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


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]

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).



A Mine of Information

I’ve just discovered the website of Stephen Liddell, who is – like me – a writer with a strong interest in history.  He also organises guided tours in many parts of the country under the banner of ‘Ye Olde England Tours’.  His URL is: www.stephenliddell.co.uk and I promise you will find many topics of interest there.

His blog is a veritable mine of information, with articles on the mystery of King Arthur’s birthplace; the Battle of the Somme; the Knights Templar; not to mention a welcome review of my book, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo!

Fake News or Fact?

The "Salle Mauresque" (Moorish Room, so-called because of the style of decoration used). In this room Charles Deville Wells broke the bank several times.
One of the gaming halls at the Monte Carlo casino.

On 18 August 1913, players at the casino in Monte Carlo were astonished when the ball landed on black no fewer than 26 times in succession.  Believing that this run could not last, many punters had convinced themselves that red must come up next.  They lost their money.  Others reasoned that as black had been lucky so many times it would continue that way.  They, too, lost when the series finally ended.

The story appears on numerous websites, and for many years it has been included in books on gambling and the laws of chance.  But is it true?

I was determined to find out more, and to discover who had been the winners and losers.  So I searched a number of sources including the Times Digital Archive, The British Newspaper Archive and Google Books.  Surprisingly, I was unable to find any contemporary account of this event from August 1913 – or indeed any mention of it whatsoever until many years after.  Having trawled through numerous articles and books I located what I believe to be the first published account of it – in a book published as late as 1959.  This work is entitled ‘How to Take a Chance – a light hearted introduction to the laws of probability’ and was written by Darrell Huff.  (Note the phrase ‘light hearted’).  The author of this volume presumably invented the story just by way of example and now it appears in reputable publications as though it were an established fact.

But if it had really taken place, what would have happened if a gambler had bet on black starting with a stake of £1, and then left their winnings to accumulate on the same colour for 26 spins of the wheel?  A quick calculation shows that in theory they would have finished up with over £50 million!  This would have been something of an inconvenience to the casino, to put it mildly.  To prevent any player from winning sums of this magnitude, the casino’s rules at that time limited the maximum stake to about £250, a measure which would have reduced the total win to about £9,000 – still a good return on an initial investment of £1 !

By the way – if you know of any source for this tale which pre-dates Darrell Huff’s 1959 book, I’d be delighted to hear all about it.  info@robin-quinn.co.uk


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


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
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!!