Joseph Hobson Jagger: the true story

Today guest blogger Anne Fletcher, author of From the Mill to Monte Carlo, writes about her great, great, great uncle Joseph Hobson Jagger – one of the first individuals to break the bank at Monte Carlo.
Joseph Hobson Jagger
Joseph Hobson Jagger, the Monte Carlo bank-breaker (from Anne Fletcher’s collection).

 ‘Faites vos jeux!’ The croupier’s voice was the only sound in the high, vaulted hall. Play had long since ceased at the other tables; all eyes were on the Englishman, wondering what he would do next. Could this extraordinary run of luck continue? The crowd was silent as the toureur spun the roulette wheel and the ball clattered across the metal struts that divided the numbers. The wheel slowed. ‘Rien ne va plus!’ There was a nervous cough from the croupier and then it was over. ‘Vingt-huit!’ was the shout from the crowd, ‘Encore une fois, il gagne – bravo monsieur, bravo!’ A black cloth was called for and the chef de partie draped the table in mourning. The bank had been broken. The Englishman, a large, cheerful, bearded man, rose from the table and showing little sign of nervous strain, shook hands with the croupier, gathered up his winnings and left the building.

I grew up on the tale of Joseph Hobson Jagger, my great, great, great uncle. My Dad told me the story often. He was proud of his famous ancestor who began life as a poor Bradford mill worker and became a millionaire after breaking the bank at Monte Carlo. I was told that the famous song, The Man Who broke the bank at Monte Carlo was written about him. I recounted the tale too, telling my friends about this working class, Victorian man who had done a most extraordinary thing. Only when I was an adult did I start to question what I had always been told. Joseph’s story posed some problems for me; there seemed to be gaping holes in the narrative. Why did a man from a working-class family, employed in a mill in Bradford go to Monte Carlo? It was the playground of Europe’s rich. How could he afford to go and why would he want to? How did he get there and what happened to the money he was alleged to have won? My family was not rich, had never been rich, to the contrary my father had grown up in Bradford in great poverty. A newspaper search revealed no coverage at all of Joseph winning a fortune at Monte Carlo, apart from an article my own father had written which had been published in the Telegraph & Argus in 1960. His will, I discovered, was not that of a multimillionaire. I began to doubt that he had broken the bank at all.

This lack of evidence in the public domain prompted Robin Quinn in his book The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo to conclude, ‘The story has been told and retold many times: however, I doubt whether it is strictly true.’   He came to the quite reasonable conclusion that Joseph Hobson Jagger was a character conjured up by Victor Bethell to add colour to his 1901 book on the casino. This was when Robin and I first spoke of our mutual fascination with the men who broke the bank and our search for Joseph in particular.

Armed with my experience as a professional historian, I became determined to uncover what really happened, but I underestimated just how hard it would be to get to the truth behind the family story. So little of Joseph’s life remains. This is the challenge faced by anyone who has tried to track down their ancestors, particularly those whose ordinary, working class lives have been unrecorded and lost. There are of course the records of the official milestones in Joseph’s life revealed in the census, in marriage and birth certificates, wills and deeds but there is not much more. All I had at the start of my search was that Telegraph & Argus article, the words of the song The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo and a photograph of Joseph Hobson Jagger that I had inherited.

My search for the truth about Joseph Hobson Jagger has taken me from Yorkshire to Monte Carlo, from archives in Bradford to those in South Africa and to seek help from amongst others Sotheby’s, Midland Railways and Thomas Cook. During my years of research, I’ve traced and met up with three branches of my family who have given me access to archives that have never been shared before. And I have uncovered seven generations of ancestors living in Bradford and working in its textile trade since the early 1700s. My book, From the Mill to Monte Carlo, is the first comprehensive account of Joseph’s life, his win and its legacy.  It presents new evidence together with a new interpretation of events in Monte Carlo.  I’ve discovered the truth behind the legend of Joseph Hobson Jagger; why he went to the casino, how he won a fortune and what happened to his millions. It reveals that his was an adventure made possible only through the time and place of his birth. Without his experience of Victorian Bradford, Joseph could never have defeated the roulette wheels of Monte Carlo.

Anne Fletcher
Anne Fletcher

Anne Fletcher’s book, From the Mill to Monte Carlo, is published by Amberley (www.amberley-books.com), ISBN 9 781445 671390

[Robin’s note:  Anne’s comment about our early discussion made me smile!  I was initially very doubtful about Joseph Jagger.  But I’m a convert after reading Anne’s excellent book]

The elusive Lizzie Ritchie

In a recent blog post here I discussed some of the accomplices who helped Charles Wells in his bank-breaking and other activities.  One of these was named by him as Lizzie Ritchie.  When he was held in jail for fraud her name appears on a grovelling letter to Queen Victoria, begging for his release.  She is listed as his co-applicant on an 1887 patent for a musical skipping rope.  He also named her as his backer of his gambling at Monte Carlo (though he changed his story on this point several times).

