Belfast Telegraph

Friday 4 September 2015

Online wills reveal fortunes from Karl Marx to Oscar Wilde

Published 11/08/2010

The fortunes left behind by some of the leading Irish figures of the 19th and 20th century were revealed as the records of millions of wills were published yesterday.

The fortunes left behind by some of the leading Irish figures of the 19th and 20th Centuries are detailed in the records of millions of wills published today.

The details of the estates of famous figures, including such figures as Home Rule champion Charles Stewart Parnell, Nobel Prize winner William Butler Yeats and Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton are listed among the records of more than six million wills now available online.

They reveal a combined fortune that today would be worth more than €24bn and also include the fortunes of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Charles Dickens.

The up-to-date England and Wales national probate calendar contains details on six million wills from 1861 to 1941 and are available online today for the first time at

In addition to the material value of the estate left, the probate calendar books include full name of the deceased, the date and place of birth and the names of the bequest recipients.

"The probate calendar books provide countless new leads for family historians to explore as they move beyond being about family members to long-gone fortunes, mysterious beneficiaries and valuable objects -- all with connections back to our ancestors just waiting to be explored," said international content director Dan Jones.

By far the most generous Irish estate was left by Charles Stewart Parnell. The champion of Home Rule who was referred to as the "uncrowned king of Ireland" was born in 1846 at Avondale in Co Wicklow.

Elected as the MP for Co Meath, Ireland, in 1875 he entered the House of Commons in London. His seven-year affair with Kitty O'Shea, whom he later married, led to his downfall and he died on October 1891 in Brighton.

His estate, which he left to his widow, amounted to £11,774 7s 3d - the equivalent of €1.3m in today's values.

Also among the records of the millions of wills are those for Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who died on his last epic expedition in South Georgia on January 5, 1922.

According to the calendar book he was described as "knight", died on board the steam yacht Quest leaving an estate of £556 2s 2d (the equivalent of around €24,000 today) to his widow, Emily Mary Shackleton.

'Dracula' author Bram Stoker is also included in the huge list. Born in Clontarf in November 1847, the famous author died in April 1912.

He left an estate worth £5,269 12s 7d (€553,000 in today's values) to his widow, Florence Ann Lemon Stoker.

Born in October 1854, writer and poet Oscar Wilde is also among the millions included in the UK data base. Although he died in November 1900, his will, leaving relatively little in his estate, took 20 years to settle. He left an estate worth just £250 (€28,000 today ) to his son Vyvyan Beresford Holland. Poet, dramatist and Nobel Prize winner William Butler Yeats, who died in January 1939, left an estate valued at £4,498 14s 2d (worth €267,000 today) to his widow Bertha Georgie Yeats.

Irish playwright John Millington Synge died at the Elpis Hospital in Mount Street, Dublin, just weeks short of his 38th birthday.

His effects, valued at £217 8s 2d, (€23,000) were left to Edward Synge and Francis Edward Stephens.

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