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History of Betting in England

The  singular contest which took place between Mrs Thornton[1] and Mr Flint in 1804 was the talk of its time. An intimacy existed between the families of Col. Thornton and Mr Flint, the two ladies being sisters. In the course of one of their rides in Thornville Park, the lady of Colonel Thornton and Mr Flint were conversing on the qualities of their respective horses; the difference of opinion was great, and the horses were occasionally put at full speed for the purpose of ascertaining the point in question; old Vingarillo, on whom the lady rode, distancing his antagonist every time. Which so discomforted Mr Flint, that he was induced to challenge the lady to ride on a future day. The challenge was readily accepted, and it was agreed that the race should take place on the last day of the York August meeting 1804. This curious match was announced in the following manner:—

“A match for 500 gs., and 1000 gs. bye—four miles—between Colonel Thornton's Vingarillo and Mr Flint's br. h. Thornville by Volunteer—Mrs Thornton to ride her weight against Mr Flint's.”

On Sunday, August the 25th, this race took place, and the following description of it appeared in the York Herald :—

“Never did we witness such an assemblage of people as were drawn together on the above occasion—100,000, at least. Nearly ten times the number appeared on Knavesmire than did on the day when Bay Malton ran, or when Eclipse went over the course, leaving the two best horses of the day a mile and a half behind. Indeed, expectation was raised to the highest pitch, from the novelty of the match. Thousands from every part of the surrounding country thronged to the ground. In order to keep the course as clear as possible, several additional people were employed; and, much to the credit of the 6th Light Dragoons, a party of them, also, were on the ground on horseback, for the purpose, and which, unquestionably, was the cause of many lives being saved.

“About four o'clock, Mrs Thornton appeared on the ground, full of spirit, her horse led by Colonel Thornton, and followed by two gentlemen; afterwards appeared Mr Flint. They started a little past four o'clock. The lady took the lead for upwards of three miles, in most capital style: her horse, however, had much the shorter stroke of the two. When within a mile of being home, Mr Flint pushed forward, and got the lead, which he kept. Mrs Thornton used every exertion; but, finding it impossible to win the race, she drew up, in a sportsmanlike style, when within about two distances.

“At the commencement of the running, bets were 5 and 6 to 4 on the lady; in running the first three miles 7 to 4 and 2 to 1 in her favour. Indeed, the oldest sportsman on the stand thought she must have won. In running the last mile the odds were in favour of Mr Flint. Never, surely, did a woman ride in better style. It was difficult to say whether her horsemanship, her dress, or her beauty, were most admired—the tout ensemble  was unique. Her dress was a leopard-coloured body, with blue sleeves, the rest buff and blue cap. Mr Flint rode in white. The race was run in nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds.

“Thus ended the most interesting race ever ran upon Knavesmire. No words could express the disappointment felt at the defeat of Mrs Thornton. The spirit she displayed,and the good humour with which she bore her loss, greatly diminished the joy, even of the winners.”

This exhibition of herself seems to have fired her ambition, for we read in the Morning Post, Aug. 20, 1805:

“Mrs Thornton is to ride 9 st. against Mr Bromford, who is to ride 13 st. over the York Course, four miles; to run the last race on Saturday in the next August meeting, for four hogsheads of Coti Roti p.p. and 2000 guineas h. ft.; and Mrs T. bets Mr B. 700 gs. to 600 gs. p.p.; the 2000 gs. h. ft. provided it is declared to the Stewards four days before starting, Mrs T. to have the choice of four horses.

“Mr B. to ride Allegro, sister to Allegranti.

N.B., Colonel T., or any gentleman he may name, to be permitted to follow the lady over the course, to assist her in case of any accident.”

