879) was the eldest son and main business heir of Nathan Mayer Rothschild. Apprenticed in the family business in London, Paris and Frankfurt, he was admitted to the family partnership in 1836 and under his direction, business grew; the traditional clutch of sovereign clients was nurtured and extended, and railway loans became a strong feature.Lionel is remembered in business for his assistance to the British Government in 1875, helping his friend, Disraeli, secure the necessary sum to procure the Khedive of Egypt's share in the Suez Canal.

Construction of the Suez Canal

In 1854 and 1856 the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps had obtained a concession from Said Pasha, the viceroy of Egypt, to create a company to construct a canal open to ships of all nations, according to plans created by Austrian engineer Alois Negrelli. The company was to operate the canal by leasing the relevant land, for 99 years from its opening. The Suez Canal Company (Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez) came into being on 15 December 1858. Over the next 11 years the canal was built, and although the British recognised the canal as an important trade route, they objected to the use of forced Egyptian labour to build it, and perceived the French project as a threat to their geopolitical and financial interests.

Suez Canal shares

Initially international opinion was sceptical and Suez Canal Company shares did not sell well overseas. Britain, the United States, Austria and Russia did not buy any shares, although all French shares were quickly sold in France. The canal opened to shipping on 17 November 1869, and had an immediate and dramatic effect on world trade, playing an important role in increasing European penetration and colonization of Africa.

External debts forced Said Pasha's successor, Isma'il Pasha, to put up his country's shares for sale. In 1875, the London banking house of N M Rothschild & Sons advanced the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, acting for the British Government, £4,000,000 to purchase Suez Canal shares. Disraeli was a close personal friend of Lionel de Rothschild, and according to legend, this was transacted on a gentleman’s agreement, with no documentation, a technically unsecured loan for a sum of over £550 million today. The funds were repaid within five months; however, Disraeli was accused by William Gladstone of undermining Britain's constitutional system, due to his lack of reference or consent from Parliament when purchasing the shares with funding from the Rothschilds. France still remained the majority shareholder in the canal.

The Suez Canal post-1875

The Convention of Constantinople in 1888 declared the canal a neutral zone under the protection of the British; British troops had moved in to protect it during a civil war in Egypt in 1882. Under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the UK insisted on retaining control over the canal. In 1951 Egypt repudiated the treaty, and in 1954 the UK agreed to remove its troops, and withdrawal was completed in July 1956. The company operated the canal until its nationalization by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956, which led to the Suez Crisis. In 1962, Egypt made its final payments for the canal to the Universal Suez Ship Canal Company and took full control of the Suez Canal. The company remains extant, after a series of mergers, as GDF Suez. Today the canal is operated by the Suez Canal Authority.

The Malabar on the Suez Canal

The Malabar on the Suez Canal