Although I was rather doubtful whether she really existed, I noted that in New York State, USA, a Lizzie Ritchie had applied a few years later for a patent on a new type of washboard she had invented.  On trying to follow up this lead previously, I could not be sure whether this was the same Lizzie Ritchie, and could not locate her in census records.

Recently I looked once again at the sparse evidence that I had, and noticed the name of Jacob Ritchie, who had signed as a witness to the US patent application.  I guessed that Jacob must be a relative – a husband, perhaps, or a brother.  This narrowed things down considerably, and I was finally able to locate the couple in the United States 1900 census.  (I had not traced them before because their surname was spelt “Richie” on the census return).

So was this the Lizzie Ritchie who allegedly helped Charles Wells?  It now seems unlikely.  The woman living in the USA in 1900 was born in Ireland in 1868 and had emigrated to America in 1886.  She had married her spouse in 1889.  On this evidence it seems most unlikely that she would have returned to Europe on several occasions over the years in order to assist Charles Wells.  Lizzie, it seems, was a laundress, and her husband, Jacob, was a “general mechanic”.  This sounds like an ideal combination for inventing a new-fangled washboard; but there is no evidence that either of them ever registered any other US patents.

Based on this new evidence, the Lizzie Ritchie mentioned by Charles Wells was probably a product of his imagination; the woman in the United States was almost certainly not connected with him.

Traces of the Past – German prisoners in the UK

The words scratched on this roof tile are 'Arbeit macht das Leben suess' (work makes life sweet). A touch of irony perhaps? Or was the work a welcome relief from the monotony of a POW camp? (Picture credit: Brian Grint / Great Yarmouth Mercury)
The words scratched on this roof tile are ‘Arbeit macht das Leben suess’ (work makes life sweet). A touch of irony perhaps? Or was the work a welcome relief from the monotony of a POW camp? (Picture credit: Brian Grint / Great Yarmouth Mercury)

A reader of Hitler’s Last Army has sent me details of an article which recently appeared in the Great Yarmouth Mercury.  Builders renovating a house in the Norfolk village of Acle have found a Nazi swastika as well as slogans in German scratched on roof tiles.  It’s believed that German prisoners of war may have been used as a labour force to renovate the building during – or just after – the Second World War.  The building in question was the village telephone exchange at the time in question, and it’s entirely possible that POWs could have done work of this kind, especially on an official building such as this.  To see the original article click HERE

 

Heroic Failure

I’ve just been reading about the British K-class submarines, which were introduced in 1917 and served until 1931.

The K-class submarines were steam-powered, a fact which might have sounded warning bells from the very start.  And things got worse, not better, as the vessels were launched and went into service.

K13 sank during trials.  K1 collided with K4 off Denmark and was deliberately scuttled to avoid capture. One day in January 1918, K17 collided with a cruiser.  Then K4 was struck by K6 and was subsequently hit by K7; the sub sank with all crew on board.  At the same time K22 (which was in fact the salvaged and recommissioned K13) collided with K14.  Thus, within the space of just an hour and a quarter, two of the class had sunk and three others were severely damaged.

During a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay K5 disappeared and was never found.  K15 sank at her moorings in Portsmouth.  K4 ran aground in 1917 and remained stranded for some time.  Only one submarine of this class ever engaged an enemy vessel: its torpedo hit a German U-boat, but failed to explode.

K18, 19 and 20 were re-designated as the M-class.  The subs still to be built were all cancelled.

Las Vegas Stripped Bare

monte_bg

In partnership with Play It By Ear Ltd., I’ve recently finished work on a one-hour documentary for BBC World Service – Las Vegas Stripped Bare.

Gambling is only one of the many topics covered.  The programme also looks at how Las Vegas has diversified into many other attractions: exhibitions, live shows, museums and the arts.  Interviewees range from Mark Hall Patton (of Pawn Stars fame) to Marie Osmond.

Listen now on the BBC iPlayer.

For further info and transmission times please go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p055jw30

[Updated 19 June 2017]

“Meet me at your bank – and bring your cheque-book”

Drummonds Bank, London
Drummonds Bank, London

On a trip to London last week I made a detour via Trafalgar Square to take these photos of Drummonds Bank.  Why?

Because the bank was already in existence on this site when Charles Deville Wells was active in London during the 1890s.  Wells, known as a “gambler and fraudster extraordinaire”, persuaded one of his victims – the Honourable William Trench – to back him in a phony patent scheme.  After handing over the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Trench started to have doubts about the project, and when Wells asked for a further advance of money the young aristocrat hesitated.