But, on the eventful 24th Aug., for some reason or other, Mr Bromford declined the race, paid forfeit, and the lady cantered over the course. Later in the day she really had a race, which is thus described in the Annual Register :

“Afterwards commenced a match, in which the above lady was to ride two miles against Mr Buckle, the jockey, well known at Newmarket, and other places of sport, as a rider of the first celebrity. Mrs Thornton appeared dressed for the contest in a purple cap and waistcoat, nankeen coloured skirts, purple shoes and embroidered stockings; she was in high health and spirits, and seemed eager for the decision of the match. Mr Buckle was dressed in a blue cap, with a blue bodied jacket, and white sleeves. Mrs Thornton carried 9 st. 6 lb., Mr Buckle 13 st. 6 lbs. At half-past three they started. Mrs Thornton took the lead, which she kept for some time; Mr Buckle then put in trial his jockeyship, and passed the lady, which he kept for only a few lengths, when Mrs Thornton, by the most excellent horsemanship, pushed forward, and came in, in a style far superior to anything of the kind we ever witnessed, gaining her race by half a neck; and, on her winning, she was hailed with the most reiterated shouts of congratulation.

“A sad disturbance took place, in the stand, in the afternoon, in consequence of a dispute between Mr Flint (who rode against Mrs Thornton last year) and Colonel Thornton, respecting £1000. Mr Flint had posted the Colonel on Thursday, and the Colonel recriminated on Friday. This day, Mr Flint came to the stand with a new horse whip, which he applied to the Colonel's shoulders with great activity, in the presence of a crowd of ladies. All the gentlemen in the place, indignant at this gross and violent outrage, hissed and hooted him. He was arrested by order of the Lord Mayor and several magistrates, who were present, and given into custody of the City runners, until he can find bail, himself in £1000, and two sureties in £500 each. Colonel Thornton is also bound over to prosecute the party for the assault.”

The sequel to this story is told in the same Magazine, 5th Feb. 1806. “In the Court of King's Bench, an application was made on behalf of Colonel Thornton, for leave to file a criminal information against Mr Flint, for challenging him to fight a duel, and horse-whipping him on the race ground at York last summer, &c. The quarrel arose out of a bet of 1500 guineas which Mr Flint claims to have won of Colonel Thornton by the race he rode against Mrs Thornton, whose bets were adopted by her husband. Whereas Colonel Thornton maintains that, of the bet alluded to, £1000 was a mere nominal thing, intended to attract company to the race, and that nothing more than 500 guineas were seriously intended by the parties. After a full hearing of the whole case, Lord Ellenborough was of opinion, that the case before the Court was one in which their Lordships ought not to interpose with its extraordinary power. On the contrary, he conceived it would be degrading its process to interfere in favour of such parties in such a cause. Colonel Thornton had chosen to appeal to the Jockey Club, and should have abided by their decision. He had, however, not found them exactly fitting his notion of justice; and, therefore, for every thing that had happened since, he must have recourse to the ordinary mode of obtaining redress, namely, by preferring a Bill of Indictment at the Sessions of the County. The other judges being of the same opinion, the rule was discharged.” Flint afterwards became very poor, and was manager at a horse bazaar at York, where he met with his end, according to the Coroner's jury's verdict—“Died from taking too large a dose of prussic acid as a medicine.”

[1]A Miss Alicia Meynell, daughter of a respectable watchmaker of Norwich, aged 22—but not married to Col. Thornton.

A different  kind of wager is recorded in The World, of 4th May 1787. “At the Wheel, at Hackington Fen, on Wednesday sen'night, a fen farmer laid a wager he could eat two dozen  of penny mutton pies, and drink a gallon of ale in half an hour, which he performed with ease, in half the time, and said he had but a scanty  supper and wished for something more; in less than half an hour after, he ate a threepenny loaf and a pound of cheese, and still swore he was hungry. The landlord, unwilling to starve his delicate guest, set before him a leg of pork, which his voracious appetite gormandized with great composure. He thanked the landlord for his civility, and said, ‘I hate to go to bed with an empty stomach.'”

In the Annual Register  we read, September 1788. “A young Irish gentleman, for a very considerable wager, set out on Monday the 22nd instant, to walk to Constantinople and back again in one year. It is said that the young gentleman has £20,000 depending on the performance of this exploit. 1st June 1789, Mr Whaley arrived about this time in Dublin from his journey to the Holy Land, considerably within the limited time of twelve months. The above wager, however whimsical, is not without a precedent. Some years ago, a baronet of some fortune, in the north, laid a considerable wager that he would go to Lapland, bring home two females of that country and two reindeer in a given time. He performed his journey, and effected his purpose in every respect. The Lapland women lived with him for about a year, but, having a wish to go back to their own country, the baronet very generously furnished them with means and money.”

