Robin Quinn | The Man Who Broke The Bank

The Man Who Broke The Bank - Cover Image

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO

About the book

Essential reading for lovers of Victorian true-crime stories. The book takes readers on a roller-coaster ride through Britain, France and Monaco in the company of one of the greatest swindlers of the era as he pulls off one breath-taking coup after another. His amazing win at Monte Carlo is just one of many highlights in this true story, which reaches a climax when Wells is pursued across Europe in one of the biggest man-hunts of all time.

The Man Who Broke The Bank
Hardcover; e-book
Published:
2016
Publisher:
ISBN:
9780750961776

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
Newspaper clipping: MONTE CARLO WELLS was for the time the most famous man in Europe.  He eclipsed every other social notable.  His wealth was supposed to be immense, and everything he touched turned into gold.  He became the theme of every music hall and pantomime ditty.  No comedy of the day was complete without a reference to the man who broke the bank. [AUCKLAND STAR, 31 MARCH 1906]

FACTFILE: Charles Deville Wells aka ‘Monte Carlo Wells’ aka ‘The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo’

Fact #1Fact #2Fact #3Fact #4
In 1891, during two visits to the Casino at Monte Carlo, Charles Deville Wells broke the bank several times and won £60,000 (equivalent to £6 million today). The present owners of the Casino admit that his success has never been satisfactorily explained. In ‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’, author Robin Quinn sets out the possibilities .
The Casino at Monte Carlo
To ‘break the bank’ means to clean out the cash reserve of the gambling table in question. Each table was stocked with 100,000 francs in cash at the start of each day. If a player ‘broke the bank’, that table was temporarily closed and was covered with a black cloth.
The steam yacht Palais Royal, formerly Tycho Brahe
Soon after he broke the bank, Charles Deville Wells bought an old cargo ship, the Tycho Brahe, and converted her into a luxury yacht, re-naming her Palais Royal. At 291 feet in length, the vessel was one of the largest pleasure craft in the world. Even today, she would be in the top-50 of yachts in terms of size.
After Charles Wells broke the bank in 1891, his exploits inspired composer Fred Gilbert to write a song entitled – naturally – The Man Who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. This became the hit song of a generation and remained popular for well over half a century. The singer most closely associated with it, Charles Coborn, made at least five separate records featuring the tune, and once said he had performed it on stage a quarter of a million times.

Blog: The Man Who Broke The Bank

  • On this day 125 years ago: 1 August 1891
    Casino exterior
    The Casino at Monte Carlo. One night in 1891 Charles Wells crossed the square (foreground) to his hotel, staggering under the weight of a million francs in banknotes and slept with them under his pillow.

    On this day in 1891, early reports of Charles Wells and his success at the Monte Carlo Casino were trickling in.  This brief bulletin in The Times was typical:

    GAMBLING AT MONTE CARLO

    Charles Deville Wells man broke bank monte carlo gambler fraudster extraordinaire robin quinn author victorian edwardian true crime
    Charles Deville Wells, the Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, pictured some years after his gambling coup at the casino.

    An Englishman named Wells, who is staying here, has just had a run of luck so extraordinary as to be the chief topic of the hour, not only with those who frequent the Casino, but among the residents of Monte Carlo generally.  For the last three days this gentleman has played roulette incessantly, and during that time has won no less than £20,000 [equivalent to at least £2 million today] …

    So engrossed was this fortunate gambler that never once did he stir from his seat or partake of food during the 11 hours of play.  He won several stakes of 26,000 f, and twice consecutively backed the number one ‘en plein’ successfully for 8,000 f, the maximum amount allowed.  He also frequently backed with similar good fortune the even chances – red, odd and even, ‘marque,’ and ‘passe’ – and more than once won all these stakes at the same time.  It is stated that he has sent on all his winnings to England, so as to place himself beyond the temptation of losing them by further operations at the gaming tables.

  • On this day 125 years ago: 31 July 1891

    a gaming hall in the Monte Carlo Casino

    A very short news-agency telegram from Monaco reached some evening newspapers in Britain before they went to press on this day 125 years ago.

    LUCK AT MONTE CARLO

    [REUTERS TELEGRAM]

    Monte Carlo, Friday.

    An English visitor, after playing continuously at the roulette tables here during the last four days, has just won a sum of £20,000.  [Equivalent to £2 million in today’s money].

    Occupying only three or four lines, and without mentioning the ‘lucky Englishman’ by name, the bulletin probably went unnoticed by the majority of readers.  But very soon Charles Wells and his gambling success would be one of the main topics of conversation up and down Britain.