Finally they agreed to meet at Drummonds Bank, where many wealthy people, including members of the royal family had accounts.  This was also where Trench banked.

Trench was persuaded to hand over a further large sum of money, but demanded that Wells provide security.  Wells offered two of his steam yachts and a smaller vessel as collateral, claiming that they were worth a substantial sum.

Predictably, Trench later discovered that the two yachts were virtually worthless, while the smaller craft had disappeared.  In company with Wells’ many other victims, Trench became resigned to the fact that he would never regain any of the money he had put into the scheme.  Twenty years later, however, in an extraordinary twist of fate, the situation changed dramatically …

A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I'd spare you that!
A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I’d spare you that!

 

Heinz Sielmann – Wildlife Films

Zoologist and film-maker Heinz Sielmann (1917 – 2006) was the German equivalent of Britain’s David Attenborough.  His extraordinary life and accomplishments are celebrated in a documentary on the NDR TV network this evening at 19.15 British time (20.15 German time).

Sielmann served in the German army during WW2 and was taken prisoner by British forces immediately after the German surrender in May 1945.  He spent a short time in a POW camp in Egypt before being brought to the UK.

As author of Hitler’s Last Army, I was invited to take part in the programme to speak about Britain’s treatment of German prisoners of war in the immediate post-war years.  Evidently the British considered him to be a reliable person who could be trusted to play a role in a new, democratic Germany.  He was repatriated relatively early to a country which at the time was still under Allied control, and this probably gave him a career advantage which served him well a few years later in the new West Germany.

A Family Connection

lee radziwill
Lee Radziwill, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I’m currently enjoying A Tale of Two Sisters on the Yesterday Channel.

To quote the listing,

This brand new and exclusive three-part series delves into the relationships of six prominent women from world history – sisters by birth, all enjoying very different relationships with each other. The series explores the fascinating but sometimes fractious lives of aviation hero Amelia Earhart, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and the infamous Mitford sisters.

I’m especially keen to watch the third instalment when I’ll be able to learn more about Lee Radziwill, sister of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  She was married in 1959 to Stanislaw Radziwill (1914 – 1976).

My interest in the Radziwills stems from the fact that Louise Blanc – daughter of François Blanc, the former owner of the Casino at Monte Carlo – married Prince Constantin Radziwill in 1876.

It seemed evident that Stanislaw and Constantin were from the same family, but what exactly was the connection?  I set myself the task of finding the link.  Using a number of sources online, including Wikipedia, geni.com, and thepeerage.com, I finally had to reach back as far as the 16th century to discover that both men were indeed descended from a common ancestor – Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill (1594 – 1654).

 

Aleksander Ludwik Radziwill

The Man who Broke the Bank – new audio edition

The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo - Audiobook (8 audio CDs or 2 MP3 CDs)
The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Audiobook (8 audio CDs or 2 MP3 CDs, or download)

A new audio edition of The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo has been released by Oakhill Publishing Ltd.  This is a complete and unabridged version of the book, with a playing time of around 9 hours 40 minutes.  The reader is award-winning actor Jonathan Keeble, who has recorded over 400 audio books and is the voice of the disreputable Owen in long-running radio drama, The Archers.

The audio book is available as a download; as 2 MP3 CDs; or as 8 audio CDs.  For further info, please click here: http://www.oakhillpublishing.com/bookinfo.asp?id=1816

The Beatles Tune In

I’ve just finished what I can safely say is one of the most enjoyable and informative books I’ve ever read.  It’s not a particularly new work – in fact it came out in 2013.  I cannot recall another book which compares with its fantastic wealth of information and detail.  The Beatles: All These Years: Vol 1 – Tune In is a long book at about 800 pages; and Volume 1 only takes us as far as the beginning of 1963.  The rest of the story will occupy two further volumes and is intended to complete the entire story of the Beatles.

Fo me simply to rave about the vast amount of info between this book’s covers is to do the work an injustice .  The writer, Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn, has accurately captured the spirit of the era (the 1950s and early 60s – from when John and Paul first met to the earliest chart successes of The Beatles as a group).  Reading Lewisohn’s work not only took me back to an era I just about remember – he also evokes the unique “feel” of post-war Liverpool, the stamping-ground of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The author scotches several myths: for example, how Parlophone’s George Martin came to record the Beatles when every other label had turned them down; and the truth behind the sacking of Pete Best.  At last, these stories begin to make sense, thanks to the writer’s extensive investigations – (which I imagine must have taken years).

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Beatles-All-These-Years-Tune/0316729604