In Trinity Term, 1790, was argued in the Court of King's Bench, whether all wagers, by the 14th George III., were not void, as gaming contracts, and being contrary to the policy of the law? Lord Kenyon and Justices Ashurst and Grose were of opinion, that the law had not declared all wagers illegal, however desirable such a law might be. Wagers that led to a breach of the peace, to immorality, the injury of a third person, or that had a libellous tendency, were void; but some wagers, between indifferent people, were, certainly legal, both by the common law, and by statute. Mr Justice Buller differed from the rest of the Court.

Times, October 2, 1795. “A curious circumstance occurred here (Brighton) yesterday. Sir John Lade , for a trifling wager, undertook to carry Lord Cholmondeley , on his back, from opposite the Pavilion, twice round the Steine. Several ladies attended to be spectators of this extraordinary feat of the dwarf carrying the giant. When his Lordship declared himself ready, Sir John desired him to strip. ‘Strip!' exclaimed the other, ‘why, surely, you promised to carry me in my clothes!' ‘By no means,' replied the Baronet, I engaged to carry you, but not an inch of clothes. So, therefore, my Lord, make ready, and let us not disappoint  the ladies.' After much laughable altercation, it was, at length, decided that Sir John  had won his wager, the Peer declining to exhibit in puris naturalibus.”

Times, September 11, 1797. “A Mr Marston, of the Borough, has laid a bet of 2000 guineas, that he will, in the course of the ensuing week, go into one of the great wheels of the water works at London Bridge, while it is in its swiftest motion with an ebb tide, stay there five minutes, and come out again with safety, though not without accident, in a different part from that in which he went in: and, afterwards, walk one mile within an hour, on condition that the lower bucket of the wheel is two feet from the river bottom.”

A wager was made, in 1806, in the Castle Yard, York, between Thomas Hodgson and Samuel Whitehead, as to which should succeed in assuming the most singular character. Umpires were selected, whose duty it was to decide upon the comparative absurdity of the costumes in which the two men appeared. On the appointed day, Hodgson came before the umpires, decorated with bank notes of various value on his coat and waistcoat, a row of five guinea notes, and a long netted purse of gold round his hat, whilst a piece of paper, bearing the words “John Bull,” was attached to his back. Whitehead was dressed like a woman on one side; one half of his face was painted, and he wore a silk stocking and a slipper on one leg. The other half of his face was blacked, to resemble a negro: on the corresponding side of his body he wore a gaudy, long-tailed, linen coat; and his leg was cased in half a pair of leather breeches, with a boot and spur. One would fancy that Whitehead must have presented the most singular appearance, by far, but the umpires thought differently, and awarded the stakes to Hodgson.

In the early part of this century sporting men were fond of betting on the duration of the lives of celebrities. Napoleon I. was specially the subject of these wagers. It is related that, at a dinner party in 1809, Sir Mark Sykes offered to pay any one who would give him a hundred guineas down, a guinea a day, so long as Napoleon lived. The offer was taken by a clergyman present; and, for three years, Sir Mark Skyes paid him three hundred and sixty-five guineas per annum. He, then, thought he had thrown away enough money, and disputed further payment. The recipient, who was not at all disposed to lose his comfortable annuity, brought an action, which, after lengthy litigation, was decided in favour of the baronet.

A gentleman made a bet of 1000 guineas that he would have a coat made in the course of a single day, from the first process of shearing the sheep to its completion by the tailor. The wager was decided at Newbury on the 25th of June 1811, by Mr John Coxeter of Greenham Mills, near that town. At five o'clock that morning, Sir John Throckmorton, Bart., presented two Southdown wether sheep to Mr Coxeter. Accordingly, the sheep were shorn, the wool spun, the yarn spooled, warped, loomed and wove, the cloth burred, milled, rowed, dyed, dried, sheared and pressed, and put into the hands of the tailors by four o'clock that afternoon; and, at twenty minutes past six, the coat entirely finished, was presented by Mr Coxeter to Sir John Throckmorton, who appeared, wearing it, before an assemblage of upwards of 5000 spectators, who rent the air with their acclamations.

