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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”.

Pre-order now: Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, iTunes.
Read excerpts on Google Books.

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.]

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  • A case of mistaken identity?
    Charles Wells
    An early portrayal of Charles Wells of Monte Carlo fame?
    charles deville wells the man who broke the bank at monte carlo
    Charles Deville Wells, the man who broke the bank, in about 1891

    While researching Charles Wells, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, I had difficulty finding any early pictures of him.  This came as no surprise.  In the 19th century relatively few individuals ever had their portrait drawn or painted; and photography was an expensive and arcane art, usually reserved for important people and special occasions.  But I did eventually stumble on the image shown on the left.

    It crops up in several places when “Monte Carlo Wells” is mentioned on the internet.  If, for example, you do a Google search for ‘Charles Wells (gambler)’ it appears in the little box to the right of the results list (on my PC anyway!)

    For comparison, the sketch on the right, taken from a contemporary newspaper, portrays “Monte Carlo Wells” not long after he broke the bank in 1891.  Although the two faces are not dissimilar, I wondered why – and when – Wells of Monte Carlo would have had his portrait painted as a young man.  He had been an engineer at Marseille, and his salary would not have been spectacularly high.

    But it has been established that in about 1868 he had invented a speed regulator for steam engines, and he reputedly sold the patent for about five times his annual salary.  Could he have celebrated his good fortune by sitting for a portrait?  It seemed an intriguing possibility.

    To resolve the question, I needed to look no further than Wikipedia!  The entry on “Charles Wells (American politician)” includes this same image and reveals that this was another Charles Wells, who lived from 1786 to 1866, and was the fourth mayor of Boston, Massachusetts.  Clearly he was nothing to do with Wells of Monte Carlo, who was born in 1841 and lived into his eighties.

    To make sure, I consulted a 1914 publication with the extraordinary title: Mayors of Boston: An Illustrated Epitome of who the Mayors have been and what they have done.  The same portrait appears on the page dedicated to this individual, followed by a brief biography.  It seems that this Charles Wells served as mayor from 1832-3.  He was a master builder by trade, and ‘little fitted for public office … a man of simple character, not much versed in public affairs’.

    The irony is that, if it were not for the fact that many people now confuse him with “Monte Carlo Wells”, Charles Wells of Boston would almost certainly have faded into obscurity, since his career seems to have been singularly undistinguished.  And if there’s a moral in the story, it’s that the repeated appearance of an assertion, whether in print or on the internet, does not necessarily validate that “fact”!

  • Family History Research in France

    While researching my biography of Charles Deville Wells, “The Man who Broke the Bank”, I needed to consult birth, marriage and death registers , as well as census records, in France.

    I was already reasonably familiar with the system in Britain, where such information is easily available on the internet via websites including FreeBMD, Ancestry, and Findmypast.  But the equivalent resources in France are less easy to use.  To begin with, records are not held centrally.  This means that you will usually need to know the place where the birth, marriage or death took place.  This information may not be available, which complicates matters considerably.

    The second major stumbling block is that, while the likes of Ancestry provide easy-to-search databases of the British records online, the most you are likely to find in France is a digitised online image of an original register or census document.  This can involve a lot of searching.  Charles Deville Wells and his family group lived at Quimper, Brittany, for a time.  The town had some 10,000 inhabitants and to find them involved me in a page-by-page search of a schedule extending to just over 300 pages listing them all.  Sod’s Law dictated, needless to say, that the entry I wanted was eventually found on page 299!

    However, do not be discouraged.  The system is quite easy to use once one has got over the problem of knowing where to look.  The records are handwritten but are generally completed in beautifully-formed script by some clerk of long ago.  And it is possible to access and download the original images free of charge*, which is a very significant advantage over the UK system.  (*Subject to terms and conditions, no doubt!)

    I found it useful in the beginning to consult the website of the Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons), which provides a vast amount of family research material in general, and a comprehensive beginner’s guide to genealogy in France.

    You can try a search on Ancestry, selecting France as the area of interest: you may or may not find what you are looking for, as the collections are not as comprehensive as those relating to Britain or the USA, for example.

    Another potentially very useful resource is the Geneanet site, based in France.  Many French people post their family trees here, and digitised versions of many registers are now available, with more appearing regularly.  It was here that I found one person vital to my book, having failed to locate her elsewhere.

    Bonne chance!

     

  • Man who broke bank arrested at Falmouth!

    In early 1912, Charles Deville Wells – best known as “The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” – was arrested on board his yacht at Falmouth.  A photograph (below left) appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror.  I recently visited the scene myself, and photographed the scene as it looks now.  (Below right).  By this time, the man who broke the bank had moved on to opening his own bank.

    For the full story read my book, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, Charles Deville Wells – gambler and fraudster extraordinaire.  For more details, or to buy your own copy, please see the Amazon page here.

    falmouth harbour man who broke bank at monte carlo
    A yacht belonging to Charles Wells, the man who broke the bank, pictured at the time of his arrest in 1912.  The figure on the foredeck is probably the yacht’s captain – perhaps wondering whether his boss would return.
    charles deville wells falmouth
    A present-day scene from approximately the same viewpoint
  • ***** More Amazon Five-Star Reviews *****

    The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, the biography of gambler and fraudster Charles Deville Wells, has been out for just over a month now, and Amazon reviews are beginning to be posted.

    Reviewer TD writes:

    Robin Quinn has produced another fascinating book writing about the long criminal life of Charles Wells.
    The author must have spent hundreds of hours searching, not just the official records both in France and England, but in particular scanning the columns of the many newspapers which over many years referred to the persistent fraudulent activities of this man of many aliases.
    It makes compelling reading.

    Another reader comments:

    Robin Quinn’s well-researched, highly readable account of the extraordinary Victorian fraudster Charles Wells is a useful reminder of the gullibility and greed that allow confidence tricksters to flourish in all ages. Wells was a respectable, moderately successful civil engineer who turned to fraud in middle age to satisfy his growing desire for wealth, status and luxury. The book’s title comes from a short but highly publicised episode in Wells’ career, when he sailed his fraud-funded yacht into Monte Carlo harbour with his glamorous French wife and “broke the bank” at the roulette tables.
    Quinn uses contemporary newspaper reports and public records very effectively in his investigation of Wells’ criminal techniques, and even analyses how Wells’ might have engineered his success at the casino. It’s an intriguing account of a highly inventive and single-minded confidence trickster who is often seen as the true inventor of the Ponzi scheme, and who would have relished the opportunities offered by the Internet today. A fascinating book, and one that would make a great film!

    [Robin adds: “If you’re reading this, Mr Spielberg …”  ]

  • ***** You can hear the girls declare, “He must be a millionaire …” *****

    Delighted to read another positive, five-star review of The Man who Broke the Bank on Amazon

    EB writes:

    “When I was a child, one of the songs my father sang was “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo”, and I always wondered about the man behind that music-hall favourite. Now I know – thanks to this book – and what a fascinating tale it is!  The author has not only meticulously researched this story, as evidenced by the book’s wealth of detail, but has brought historical events vividly to life.

    In addition to his Monte Carlo adventures, Charles Deville Wells (the subject of this book) was an accomplished fraudster. The workings of his audacious scams are fully explained, but the biggest mystery of all – HOW he broke the bank at Monte Carlo – may just have been explained here too.  The author advances several possible scenarios, but has one favoured theory, which is backed by some tantalising historical clues. I found this to be a gripping account of one very clever con-man!”