Etc. Society

Destitution Row

A modest compendium of those who died penniless.

Life. As the webbed vigilante who some suspect to be mild-mannered teenager Peter Parker would say, everybody gets one, and when it comes time to strike your name from the great scroll in the sky, your legacy is out of your hands. You can’t libel a dead person. You also can’t take it with you, to use another crap axiom. So what happens if you shuffle off this mortal coil without a great stonking pension to blot away your loved ones’ tears? Well, as these poor souls have found, good or bad, famous or infamous, death is no release from debt, and the boys at the bank can leave one cruel final verdict on your name.

‘…an American schoolteacher who, on her 63rd birthday, October 24, 1901, became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Her motives were financial but she never made much money from her adventure. She died penniless and her funeral was paid for by public donations.’ — from the page of Annie Edson Taylor (stuntperson; 1838–1921)

‘It is often reported that Swearengen died penniless while trying to hop a freight train, but research suggests he was murdered.’ — from the page of Al Swearengen (innkeeper and pimp; 1845–1904)

‘He became a mining agent on Alston Moor, an area in the Pennines noted for its extensive lead mines, but died penniless in 1835.’ — from the page of Westgarth Forster (geologist; 1772–1835)

‘During his life he built many colonial buildings across Tasmania, served as a member of both the Tasmanian House of Assembly and Tasmanian Legislative Council, and made significant contributions to botany, with several native Tasmanian plants named after him. Despite this he died penniless at his brother’s house, Fairfield, on 15 October 1874.’ — from the page of William Archer (architect; 1820–1874)

‘…also known as John Jermyn and John Bristol, [3] he was a British hereditary peer, aristocrat and businessman. Although he inherited a large fortune, he died almost penniless from funding a chronic and persistent drug addiction.’ — from the page of John Hervey, 7th Marquess of Bristol (nobleman; 1954–1999)

‘Following the deaths of her first two children in infancy then her husband, with the third child dying a few years after, and with the collapse of the Nevada mining economy, Eilley Bowers became bankrupt and destitute. Eilley reinvented herself as “The Famous Washoe Seeress”, a professional scryer and fortune-teller in Nevada and California. She died penniless in a care home in Oakland, California.’ — from the page of Eilley Bowers (socialite; 1826–1903)

‘It is said he was “incoorigable”. He died penniless at the age of either 43 or 45. At one point, he claimed to have ridden seven winners at Ayr, but despite seven promises to pay, he received nothing.’ — from the page of Jem Snowden (jockey; 1844–1889)

‘The final Heaton male, George Smith Heaton, the son of Michael and Ellen Heaton of Royd House, died penniless at the Bendigo Benevolent Asylum in Victoria, Australia, on 12 February 1901.’ — from the page of Ponden Hall
(farmhouse; 1634–)

‘…sometimes spelled MacDonnell, [he] was an Irish chess master who contested a series of six matches with the world’s leading player Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais in 1834… When La Bourdonnais died penniless in 1840, George Walker arranged to have him buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery, near where his old rival McDonnell is buried.’ — from the page of Alexander McDonnell (chess master; 1798–1835)

‘Although thought to be thrifty, he died penniless. He had a passion for collecting walking sticks, canes, etc., and after his death more than three hundred varieties were included in the sale of his personal effects.’ — from the page of John Pritt Harley (comic; 1786–1858)

‘Baronian was also known for his biting, sarcastic criticisms of leading figures in the Armenian social circles of Istanbul; some of these critical comments appear in his book Azkayin Chocher (“National Bigshots”). Baronian himself suffered the same fate as the characters in Medzabadiv Mouratsganner and died penniless on the streets of Istanbul.’ — from the page of Hagop Baronian (​​playwright; 1843–1891)

‘His popularity had decayed before his death. He was modest and retiring, genial, intensely patriotic, and of strong religious susceptibilities; but with all his devotion to literature he died penniless.’ — from the page of James Grant (miscellanist; 1822–1887)

‘In addition to politics, Coughlin was known for his outlandish fashion, eccentric poetry and horse racing. His poetry and horse racing in particular would come to dominate the later part of his life; his horse-racing interests increasingly drained his money, which his horses failed to recoup at the racetrack, and he died penniless.’ — from the page of John Coughlin (alderman; 1860–1938)

‘In 1873, he published his best known song, Silver Threads Among the Gold (words by Eben E. Rexford), which sold over three million copies. Having sold the rights to it, though, he died penniless in a boarding house in Philadelphia, his last written words: “It’s hard to die alone”.’ — from the page of Hart Pease Danks (musician; 1834–1903)

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