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

  • How did you think of that?
    monte carlo casino exterior
    The casino at Monte Carlo. One night in 1891 Charles Wells crossed the square (right foreground) to his hotel, staggering under the weight of a million francs in banknotes and slept with them under his pillow.

    People often ask how I got the idea for this book.  A few years ago I was researching some completely unrelated topic in an old newspaper from the 1920s. I spotted a paragraph which said something like ‘Man who broke bank at Monte Carlo dies in poverty.’ It grabbed my attention because I knew there had been an old song about the man who broke the bank, but I’d never had the faintest idea that he was a real person till that moment. And then I wondered what could possibly have happened for him to finish up in poverty.

    I discovered that Charles Deville Wells broke the bank in 1891 and won very large sums of money at roulette and at a card game, trente-et-quarante. It was pretty obvious from the reports that he really had broken the bank, but also that he was a fraudster. That made me wonder how he’d done it. The details seemed very sketchy, and newspaper articles about him often contradicted one another.

    When I told my editor at The History Press that there had never been a previous biography of Charles Wells, he could hardly believe it — and I felt the same. So we knew that this would be a first.

    Now, in one way that’s very good news for an author, as there’s no direct competition. But on the other hand, it meant that I’d have to reconstruct Wells’ life from scratch. I started with a timeline. And I remember the first version of it was a half sheet of A4 paper with about seven entries, beginning with his birth and ending with his death – and even the details of those events weren’t known for certain. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to find the whole story, or whether it would be possible to fill in all the gaps. But the timeline finished up as a hefty document nearly 200 pages long, with over 700 separate entries representing just about every known fact about Charles Deville Wells. And then it was a matter of putting it all in order – making sense of all the material. And sorting out all the discrepancies and contradictions in the basic material. That took months.

    (To be continued)

     

  • The Man who broke the Bank … on Wikipedia!

    You’ll find more info about Charles Deville Wells, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, on Wikipedia here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Wells_(gambler)

    (I was a contributor to the article.  If you have any questions on the topic that are not answered elsewhere, you are very welcome to contact me at info@robin-quinn.co.uk )

  • The Argus (Brighton)

    My article on Charles Deville Wells – The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – was published in The Argus (Brighton) on 11 June.  http://www.theargus.co.uk/

    Here are a couple of extracts from the piece:

    It was in July 1891 that Wells went to the casino at Monte Carlo – the only place in Europe where gambling was legally permitted at the time.  He arrived at mid-day and started to gamble at the roulette table.  And in the course of eleven hours he broke the bank – not just once but several times in a row.  And then, on subsequent days, he did exactly the same again.  In less than a week he had won £40,000, worth £4 million in today’s terms.

    Even now, 125 years later, no-one is quite sure how he achieved this seemingly-impossible feat.  Some claim that, as an engineer, he could have discovered a slight mechanical imperfection in one of the roulette wheels, enabling him to predict which numbers to bet on.  Other observers speculate that, as a fraudster, he had probably devised a way to swindle the casino. Wells himself dismissed these accusations, claiming that he had invented an infallible system of gambling which involved watching for recurring sequences of numbers before placing his bets.  To me, though, none of these explanations seemed convincing, and I set out to solve the mystery.  After studying all the available evidence, I was finally able to offer a plausible explanation based on the known facts, and I’ve set out my findings in a new book, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.

    Legend has it that, after his Monte Carlo triumph, Wells and his French mistress were regular guests at the London and Paris Hotel in Newhaven, stopping there en route between Britain and France.  They were in the habit of holding riotous parties which went on until the early hours of the morning and kept the other visitors awake.  When the hotel management asked Wells to take his custom elsewhere, he rented a nearby house in Fort Road … where the festivities continued uninterrupted.

    DSC02610
    The house in Fort Road, Newhaven, where Charles Deville Wells is reputed to have lived after his Monte Carlo win.
  • Further investigations …

    Most of the research for The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo took place in the summer of 2014, when I visited Paris, Marseille, Nice and Monte Carlo to follow in the footsteps of the man himself – Charles Deville Wells.  I followed up almost a year later with a second trip, this time to Le Havre, where Wells arrived in 1892 on his huge yacht, the Palais Royal.

    It was while he was here, in company with his beautiful French mistress, that he was arrested by French police – a story that’s related in full within the pages of the book.

    Today the Quai de la Seine is one of the smaller docks and appears to be virtually unused – or perhaps it was just a quiet day when I visited.  The larger vessels using the port now use the more extensive facilities elsewhere, but this was probably a place of some considerable importance in the 1890s when Wells was here.  The Palais Royal, almost 300 feet long, was one of the largest pleasure craft in the world at that time, and would have occupied half the length of the basin.

    While on the same trip I spotted a boat used for river cruises which was just slightly larger than the Palais Royal.  It gives some impression of the scale of Wells’ yacht.

     

    River cruiser
    At about 100 metres in length, this present day river cruiser is roughly the same length as Palais Royal, giving at least some impression of the size of Charles Wells’ yacht
    Le Havre dock Palais Royal
    Author Robin Quinn points out the dock at Le Havre where Charles Deville Wells moored his yacht, Palais Royal
    Charles Wells' yacht, Palais Royal
    Charles Wells’ yacht, Palais Royal (formerly the cargo ship Tycho Brahe).
  • The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo

    Charles Deville Wells, The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, Robin Quinn, coverAt last!  The Blog is back in operation.  Or to be more precise, it’s the writer who is back in operation after a very busy few months!

    A tight deadline to hand over my new book, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo,  means that I have been unable to keep the blog updated for a regrettably long time.  Finally, though, I completed the last corrections earlier this week and placed everything in the capable hands of my publisher, The History Press .  The book is now scheduled for release in August, and as soon as I have the precise date I will post it here.

    newpaper-clipping