By W. Edmundson
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Additional info for The Nitrate King: A Biography of ''Colonel'' John Thomas North (Studies of the Americas)
Before the decade was over, North was one of the richest men in the world. He was the subject of intense media attention, gossip, and the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm so typical of the times. John Thomas North spent a colossal sum of around £200,000 renovating a mansion called Avery Hill at Eltham near London. This building, complete with its winter garden, is regarded as one of the great Victorian homes and is now part of Greenwich University. He gave sumptuous banquets and presided over balls that were the talk of the town.
Booth gives some examples: On one occasion North was elected president of a local agricultural society and after watching a ploughing contest he presided at the annual dinner, where he learned that the society was in debt— around fifty or sixty pounds. North’s reaction was to exclaim: “Here! This won’t do! I can’t afford to be president of a concern that’s insolvent. ” (1957, 177) On the same occasion, after dinner, North presided over the giving of prizes, and an old ploughman came up to receive a pair of corduroy trousers in recognition of his forty years of service.
At the same time, there was the complicating issue of the compensatory certificates issued to the owners, which John Thomas North hurried to purchase at knock-down prices. The war was still not over, and the Chilean government found itself in the uncomfortable position of being subjected to pressure from Peru’s creditors, which included British bondholders, in particular Antony Gibbs & Company and the London Bank of Mexico and South America. Peru had used the nitrate holdings as collateral for loans.
The Nitrate King: A Biography of ''Colonel'' John Thomas North (Studies of the Americas) by W. Edmundson