Robin Quinn | The Man Who Broke The Bank

The Man Who Broke The Bank - Cover Image


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
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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: 22 July 1891

    Before going to Monte Carlo to break the bank, Charles Deville Wells had committed a large-scale swindle in Britain over a period of several years.  In this way he had accumulated a sizeable amount of money, much of which had already slipped through his fingers.  Reading about his exploits today we might wonder why he had never been prosecuted: the answer lies in official attitudes towards fraud as a crime, and in the laissez-faire business climate of the time, which favoured minimal government intervention in everyday affairs.

    On this day in 1891, the subject of prosecuting fraudsters came up in the House of Commons, when the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews, told Parliament that it was not his intention to pursue those frauds ‘in which a set of rogues and knaves put forward a number of false and fraudulent statements, whilst other people who desire to get large interest join in the scheme, and when they lose their money, come shrieking to the Director of Public Prosecutions to get their money back. I do not agree that the Director of Public Prosecutions ought to be required to spend large sums of money in prosecuting cases of that sort.’ 

    Doubtless, when the “rogues and knaves” in question learned of this policy it simply encouraged them to continue their criminal activities.  A magazine called Truth expressed the view a few days later that ‘Mr Matthews went out of his way to say that the law will not punish where there has been fraud on the part of these persons.  In doing so he not only gave carte blanche to promoters and their decoys to swindle, but he struck a blow at the monetary enterprise of the country’.  It is unlikely that Charles Deville Wells ever read this reply.  By the time this issue of the magazine had appeared in print (30 July 1891) he was already in Monte Carlo, making a name for himself at the gaming tables.

    Charles Deville Wells, as described in 'the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo' by Robin Quinn, author
    THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO : Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire. A newspaper illustration from the 1890s


  • On this day 125 years ago: 21 July 1891

    Before breaking the bank at Monte Carlo, Charles Deville Wells earned fame as an inventor – though notoriety might perhaps be a better word.

    Patent Steam Regulator
    Charles Deville Wells patented this speed regulator for steam engines in 1868 when he was 27 years old.

    On this day in 1891 the current edition of The Engineer – a weekly magazine – presents a snapshot of a Victorian world still deeply entrenched in the era of horse-drawn power, yet poised to move forward into an age in which machines would replace animals, and in which electricity would take over from gas for lighting and heating purposes.

    I chose the following assortment of patents from this issue of the periodical more or less at random.

    Wheels for Velocipedes; Photographic Reliefs in Rubber; Combination Surprise Spring Cannon and Shooting Gallery Toys; Producing Coffin Lace; Magic Goal Kicker; Pictures Projected Upon a Screen; Typewriting Machines; Turning Over the Leaves of Music; Utilising the Power of Streams; Hay Making Machines; Shot Firing Safety Lamp; Mineral Water Opener; Walking Stick Billiard Cue; Convertible Phaeton Front Seat; Retaining Device for Cuffs; Machine Guns; Fire Escapes; Gas Lighting; Ventilating Mackintoshes; Sockets for Electric Lamps; Calks for Horseshoes; Detaching Horses from Carriages; Curling Iron Holder for Gas Jet.

    Charles Wells himself had, in the preceding years, applied for patents on a bewildering variety of gadgets and ideas, including:

    Obtaining Photographic Birds-Eye Views; a Multiple-Wick Candle; Sunshades; a Life-Saving Torpedo; and Detecting Counterfeit Coins. 

    More recently, though, his inventive skills had been directed almost exclusively towards improving the efficiency of steam engines: his inventions could potentially have been extremely valuable in a civilisation largely reliant on steam power.  This week’s crop of patents in The Engineer reflects this trend with applications for:

    Regulating the Speed of Steam Engines; Steam Boilers; Steam Generators.

  • On this day 125 years ago: 20 July 1891
    Monte Carlo Casino
    The Casino at Monte Carlo. A view of the southern aspect.

    In the London Bankruptcy Court on this day a man named Carl Westergaard, the owner of racing stables in Ostend, appeared before a judge.  The Yorkshire Evening Post reported on the case:


    In November, 1889, with £500 given by a friend, [Westergaard] went to Monte Carlo, and, while there he lost that money at the tables, in addition to £300 borrowed from the petitioning creditor, and which he had since been unable to repay … He attributes his failure to losses by gambling, to household and personal expenditure, and to other causes.

    Similar articles frequently appeared in the British press, and the Casino at Monte Carlo – the only place in Europe where gambling was legally allowed – attracted considerable criticism for encouraging people to risk their money, and that of other people.  There was another side to Monte Carlo, however:

    The Prince of Monaco has proved himself a most diligent investigator of the questions connected with ocean currents.  In command of his own steamer he has made the currents of the Atlantic the subject of investigation for years, and the results at which he has arrived are at least full of interest, if not also of high scientific value.   [Birmingham Daily Post]

    A week later Charles Deville Wells made his own journey to Monte Carlo and his successes there pushed stories like these on to the back pages.

  • On this day 125 years ago: 19 July 1891


      A man named Samuel Dixon, of Toronto, walked across the Niagara gorge over the Whirlpool Rapids to-day on a wire cable three-fourths of an inch in diameter. This is the first time that such a journey has been made from the Canadian shore.

    [Reynolds’s Newspaper, 19 July, 1891]

  • On this day 125 years ago: 18 July 1891

    This article from the London Evening Standard of 18 July 1891 caught my eye.


    (From our correspondent ) Vienna, Friday Night. The question of trailing dresses, treated recently in letters to The Standard, has also engaged the attention of the Supreme Sanitary Board of Vienna. All the District Police Commissioners were the other day officially asked their opinion as to whether dresses sweeping in the mud are injurious to the public health; and whether, if forbidden, the prohibition could be enforced. The replies were handed in to-day, and differ widely as to the possibility of carrying out any such prohibition. One official suggests the imposition of a special tax on trailing dresses, but the inventor of this happy idea admits that the impost would be rather difficult of collection.