The religious impostor, Johanna Southcott, was the subject of at least one wager, for, concerning that, an action was brought on a bet that she would be delivered of a son, on or before 1st Nov. 1814. As she was a single woman it was held that no action could be sustained, as the wager involved the perpetration of an immorality.

I cannot give chapter and verse for the next two anecdotes, but they are generally accepted as true. The first is about Lord Brougham, who, in his college days, went one autumn to Dumfries in order to make one at the Caledonian Hunt meeting. According to the then custom, everybody dined at a table d'hôte, and, after dinner, betting set in. Brougham offered to bet the whole company that none of them would write down the manner in which he meant to go to the races next day. Those who accepted his challenge wrote down their conjectures and Brougham wrote down his intention of travelling in a sedan chair, a mode of conveyance no one had hit upon. To the races he went, an immense crowd seeing him safely chaired to the course. The bet was then renewed, as to the manner of his return to Dumfries, the acceptors taxing their wits to imagine the most improbable methods of travelling. Brougham had calculated upon this, and won the double event by returning in a post chaise and pair.

The other is a story of Brunel and Stephenson. They were travelling together in a railway carriage, Stephenson being wrapped in a dark plaid, on the exact disposition of the folds of which he rather plumed himself. “You are looking at my plaid,” said he to Brunel; “I'll bet you ten pounds you cannot put it on, properly, the first time.” “I'll bet ten pounds against the plaid,” said Brunel. “If I put it on right when we get out at the next station the plaid is mine; if I miss I pay you ten pounds.” “Done,” said Stephenson. Brunel sat silent until the train stopped; then, stepping on the platform, he asked for the plaid, which was slowly unwound by its owner and handed over: not to be handed back again, for Brunel wound it round his own shoulders as if he had always worn it. He had never tried it before, but, when challenged, did not like to be beaten, and, at once, set to work to study the folds of the plaid. “I got the thing pretty clear in my head before we reached the station, and when I saw him get out of it I knew I was right, so I put it on at once.”

Wagers about walking and running are very numerous, still a few might be mentioned, beginning with Foster Powell, who, on 29th Nov. 1773, commenced a journey from London to York and back in six days. He walked from London to Stamford, 88 miles, on the first day; to Doncaster, 72 miles, on the second; to York, 37 miles, and 22 miles back to Ferrybridge on the third; to Grantham, 65 miles, on the fourth; to Eaton, 54 miles, on the fifth; and the final spin of 56 miles on the sixth—making a total of 394 miles between Monday morning and Saturday night, and winning a wager of one hundred guineas.

Soon afterwards a reputed centenarian, and, admittedly, a very  aged man, undertook to walk 10 miles on the Hammersmith Road in 2 hours and 30 minutes, for a wager of ten guineas, and he accomplished his task in 2 hours 23 minutes.

Captain Barclay, a famous pedestrian, in the early part of the present century, began his exploits at the early age of fifteen by walking six miles in an hour, fair toe and heel. His next feat was to walk from Ury, in Kincardineshire, to Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire, about 300 miles, in five very hot days. He hazarded the large sum of 5000 guineas, that he would walk 90 miles in 20 hours 30 minutes, and he accomplished this arduous task in 19 hours 22 minutes. But his greatest pedestrian feat was performed in July 1809, and is thus described in the Annual Register :

“July 13. Captain Barclay. This gentleman, on Wednesday, completed his arduous pedestrian undertaking to walk a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours, at the rate of a mile in each and every hour. He had until four o'clock P.M. to finish his task, but he performed his last mile in the quarter of an hour after three, with perfect ease and great spirit, amidst an immense concourse of spectators. For the last two days he appeared in higher spirits, and performed his mile with more ease, and in shorter time, than he had done for some days past. With the change of the weather he had thrown off his loose greatcoat, which he wore during the rainy period, and, on Wednesday, performed in a flannel jacket. He also put on shoes remarkably thicker than any which he had used in any previous part of his performance. When asked how he meant to act after he had finished his feat, he said he should, that night, take a good sound sleep, but that he must have himself awaked twice, or thrice, in the night to avoid the danger of a too sudden transition from almost constant exertion, to a state of long repose.