    To be continued …

  • You don’t have to be a millionaire like the man who broke the bank …
    Charles Deville Wells, The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, Robin Quinn, cover
    Front cover

    Here’s an excellent offer that I spotted on the WH Smith website.  The hardback edition of The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo is on sale at the time of writing at £12.91 – that’s 32% off the recommended retail price of £18.99!  WH Smith also has the E-book at £7.19

    On Amazon  the hardback is currently available at £15.90 while the E-book is £6.64

    Who wants to be a millionaire with offers like these?!  Naturally the book is also available at many other bookstores on the high street and online.  (Prices and details shown are as advertised online at the time of writing, 30 July 2016, and may be subject to change without notice).

  • On this day 125 years ago: 30 July 1891
    casino monte carlo man who broke the bank Victorian true crime Edwardian Robin Quinn
    The Casino at Monte Carlo where Charles Deville Wells broke the bank several times in July and August 1891

     

    On this day 125 years ago, a commentary in the Nottingham Evening Post reflects Victorian views on gambling, an activity which many people regarded as a grave sin, on a par with drunkenness and sexual immorality:

    Lotteries are, as we all know, illegal in England and most other civilised countries, but an attempt is being made to introduce the system of State lotteries in Louisiana, which, in spite of the opposition of the Governor, may be successful, inasmuch as the Lottery Company offers to give $1,250,000 for a twenty-five years’ concession, the money to be applied to purposes of education, to pensions, and to charitable uses. The proffered bribe is a huge one, but Governor Nichols has hitherto stood firm, and will no doubt remain so; the question is whether he will be backed up by the State authorities.

    The principle behind the proposed lottery in Louisiana is rather similar to the arrangement in Monte Carlo, in which the Casino paid a substantial yearly amount to the royal household as well as financing public services such as the police, education, sanitation, hospitals and public works.  This financial support meant that the citizens of Monaco never had to pay taxes – a situation which still exists today.

    One person who took advantage of the existence of the Monte Carlo casino was, of course, Charles Deville Wells.  On this day 125 years ago he was spending his third day at the gambling tables, where he had already broken the bank several times.  His story will be continued here over the next few days.

    Incidentally, if you enjoy excerpts such as the one above, you will find it interesting to visit the website of the British Newspaper Archive, where millions of pages of 19th and 20th century newspapers can be searched and browsed.  The site allows you carry out searches free of charge, and there are various packages available from £12.95 per month to view as many pages as you wish.  (I gather you are allowed three complimentary page views as a free trial.  And having after your subscription runs out you may subsequently be offered very inexpensive packages from as little as £1 per month from time to time). http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

    I used this resource extensively when researching The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire, as well as my previous book, Hitler’s Last Army – German POWs in Britain.  I have also used it when researching my own family history, and was astonished to find several references to my great-grandfather – including one where, as a young boy, he had a brush with the law having damaged a neighbour’s gate!

  • On this day 125 years ago: 29 July 1891

    Having won the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds on the previous day, Charles Deville Wells was now ready for a repeat performance.  Although news of his exploits had not yet reached the British press, the ‘News in Brief’ columns of the Derby Daily Telegraph nevertheless carried some fascinating stories from around the world.

    Fortune has smiled on the explorers in the field of electrical science, says an American paper. No scientific body in the United States has so many millionaires as the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

    [In his role as an inventor, Charles Wells had patented various electrical devices, including ‘electric baths’, and an ‘improved arc lamp’].

    Sarah Bernhardt
    Sarah Bernhardt

    Recently there had been persistent rumours that Sarah Bernhardt, the world’s most famous actress, had lost all of her money at the tables in Monte Carlo, and had attempted suicide.  The Casino appears to have been successful in keeping this adverse publicity out of the newspapers.  Having recovered from the alleged incident, Sarah Bernhardt had just begun a tour of Australia.

    Madame Bernhardt is busily adding to her menagerie in Australia. She has already acquired a couple of splendid colonial dogs, a magnificent cockatoo, two laughing jack-asses, and a young kangaroo, which has become a special pet.

    In today’s world we are very conscious of the effects of human activity on the ecology of the planet.  Things were rather different in 1891:

    The whaler Polar Star, which reached Dundee on Monday from Greenland, brought 70 tons of oil and three tons of whalebone, the value the latter at present being £2,300 per ton. She also has 426 seals, 20 bears, and one narwhal.

    Victorian doctors now believed they knew the cause of baldness (a topic doubtless close to Charles Wells’ heart!):

    charles deville wells the man who broke the bank at monte carlo
    Charles Deville Wells, the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo

    The increasing prevalence of premature baldness is a fact now recognised by the medical profession. According to Dr. Joseph Tyson’s remarks in the Lancet, the principal cause, although not the sole one, seems to be the frequent covering of the head. Women notoriously lose their hair less often. The cause is found in the comparative lightness of their head gear.