This article addresses the issue of whether large shareholders in Victorian public companies were active in the control of companies or were simply wealthy rentiers. Using ownership records for 890 firm-years, we examine the control rights, socio-occupational background, and wealth of large shareholders. We find that many large shareholders had limited voting rights and neither they nor family members were directors. This implies that the majority of public companies in the second half of the nineteenth century cannot be characterized as family companies and that large shareholders are better viewed as wealthy gentlemen capitalists rather than entrepreneurs.
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