a Note on availability
While both the original 1926 version of
Charles Trenerry’s The Origin and Early History of
Insurance: Including the Contract of Bottomry and a
2009 reprint by the Lawbook Exchange of Clark, n.J.,
usually sell for $100 or more, anyone with an ereader
can download the book as a google ebook for $16.86.
the development of the insurance contract and its antecedents
in ancient times was in family hands.
With the encouragement of her new husband, Ethel Tren-
erry Gover worked with a college friend, the educator Agnes
Paul, to prepare her brother’s thesis for publication. In their
foreword to the publication, the two women wrote:
The work which follows has been brought out under
circumstances of special difficulty, for which the Editors
would ask the indulgence of those who read it. It was, as
will appear from its form, a thesis submitted to the Uni-
versity of London by the late Dr. C. F. Trenerry, whose
intention was to recast it for publication, shortening and
compressing it into a more compact form. After his death in
1911 the thesis was laid aside and subsequently during the
years of war there was no thought given to the possibility of
its publication. Now, however, it has been considered worth
while to make available for a wider circle, even though in an
unfinished state, a piece of work into which there was put
much laborious research and intellectual power.
a Book for the ages?
Trenerry is clearly strongest in his discussions of ancient
times. His treatment of late medieval mercantile transactions
has been largely replaced by more recent scholarship. The
work of Enrico Bensa, a near contemporary, apparently was
not consulted by Trenerry. And geoffrey poitras’ 2000 book,
The Early History of Financial Economics, 1478-1776, is an
important modern reference that carries risk mathematics
and practice forward from the Renaissance era.
Trenerry’s thesis, The Origin and Early History of Insurance:
Including the Contract of Bottomry, was published in 1926 by P.
S. King & Son, Ltd. of London as Number 87 in the publisher’s
series by writers connected with the London School of Economics. More than 300 pages long, the original edition is bound in
handsome, gold-stamped blue cloth with decorative interlocked
links on both the cover and spine.
Despite the deficits that Trenerry’s editors acknowledge in
their foreword, the book remains an important reference for
later works dealing with the history of insurance. These include
Frank Spooner’s Risks at Sea: Amsterdam Insurance and Maritime Europe, 1766-1780; J. P. Van Niekerk’s encyclopedic work
The Development of the Principles of Insurance Law in the Netherlands from 1500 to 1800; and C. G. Lewin’s Pensions and Insurance
Before 1800, which refers specifically to Trenerry’s “exhaustive”
exploration of burial societies in ancient Greece and Rome.
Trenerry didn’t limit himself to the Greeks and the Romans,
but reached further back to even more ancient antecedents of
the modern insurance contract, including bottomry. Arising out
of maritime trade, bottomry is a loan on a commercial voyage
with provisions for forgiveness of principal and interest in the
event the voyage fails. Traditions—especially ancient ones—die
hard, and it was many centuries before the pure insurance element of the bottomry contract was separated from the loan.
A 1926 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Actuaries carried
an unsigned review of Trenerry’s book. This largely appreciative review noted his broad range of sources (mostly unfamiliar
to actuarial readers) and questioned only his assertion that the
allowances paid to veterans of Roman military service and their
widows were true annuities, rather than single payments. While
lamenting the lack of an index, the reviewer wrote appreciatively of the analytical table of contents and chapter synopses
and the book’s information-rich appendixes.
By way of contrast, C.R.V. Coutts, reviewing Trenerry’s book
in the December 1926 issue of The Economic Journal, was far
more critical. Coutts takes Trenerry to task for, among other
things, his speculation that mortality investigations underlay the
biblical life span of “threescore and ten” (Psalm 90), his assertion that true life insurance contracts must have existed among
the Romans based upon the Responsa of the third-century jurist Ulpian, and his claim that the contract of bottomry existed
among the ancient Hindus based on Sir William Jones’ translation of the Institutes of Menu.
Coutts also noted Trenerry’s heavy indebtedness to an earlier
treatise by Frederick Hendriks, “Contributions to the History of
Insurance,” which ran in the second and third volumes of the