Ward took his inspiration for this picture from a passage in Lord Mahon's 'History of England', published in 1837, which described the impact of the speculative boom of 1720 known as the South Sea Bubble. This was a brief period of wild financial speculation, when virtually any scheme, which gullible investors thought could make money, was eagerly seized upon. It was followed by a collapse. The artist's wife noted that Ward 'in all his pictures, pointed to some particular moral'. In choosing this subject, Ward clearly had in mind the 'Railway Mania' of 1844-5, which, like the South Sea Bubble, collapsed with many fortunes lost.