“One hundred to one, and, indeed, any odds, were offered on Wednesday morning; but so strong was the confidence in his success that no bets could be obtained. The multitude of people who resorted to the scene of action, in the course of the concluding days, was unprecedented. Not a bed could be procured, on Tuesday night, at Newmarket, Cambridge, or any of the towns and villages in the vicinity, and every horse, and every species of vehicle was engaged.

“Captain Barclay had £16,000 depending upon his undertaking. The aggregate of the bets is supposed to amount to £100,000.”

In those days there were sportsmen like Osbaldeston and Ross, who were ready for any wager. Let the latter tell a little story.

“A large party were assembled at Black Hall, in Kincardineshire, time, the end of July, or beginning of August. We had all been shooting snipe and flapper-ducks, in a large morass on the estate called Lumphannon. We had been wading amongst bulrushes, up to our middles, for seven or eight hours, and had had a capital dinner. After the ladies had gone to the drawing room, I fell asleep; and, about nine o'clock, was awakened by the late Sir Andrew Keith Hay, who said, ‘Ross, old fellow! I want you to jump up, and go as my umpire with Lord Kennedy, to Inverness. I have made a bet of twenty-five hundred pounds a side, that I get there, on foot, before him!' Nothing came amiss to the men of that day. My answer was, ‘All right, I'm ready'; and off we started, there and then, in morning costume, with thin shoes and silk stockings on our feet. We went straight across the mountains, and it was a longish walk. I called to my servant to follow with my walking shoes and worsted stockings, and Lord Kennedy did the same. They overtook us after we had gone seven or eight miles. Fancy my disgust! My idiot bought me, certainly, worsted stockings, but, instead of shoes, a pair of tight Wellington boots! The sole of one boot vanished twenty-five miles from Inverness, and I had, now, to finish the walk barefooted. We walked all night, next day, and the next night—raining in torrents all the way. We crossed the Grampians, making a perfectly straight line, and got to Inverness at one P.M. We never saw, or heard, anything of Sir A. L. Hay, (he went by the coach road, viâ Huntly and Elgin, thirty-six miles further than we, but a good road) who appeared at ten A.M.much cast down at finding he had been beaten.”

There have been divers wagers about coaching, and also about horses, which have nothing to do with horse racing, and a few may be chronicled here.

On 29th August 1750, at seven in the morning, was decided, at Newmarket, a remarkable wager for 1000 guineas, laid by Count Taaf against the Earl of March and Lord Eglinton, who were to provide a four wheeled carriage, with a man in it, to be drawn by four horses at a speed of 19 miles an hour; which was performed in 53 min. 27 sec. It was rather an imposing affair. A groom, dressed in crimson velvet, rode before to clear the way: the boy who sat in the vehicle was dressed in a white satin jacket, black velvet cap, and red silk stockings, whilst the four postillions were clothed in blue satin waistcoats, buckskin breeches, with white silk stockings, and black velvet caps. The carriage is thus described: “The pole was small, but lapp'd with fine wire; the perch had a plate underneath, two cords went on each side, from the back carriage to the fore carriage, fastened to springs. The harness was of thin leather, covered with silk; the seat for the man to sit on, was of leather straps, and covered with velvet; the boxes of the wheels were brass, and had tins of oil to drop slowly for an hour: the breechings for the horses were of whale bone; the bars were small wood, strengthened with steel springs, as were most parts of the carriage; but all so light that a man could carry the whole, with the harness; being but 2 cwt. and a half.” Two or three other carriages had been made previously, but had been disapproved of, and several horses had been killed in trials—costing between £600 and £700.

