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Biography

Robin Quinn PhotoRobin Quinn is an author and radio producer based in South-East England. His new book, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo explores the life of Charles Deville Wells, fraudster and gambler, and spans the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Published 2016 by The History Press Ltd.

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO

The incredible true story of Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire.

Charles Wells has two loves in his life: a beautiful, headstrong, French mistress, Jeannette, and his sumptuous yacht, the Palais Royal. At the risk of losing them both, Wells stakes everything he owns at the roulette tables in Monte Carlo’s world-famous Casino – and in the space of a few days he breaks the bank, not once but ten times, winning the equivalent of millions in today’s money.

Is he phenomenally lucky? Has he really invented an “infallible” gambling system, as he claims? Or is he just an exceptionally clever fraudster?

Based on painstaking research on both sides of the Channel and beyond, this biography reveals the incredible true story of the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – an individual who went on to become Europe’s most wanted criminal, hunted by British and French police, and known in the press as “Monte Carlo Wells – the man with 36 aliases”.

Order now: Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, iTunes.
Read excerpts on Google Books.


Now available as an audio book on CDs
And as an audio download

audiobook

HITLER'S LAST ARMY

After the Second World War 400,000 German servicemen were imprisoned on British soil – some remaining until 1948. These defeated men in their tattered uniforms were, in every sense, Hitler's Last Army.

Reviews of Hitler's Last Army

“Probably the best book on the subject in the last 20 years”
[recollectionsofwwii.blogspot.co.uk]

“I recommend this book as a must to read.”
[★★★★★ Amazon review by “a German ex-POW”]

“Well written, interesting, informative, and heart-warming in equal measure … I would recommend this even to those not especially interested in WW2, as a fascinating slice of Anglo-German social history of 70 years ago. Buy it."
[★★★★★ Amazon review by J.B.]

Blog: All Posts

  • The Man who Broke the Bank lived here
    This property in High Road, Broxbourne, was the Wells family home when Charles Deville Wells was born in 1841. As most children were born at home this was almost certainly his birthplace.
    This property in High Road, Broxbourne, was the Wells family home when Charles Deville Wells was born in 1841. As most children were born at home in that era, this house was almost certainly his birthplace.

    Charles Deville Wells, later to achieve fame as ‘the Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’, was born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire in 1841.  He was baptised by the Rev. Francis Thackeray, the uncle of author William Makepeace Thackeray.  Wells’ own father was also a literary man – the poet Charles Jeremiah Wellls.

  • Photographic Memories

    More from the photo album …  These pictures were taken on my 2014 visit to France as part of the background research for The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.  Bank-breaker Charles Wells lived in Marseille from about 1850 (when he was 9 or 10) until around 1879.

    The La Joliette docks, Marseille, where Charles Deville Wells worked as an engineer in the 1860s-70s ... before breaking the bank at Monte Carlo.
    The La Joliette docks, Marseille, where Charles Deville Wells worked as an engineer in the 1860s-70s … before he broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
    The docks at Marseille - a present-day view
    The docks at Marseille – a present-day view

    france_0423

  • Desperately Seeking Mr. Goad – researching an individual
    The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo
    Charles Deville Wells in the dock

    In April 1893, Charles Deville Wells – the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – was the subject of a court hearing.  He claimed to be working on a variety of inventions, and promised fabulous rewards to people prepared to finance them.  The only problem was that, in almost every case, he failed to complete the patent application process and simply pocketed their money.  At length, various people who had been defrauded by him brought claims against him.  The press published their names, and the amounts he was alleged to owe each one of them.  This clipping from an Irish journal was found on the website of the British Newspaper Archive.

    Charles Wells (Freeman's Journal, Dublin: 4 April 1893)
    List of creditors of Charles Wells (Freeman’s Journal, Dublin: 4 April 1893)

    When researching The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, I was intrigued by this list.  But I realised that a bare list of names is of little interest to readers: to make the story come to life I would need to provide at least some background details about the victims.  I knew several research tools that could be employed.  Readers and family history enthusiasts might be interested to read something of the processes that I used.

