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Remittance Man

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So send me far from Lombard Street, and write me down a failure;
Put a little in my purse and leave me free.
Say: "He turned from Fortune's offering
to follow up a pale lure,
He is one of us no longer — let him be."
— "The Rhyme of the Remittance Man", Robert W. Service

"That fop with the English Accent." An upper-crust younger son of an English lord with no prospect of inheriting, sent off to the Americas (or Australia, or South Africa, or anywhere on the map that happens to be painted pink during the time period) to get him out of the way. Usually given a small allowance (the "remittance"), which isn't quite sufficient to support him in the way he is accustomed, but is enough to support him— if he'll just pare back his standards a bit (which he usually won't). He also has an ingrained aversion to "working in trade", and he's not used to manual labor.

In Westerns, he's often connected somehow to the Cattle Baron; he may be the money-man or at least represent "the money", or be the "manager". Could also be a drunken wastrel with no visible means of support. In Canadian Westerns, he might be the local Mountie or the local criminal.

In Genteel Interbellum Setting mysteries, he's usually back from Australia or South Africa (occasionally South America, the US or Canada) and most of the family would prefer that he'd stayed gone. The concept of the remittance man became pretty much obsolete with British entry into World War I, which gave all of the sons of the aristocracy something to do, so this trope probably will not appear in a work set after 1914. (The idea of the "remittance man" was made legally obsolete with the Administration of Estates Act of 1925, which did away with primogeniture.)

Usually only appears in fairly realistic Westerns, except in Canadian versions where he's a stock character. Permits the inclusion of a different version of the City Slicker type, more "civilized", more condescending, and generally just as incompetent.

Sometimes in other settings (like the South Pacific) where any European is likely an outcast, with many of the same tropes still applying.

If he's smart, he'll almost certainly overlap with the Gentleman Snarker. Is quite likely to be the Black Sheep of his family.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Chassis, Sabotage is the scion of an old, traditional family from Japan. He scandalised his father by becoming thoroughly Westernised. He father paid for him to move to California to get rid of him. Eventually, Sabotage's antics became so extreme that his father disowned him entirely.
  • Alice in Alan Moore's Lost Girls is a female example. Her family sent her to run their diamond mine in Africa in order to prevent her from causing any more sex scandals. Given that she managed to have a lesbian affair with her cook, it clearly didn't take. At the start of the story, she sells the mine before heading off to Austria.
  • One shows up along with a butler in the Lucky Luke story The Tenderfoot, though he doesn't receive an allowance (he has a ranch he inherited from an uncle, who in turn was a good example of this trope, instead). It turns out that he is quite a bit more badass (and moral) than the Americans that decide to pick on him. At the story's conclusion, he rushes to prevent the townsfolk from giving another newcomer the same treatment he received... but joins right in when he realizes it's an acquaintance who uses the wrong club when golfing.

    Fan Works 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic tale Fluttershy Is Free, it is implied that Fluttershy is one of these. Her family is a distinguished one, they are ashamed of her, she lives away from them, and she never seems short of money.
  • How I Lost My Mother: Cozy Glow's own mother didn't just strip away her status, she completely Un-personed her, leaving her with only her saddlebags and her Voloverlangen as she was cast out into the world.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Bouc proudly says he's paid large sums to drunkenly carouse with passengers on the titular train on the condition he never sets foot in his family's offices. To explain his presence in the sequel, it turns out that was still too much of a nuisance.
  • In the Western One Foot in Hell, Dan O'Herlihy plays a Con Man who passes himself off as this trope.
  • The title character of the British/American comedy The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958). Fortunately he is also a gunsmith and Gadgeteer Genius.
  • Shout at the Devil: An Irish-American poacher in turn of the century West Africa forcibly recruits a remittance man by having all of his money stolen, only to have the tables turned when the remittance man falls in love with his daughter. Based on a book by the same name, in which the young man leaves England of his own volition because he's not in line to inherit very much and thinks he can make good money in the Australian wool trade.
  • In a rare case of the American counterpart to the Mountie version, there is Sheriff John T. Langston, played by John Cleese in the 1985 film Silverado.
  • English Bob (played by Richard Harris) in Unforgiven may or may not be a real Remittance Man. But he certainly acts like one (possibly as protective coloration, to intimidate people from bushwhacking him).