In April and finishing on 3rd May 1758, at Newmarket, Miss Pond, daughter of Mr Pond, the compiler and publisher of the Racing Calendar, bearing his name, laid a wager of 200 guineas that she could ride 1000 miles in a 1000 hours, and finished her match in a little more than two-thirds of the time. At the conclusion, the country people strewed flowers in her path. It has been said that this feat was performed on one horse.

In the beginning of June 1800, a naval officer undertook, for a wager, to ride a blind horse round Sheerness racecourse without guiding the reins with his hands; this he performed to the no small amusement of the spectators, by cutting the reins asunder, and fastening the several parts to his feet in his stirrups.

Perhaps the best known match of modern times was one made at the Ascot meeting of 1888, of £1000 to £500 that a coach could not be driven to Brighton and back in eight hours. James Selby, a professional whip, started from the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, punctually at 10 A.M. on July 13, and arrived at Brighton, at the Old Ship, at 1.56 P.M. The coach was turned round and the return journey instantly started; White Horse Cellar being reached at 5.50 P.M.: thus winning the match by ten minutes. Selby died at the end of the year.

The betting book of White's Club, dates from the year 1743—the older book and all the other records of the Club having been destroyed in the fire of 1743. The following are some of the wagers therein recorded. The early ones are principally pitting lives against one another.

Feb. y e  3, 1743/4. Lord Montford betts Mr Wardour twenty Guineas on each, that Mr Shephard outlives Sir Hans Sloan, the Dutchess Dowager of Marlborough, and Duke of Somerset.—Voide.

Mr J no  Jeffreys betts Mr Stephen Jansen Fifty Guineas, that thirteen Members of Parliament don't Die from the first of Jan y  1744/5 to the first of Jan y  1745/6 exclusive of what may be killed in battle.

Ld Leicester betts Lord Montfort One Hundred Guineas that Six or more Peers of the British Parliament, including Catholics, Minors, Bishops, and Sixteen Scotch Lords, shall Die between the 2 of Decem r  1744, and the First of Decem r  1745 inclusive.

16 July 1746. Mr Heath wagers Mr Fanshawe five guineas that the eldest son of the Pretender is dead, on, or before this day. To be returned if the Pretender was dead.—pd. Nov r  28.

Oct r  20th 1746. Mr Heath gave Col. Perry Twenty Pounds, for which Col. Perry is to pay Mr Heath one hundred pounds if ever he loses more than one hundred pounds in any four and twenty hours.

Nov r  y e  14, 1746. Mr Fox betts Mr John Jeffreys five guineas on Number Two against Number One in the present Lottery.

Lord Montfort wagers S r  Wm. Stanhope 20 guineas that Lady Mary Coke has a child beford Ly Kildare, and 20 guineas more that L y  Mary Coke has a child before L y Fawkener.

January the 14th, 1747/8. Mr Fanshawe wagers Lord Dalkeith one guinea, that his peruke is better than his Lordship's, to be judged of by the majority of members the next time they both shall meet.

These are fair specimens, and, after this date, the bets begin to be political and personal, and devoid of interest.

The word wager is an English word—and was spelt in Middle English, Wageoure, or Wajour, as in The Babee's Book.

“No waiour  non with hym thou lay,
Ne at the dyce with hym to play.”

It was in early use, for we have the Wager of Battel, which was a practical bet between two men as to the justice of their cause. This ordeal was in force until 1819, when it was done away with by 59 Geo. III., c. 46.

In Shakespeare's time betting was common, and the practice of giving and taking odds was well known, as we may see in Hamlet, Act v. s. 2, where Osrick, speaking to Hamlet, says, “The King, sir, hath wagered with him six Barbary horses; against which he hath imponed, as I take it, six French Rapiers and poniards, with their assigns, as girdles, hangers and so.” In Cymbeline, Act i. s. 5, we have a bet, which is so serious that it has to be recorded. Iachimo says, “I dare thereupon pawn the moiety of my estate to your ring, which, in my opinion, o'ervalues it something,” and, ultimately, ten thousand crowns are laid against the ring, and Iachimo says, “I will fetch my gold, and have our two wagers recorded.”

