Robin Quinn is an author and radio producer based in South-East England. His new book, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo explores the life of Charles Deville Wells, fraudster and gambler, and spans the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Published 2016 by The History Press Ltd.
THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO
The incredible true story of Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire.
Charles Wells has two loves in his life: a beautiful, headstrong, French mistress, Jeannette, and his sumptuous yacht, the Palais Royal. At the risk of losing them both, Wells stakes everything he owns at the roulette tables in Monte Carlo’s world-famous Casino – and in the space of a few days he breaks the bank, not once but ten times, winning the equivalent of millions in today’s money.
Is he phenomenally lucky? Has he really invented an “infallible” gambling system, as he claims? Or is he just an exceptionally clever fraudster?
Based on painstaking research on both sides of the Channel and beyond, this biography reveals the incredible true story of the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – an individual who went on to become Europe’s most wanted criminal, hunted by British and French police, and known in the press as “Monte Carlo Wells – the man with 36 aliases”.
HITLER'S LAST ARMY
After the Second World War 400,000 German servicemen were imprisoned on British soil – some remaining until 1948. These defeated men in their tattered uniforms were, in every sense, Hitler's Last Army.
Reviews of Hitler's Last Army
“Probably the best book on the subject in the last 20 years”
“I recommend this book as a must to read.”
[★★★★★ Amazon review by “a German ex-POW”]
“Well written, interesting, informative, and heart-warming in equal measure … I would recommend this even to those not especially interested in WW2, as a fascinating slice of Anglo-German social history of 70 years ago. Buy it."
[★★★★★ Amazon review by J.B.]
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- On this day 125 years ago: 1 August 1891 August 1, 2016
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
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 July 31, 2016
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
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 … July 30, 2016
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 July 30, 2016
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 July 29, 2016
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’].
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!):
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.