  • A Far West lawyer finds himself tasked with informing a Remittance Man's family that their son has been hanged as a horse thief. He struggles with the necessity of doing his duty without causing scandal, until he finally sends the following telegram:
    Sir, I regret to inform you of the death of your son. He was participating in a public event when the platform fell out from under him.

  • In Alfred Bester's 5,271,009, the alien who helps the protagonist describes himself as a remittance man.
  • Anthony Villiers in the eponymous series by Alexei Panshin is a science-fictional example, though it's implied not that he's useless, but that he simply doesn't get along with his family.
  • A Robert Louis Stevenson novella The Beach of Falesa has one in the character Case, although he's more competent (and malevolent) than most. The tale is set on a fictional island in the South Pacific and Case is along with protagonist, among the few white traders who live there and is a ruthless and amoral schemer. The protagonist describes how Case would sometimes discourse in an intelligent, cultured way and you can kind of tell from his speech that he was once a toff (i.e. calling the protagonist "old boy"). There's an amusing detail that while the other whites mispronounce the name of a French priest Galuchet as "Galoshes", Case can pronounce it correctly. Case also qualifies as an Evil Colonialist type, since he uses magic tricks and some technology to trick the natives into thinking he has demonic powers, allowing him to have a great influence over them.
  • A sort of truth-in-television example is Frank Dickens, used in the novel (and Flashman pastiche) Dickens of the Mounted. Frank was the wastrel son of Charles Dickens and became a member of the Mounted Police in Canada.
  • Once FourEcks is discovered (again) in Discworld, there are occasional references to the younger sons of the Ankh-Morpork nobility being sent there to keep them out of trouble. In particular, in The Truth, Lord de Worde threatens his son William with this, although his definition of "trouble" is meddling in his conspiracy to get the Patrician deposed and replaced with a puppet ruler.
  • In H. Beam Piper's science fiction novel Four-Day Planet it's speculated that "Bish" Ware, the town drunk on a backwater colonial planet, is one of these. (He's generally believed to be some sort of defrocked clergyman — hence the nickname — whose "ecclesiastical organization was paying him to stay out there in the boondocks where he wouldn't cause them further embarrassment".) In reality, he's an extremely high ranking Federation secret agent working a fifteen-year-old case against an interstellar outlaw.
  • In The Great Gatsby, the first time Nick goes to one of Gatsby's parties, he notices several young Englishmen among the guests, "all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans."
  • Moriarty's client in The Hound of the D'Urbervilles is Jasper Stokes, who just came back from the Americas after inheriting a large estate. He's not just a wastrel, he's a sadistically cruel man who has hired goons beat his laborers to keep them in line (it's what he took away from reading German economists).
  • Mym of the Incarnations of Immortality series is a non-European variant of this trope, a prince of India who didn't fit in with the royal court because he can't talk without severe stuttering. He travels around unrecognized with a circus, within the borders of India. Since he is the second son, the royal court's policy is to tolerate his runaway lifestyle - until Mym hears the news that his brother has died in a war, and the court, who has been secretly tracking his whereabouts all along, will begin insisting that Mym shall come back to the palace and live the lifestyle appropriate to the heir to the throne.
  • A couple of Bertie Wooster's friends. In "Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg", he lends his apartment to Bicky Bickersteth (who's of the "wastrel" variety, naturally, living in a boarding house in New York when he's supposed to be farming in Colorado) so he can make his uncle think he's doing well in America. This works too well and the uncle decides to withdraw Bicky's allowance, since he clearly doesn't need it.
  • In another SF example, Cadman Weyland describes another member of the first interstellar expedition as "the ultimate remittance man" in Larry Niven's The Legacy of Heorot.
  • The planet Surebleak in the Liaden Universe series is a space opera equivalent to the frontier town in a Western, complete with Miss Kitty, a crusading sheriff, etc. In Dragon in Exile, one of the characters who passes through is a similarly updated version of this trope: Vel Ter yo'Bern, a ne'er-do-well younger son of a Liaden clan who's on a perpetual tour through the galaxy, supported by an allowance from his family that's conditional on him never coming home.
  • British secret agent Captain Patrick Reeder pretends to be one in The Remittance Kid by J.T. Edson.
  • Serpico claims to be a modern-day remittance man, with wealthy parents who pay anything to keep him away, to avoid revealing to his friends in Greenwich Village that he's actually a cop. They jokingly congratulate him on having such wise and wealthy parents.
  • There are some medieval fantasy equivalents to remittance men in A Song of Ice and Fire, typically second and third sons of Westerosi lords. The Free Cities on the continent of Essos are their usual stomping ground. Particularly, Oberyn Martell is known to spend his younger years as one of these, earning money by serving as a mercenary somewhere in Essos.
  • "Ginger Ted" of Somerset Maugham's story "The Vessel of Wrath" (filmed as The Beachcomber) is explicitly described as one of these. He's a drunken lout who periodically receives sums to keep him from leaving the South Sea island where he resides. Despite his slovenly appearance, he sometimes evidences a high level of education.
  • Lord Crispin Fitzjames-Holles-Clare-Malet, the Duke of Taunton's brother, in the Village Tales novels. A very modern example, he left his wife and children to drink and party his way around the world — and admits, in the end, that he did so because he couldn't or wouldn't change and thought it better the kids not see him make a swine of himself at close range.
  • At the end of The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, the nasty cad Felix has racked up some very high gambling debts. In exchange for those being covered, he's sent to an enclave of British clergy in Germany and receives support there, and is basically told not to come back to England.