By the way, there was an epitaph on Combe, the usurer, which has been attributed to Shakespeare, which intimates the laying of odds.

“Ten in the hundred lies here ingraved;
‘Tis a hundred to ten, his soul is not sav'd.”

It is recorded of Sir John Packington, called “Lusty Packington” (Queen Elizabeth called him “her Temperance”), that he entered into articles to swim against three noblemen for £3000 from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich; but the queen, by her special command, prevented the bet being carried out.

Howell in his Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ says: “If one would try a petty conclusion how much smoke there is in a pound of Tobacco, the ashes will tell him: for, let a pound be exactly weighed, and the ashes kept charily and weighed afterwards, what wants of a pound weight in the ashes, cannot be denied to have been smoke which evaporated into air. I have been told that Sir Walter Rawleigh won a wager of Queen Elizabeth upon this nicety.”

Men betted, but their wagers are not recorded until the eighteenth century, and one of the earliest of these is told in Malcolm's Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London during the eighteenth century. “Mrs Crackenthorpe, the Female Tatler of 1709, tells us ‘that four worthy Senators lately threw their hats into a river, laid a crown each whose hat should first swim to the mill, and ran hallooing after them; and he that won the prize, was in a greater rapture than if he had carried the most dangerous point in Parliament.'”

“There was an established Cock pit in Prescot Street, Goodman's Fields, 1712: there the Gentlemen of the East entertained themselves, while the Nobles and others of the West were entertained by the edifying exhibition of the agility of their running footmen. His Grace of Grafton declared his  man was unrivalled in speed; and the Lord Cholmondeley betted him that his  excelled even the unrivalled; accordingly, the ground was prepared for a two mile heat, in Hyde Park; the race was run, and one of the parties was victor, but which, my informant does not say.”

“I have frequently observed, in the course of my researches, the strange methods and customs peculiar to gaming, horse racing, dice and wagers; the latter are generally governed by whim and extreme folly. We have already noticed Noblemen running their Coaches and Footmen. In 1729, a Poulterer of Leadenhall Market betted £50, he would walk 202 times round the area of Upper Moorfields in 27 hours, and, accordingly, proceeded at the rate of five miles an hour on the amusing pursuit, to the infinite improvement of his business, and great edification of hundreds of spectators. Wagers are now a favourite custom with too many of the Londoners; they very frequently, however, originate over the bottle, or the porter pot.”

“To characterise the follies of the day, it will be necessary to add to the account of the walking  man, another, of a hopping man, who engaged to hop 500 yards, in 50 hops, in St James's Park, which he performed in 46. This important event occurred in December 1731.”

In No. 145 of the Spectator  (16th Aug. 1711) is a letter about the prevalence of laying wagers. “Among other things which your own experience must suggest to you, it will be very obliging if you please to take notice of wagerers.


“Not long ago, I was relating that I had read such a passage in Tacitus; up starts my young gentleman, in a full company, and, pulling out his purse, offered to lay me ten guineas, to be staked, immediately, in that gentleman's hands, pointing to one smoking at another table, that I was utterly mistaken. I was dumb for want of ten guineas; he went on unmercifully to triumph over my ignorance how to take him up, and told the whole room he had read Tacitus twenty times over, and such a remarkable incident as that, could not escape him. He has, at this time, three considerable wagers depending between him and some of his companions, who are rich enough to hold an argument with him. He has five guineas upon questions in geography, two that the Isle of Wight is a peninsula, and three guineas to one, that the world is round. We have a gentleman comes to our coffee house, who deals mightily in antique scandal; my disputant has laid him twenty pieces upon a point of history.”

It was in the early part of the eighteenth century that betting was made a part of professional gambling, as we read in Smollett's Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom. On his return to England “he perceived that gaming was now managed in such a manner, as rendered skill and dexterity of no advantage; for the spirit of play having overspread the land, like a pestilence, raged to such a degree of madness and desperation, that the unhappy people who were infected, laid aside all thoughts of amusement, economy, or caution, and risqued their fortunes upon issues equally extravagant, childish and absurd.

