From its early slave-trade links to its spectacular demise, the South Sea was an unsavoury outfit. Rhymer Rigby charts its history and the events that led up to the world's biggest financial scandal
'The Company of Merchants of Great Britain Trading to the South Seas' was no such thing. It is better described as a finance company with a sideline in slave-trading. Set up in 1710 by the Earl of Oxford, it incorporated some £10 million worth of Government debt into its foundation, with the Government's creditors receiving equity in exchange for their securities. In return for this, the South Sea Company received certain trading concessions in South America and the 5% interest paid on the debt.