    Live Action TV 
  • In The Crown (2016), Edward VIII was effectively exiled by his family after he abdicated to marry his twice-divorced lover, Wallis Simpson, an event that still casts a shadow decades later. He survives off an allowance from his family and his presence in England is received very coldly by them.note  As this is fairly accurately based on historical fact, it can also be taken as a Real Life example and Truth in Television.
  • A very bitter remittance man is one of the prisoners masterminding the escape attempt in the Rawhide episode "Incident of the Tumbleweed".
  • Whiplash: In "The Remittance Man", Jimmy Quicksilver, a 'gentleman' bushranger who has been robbing coaches, asks Cobb to conceal knowledge of his activities from two members of his aristocratic family, who have come to Australia to take Quicksilver's son to England to be educated.

  • Jimmy Buffett's "Remittance Man":
    Black sheep of the family clan
    Broke too many rules along the way...
  • The Tom Waits ballad "Pay Me" from Bad As Me is about a man who draws an income from the family he shamed, apparently by becoming an actor.
    There's a light on a canvas tree
    Money from home supporting me
    They pay me not to come
    I won't eat crow
    Ill stay away

    Tabletop Games 
  • A character type in the Traveller roleplaying game. (Though it's a science fiction setting, there are plenty of useless nobility around.) Perfect for the player who wants an eclectic skill set, no fixed responsibilities, and a good motivation for adventuring (i.e., get money).

    Western Animation 
  • Wild Life (Une vie sauvage): An animated short about a particularly clueless young Remittance Man sent out to fend for himself, all alone on the Canadian prairie. It ends in tragedy.

    Real Life 
  • Thicker on the ground than gophers in pre-World War I Calgary, which probably explains why the trope is more common in Canadian shows. One old apocryphal joke had a local lawyer writing the noble father of a remittance man who was convicted of murder and hanged: "I regret to inform Your Lordship that your son has died. He was participating in a public function when the platform gave way."
  • A lot of influential figures in Victorian/Edwardian Canada were examples. One major reason why children were shipped off to Canada was because they were an embarrassment. While a lot of of them ended badly, a lot just needed an outlet for the instincts that would have driven them to drink and gambling back home. Out in Canada they had good educations, experience in dealing with people and, most importantly, very little to lose.
  • "Lord" Phillip Darrell Duppa, English gentry and classically educated but factually no man's or woman's lord, co-founded (with Jack Swilling) two cities in Arizona. The settlement in the Salt River Valley, called by some inhabitants "Salina" and by others "Pumpkinville", was laid out on an ancient network of irrigation canals, built by the Hohokam; he saw that this was a town rising from its own ruins, and suggested naming it for the legendary Phoenix. And he looked down into the adjoining river valley where Arizona State University now stands and thought it looked like a place in Greece he'd once visited, the Vale of Tempe. Until his death in 1892, his family sent him $3000 (then a very tidy sum) on condition that he remain at a decent distance; he is reputed to have drunk most of it.