    Catherine Phillimore and William Cosby Trench – the two victims who lost by far the greatest amount of money – were from wealthy, aristocratic families and were thus very easy to research.  Stories of their involvement with Charles Wells are set out in some considerable detail in the book.  I did not bother to research Mr Allen (for whom we have no first name or any further details whatsoever).  And I knew that Frank Green would be too commonplace a name for a positive match to be made.  I already knew that Frank Jupp had supplied uniforms for the crew of Wells’ luxury yacht, and that Henry Vaughan had been a clerk employed by Wells.  And “F M Francis Budd” was something of a mystery person, as discussed in an earlier blog post.  I finally chose Frederick John Goad as an example, as in his case I could use a mixture of everyday resources plus a few less usual ones.

    The surname Goad is quite uncommon: in 1881 only 606 people in England and Wales had that surname.  And luckily we have both of his forenames, which narrows the search down considerably.  (You can find out a great deal about British surnames, their relative frequency, and the parts of the country where they may most commonly be found, here).

    I began by looking through my own research, which included a list of all the patents applied for by Charles Wells.  Some of these were applied for jointly with other persons, and I quickly discovered an application from ‘Wells, C. and Goad, F.J.’ in respect of ‘incandescent electric lights’ dated 26 March 1887.  It seems that Wells had persuaded Goad to buy a share of a patent for £25 (equivalent to about £2,500 today) and Goad now wanted his money back, six years having passed since the transaction.  Like most of Wells’ backers, Goad had not received a penny of the fabulous profits that Wells had promised.  (UK Patent information is available at The Intellectual Property Office.  Incidentally, I found that the staff were particularly helpful and customer-friendly.  A small fee may be charged for copies of the patent applications themselves).

    I then went to the FreeBMD website to check birth records.  FreeBMD is a very useful website for research like this (aside from being free of charge, as the name implies).  Using it requires a little more of a learning curve than Ancestry, say, but I like the way it displays results in a simple list form.  Between 1837 (when civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began) and 1893 (the date of the hearing) there was only one birth record for a Frederick John Goad.  The date was 1865 and the place Hackney.  This would mean he was about 22 years of age at the time when the patent was taken out.  My initial impression was that perhaps this was rather young.  However, one of Wells’ other victims, William Cosby Trench, was also a man in his twenties, who had handed the equivalent of £1 million to Wells and – like the others – never saw a penny in return.  Still, the possibility remained that this could be another, older, Frederick John Goad, who had been born before the start of civil registration.  If he had been born in, say, 1830, this would have made him about 57 when he invested in Wells’ invention – an age which, to me, seemed somewhat more likely.  To investigate further, I turned next to records of deaths.  This was slightly more difficult because, after 1911, only the middle initial is shown in the records, instead of the full middle name.  I found only two entries in FreeBMD, as follows:

    1939       Goad, Frederick J.                died Portsmouth                  age 73 (therefore born abt. 1866)

    1943       Goad, Frederick J.                died Liskeard (Cornwall)     age 82 (therefore born abt. 1861)

    Neither of the two deceased men above was born prior to civil registration in 1837, so that is no longer an issue.  The age given for the first is a good match for the twenty-two-year-old of 1893, and it now seems very likely that this is the man we are looking for.  There is a question mark, however, over the place of his death – Portsmouth – since his birth was in the London Area, and I’ll return to this later.

