14th April 1926

The death of a very wealthy shipping baron

When ship builder Sir Robert P Houston died, he left a £7m fortune. Had he been living on the mainland there would have been no question whether his estate would have to pay death duties. But, when the duties in question amounted to £2.8m, it’s easy to understand why his wife, Fanny Lucy Houston, might try to avoid it.

Fortunately for her, her husband’s will had made clear that Jersey was his legal domicile, but this didn’t stop the British taxman chasing her for payment. At the same time, two other presumptive heirs asked the Jersey court to order a full inventory be taken so they could be sure they were getting their fair share.

A disputed will

Despite the existence of the will, the fact Sir Robert had no male offspring meant he was considered to have no direct heirs so, in accordance with Jersey law, his estate, Beanfield in St Saviour, initially passed to the Seigneur for the period of one year and one day.

Sir Robert, who was born on 31 May 1856 and died on his steam yacht, Liberty, had bought a share in a packet steamer in 1877, and thus began his interest in owning, rather than just working on ships. Within three years, he’d founded his own company. He was elected to Parliament as a Conservative, representing Liverpool West Toxteth in 1892, and many of his contributions in Hansard, concerned ships, trade and transport.

Following Robert Houston’s death, Lady Houston appeared to suffer a serious decline, and the Jersey Royal Court declared her incapable of taking care of herself or her fortune. Over time, she was nursed back to health, and she was able to prove herself capable once again, whereupon she wrote to the British chancellor and offered to pay the death duties that were being demanded.


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