    I’ve often found that a simple Google search can work wonders when tracing people – whether they are your own ancestors or – as in this case – participants in a book on a historical topic.  Using “Frederick John Goad” as a search term, I quickly found an entry in the London Gazette (a weekly journal filled with all kinds of official and legal notices.  Though not one of the most obvious research tools, it can often be useful).  The following paragraph appears on 13 March 1896:

    From The London Gazette, 13 March 1896 John Frederick Goad
    From The London Gazette, 13 March 1896

    A further glance at the records shows that Frederick’s father, Alfred, died three years after the partnership was dissolved, at 76 years of age.  Quite possibly the notice in the London Gazette indicates that he was handing over the reins to his son.  We can find Frederick in the 1901 Census at 29 High Street, Islington, with his wife and family:

    Crown Copyright
    Crown Copyright

    Turning now to the Probate Calendar, (this can be consulted on Ancestry) we can now verify that – despite my earlier misgivings – the record of Goad’s death in Portsmouth in 1939 was indeed the same person, and we can be sure of this because the name of his widow corresponds precisely with the record in the 1901 Census.  (See above)

    Probate Calendar of England and Wales
    Probate Calendar of England and Wales

    (Incidentally, it is while I was searching the Probate records that I looked up the other Frederick J. Goad—the one who died in 1943.  This person’s middle name was in fact James—not John—thus ruling him out completely).

    To sum up, we have discovered with reasonable certainty that there was only one Frederick John Goad in England and Wales at the time of the court case against Charles Wells of Monte Carlo fame.  The individual in question was at the time in partnership with his father in a firm of jewellers and goldsmiths at 29 High Street, Islington.  Soon afterwards his father withdrew from the business, leaving Frederick in charge.  Frederick married Eleanor Kate Yeman in 1895 and they had 5 children, one of whom died (1911 Census).  By the end of his lifetime Frederick and Eleanor had apparently retired to the Portsmouth area, and he died there at the age of 73, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.  He left an estate worth £6,400 to his wife (approximately £360,000 today: https://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/relativevalue.php)

    Mr Goad doubtless features in other records, but – as this piece shows – a combination of different sources can tell us quite a lot about a person, and can transform a simple name into an individual’s mini-history.   On a final note, Goad figures in this rather amusing report from the Daily News of 16 June 1902 (British Newspaper Archive).

    Daily News, 16 June 1902
    Daily News, 16 June 1902

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Photographic Memories (2)

    Charles Jeremiah Wells – father of Charles Wells (the man who broke the bank) – lived at this house, 2 Montée des Oblats*, in Marseille. (*Since re-named rue Vauvenargues).  It would appear that the house was first occupied by members of the family when Charles ‘Monte Carlo’ Wells was entering a successful phase of his career as an engineer when in his thirties, and it is thought that he may have bought it for his parents.

    At the rear of the building is a steep drop, (seen in the second illustration), providing two extra storeys below the house.  Nearing the end of his life, and seriously ill, Charles Jeremiah Wells wrote:  ‘I have the first society here, and the first salons open to me – but can’t enjoy it – perfectly isolated – having nothing and wanting nothing – inhabiting one of my apartments – one bed – no servant – and done for by the family below.  From my former habit of life it is a terrible come-down in one year.’

    House Marseille
    Charles Jeremiah Wells and his wife lived at this house in Marseille – possibly bought for them by their son, Charles Deville Wells
    france_0395
    Another view of the house at 2, Montée des Oblats, showing the street behind at a much lower level than the front.

    More photographs from my research on the man who broke the bank will follow soon !  Watch this space!!

  • Photographic Memories

    When researching a book I like to visit the sites where the action took place.  Usually I take a number of photographs to remind me, when writing later, what the place was like.

    It took me some time to realise that I have assembled something of an image library in connection with The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: from this image of a house in Marseille where he once lived …

    Charles Wells, the man who broke the bank, lived at this house in Marseille during the 1860s-1870s.
    Charles Wells, the man who broke the bank, lived at this house in Marseille during the 1860s-1870s.

    … to this letter written by the man himself …

    Part of a letter written by Charles Deville Wells in 1912, introducing himself as "The man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo"
    Part of a letter written by Charles Deville Wells in 1912, introducing himself as “The man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo”

    Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be dipping into the photo album to find other pictures such as these.