“The whole mystery of the art was reduced to the simple exercise of tossing up a guinea, and the lust of laying wagers, which they indulged to a surprising pitch of ridiculous intemperance. In one corner of the room might be heard a pair of lordlings running their grandmothers against each other, that is, betting sums on the longest liver; in another, the success of the wager depended upon the sex of the landlady's next child: one of the waiters happening to drop down in an apoplectic fit, a certain noble peer exclaimed, ‘Dead, for a thousand pounds.' The challenge was immediately accepted; and when the master of the house sent for a surgeon to attempt the cure, the nobleman, who set the price upon the patient's head, insisted upon his being left to the efforts of nature alone, otherwise the wager should be void: nay, when the landlord harped upon the loss he should sustain by the death of a trusty servant, his lordship obviated the objection, by desiring that the fellow might be charged in the bill.”

Horace Walpole in a letter to Sir H. Mann (1 Sep. 1750) tells a similar tale. “They have put in the papers a good story made on White's; a man dropped down dead at the door, was carried in; the club immediately made bets whether he was dead or not, and when they were going to bleed him, the wagerers for his death interposed, and said it would affect the fairness of the bet.” But there is no such bet mentioned in White's betting book.

They even betted in the House of Commons. In the course of a debate Mr Pulteney charged Sir Robert Walpole with misquoting Horace; the prime minister replied by offering to bet that he had not done so, and the wager was accepted. The clerk of the House was called upon to decide the question, and declared Pulteney right; upon which Sir Robert threw a guinea across the House, to be picked up by his opponent, with the remark that it was the first public money he had touched for a long time.

Brookes' betting book has C. J. Fox's name frequently. In 1744 he bet Lord Northington that he would be called to the Bar within four years time. In 1755, he received one guinea from Lord Bolingbroke, upon condition of paying him a thousand pounds when the debts of the country amounted to a hundred and seventy-one millions; an event Fox lived to see come to pass.

In the Connoisseur  of 9th May 1754 is an article on the prevalence of wagers. It says: “Tho' most of our follies are imported from France, this had its rise and progress entirely in England. In the last illness of Louis XIV. Lord Stair laid a wager on his death; and we may guess what the French thought of it, from the manner in which Voltaire mentions it, in his Siècle de Louis XIV. ‘Le roi fut attaqué vers le milieu du mois d'Août. Le Comte de Stair, ambassadeur d'Angleterre paria, selon le génie de sa nation, que le roi ne passeroit pas le mois de Septembre.' ‘The King,' says he, ‘was taken ill about the middle of August; when Lord Stair, the Ambassador from England,betted according to the custom of his nation, that the king would not live beyond September.'

I am in some pain lest this custom should get among the ladies. They are, at present, very deep in cards and dice; and while my lord is gaining abroad, her ladyship has her rout at home. I am inclined to suspect that our women of fashion will, also, learn to divert themselves with this polite practice of laying wagers. A birthday suit, the age of a beauty, who invented a particular fashion, or who were supposed to be together at the last masquerade, would, frequently give occasion for bets. This would, also, afford them a new method for the ready propagation of scandal, as the truth of several stories which are continually flitting about the town, would, naturally, be brought to the same test. Should they proceed further, to stake the lives of their acquaintances against each other, they would, doubtless, bet with the same fearless spirit, as they are known to do at brag ; one husband would, perhaps, be pitted against another, or a woman of the town against a maid of honour. In a word, if this once becomes fashionable among the ladies, we shall soon see the time, when an allowance for bet money will be stipulated in the marriage articles.

As the vices and follies of persons of distinction are very apt to spread, I am much afraid lest this branch of gaming should descend to the common people. Indeed, it seems already to have got among them. We have frequent accounts of tradesmen riding, walking, eating and drinking for a wager. The contested election in the City has occasioned several extraordinary bets. I know a butcher in Leadenhall Market, who laid an ox to a shin of beef on the success of Sir John Barnard against the field; and have been told of a publican in Thames Street, who ventured a hogshead of entire beer on the candidate who serves him with beer.”

Walpole tells one or two stories about betting in the course of his chatty letters. “Dec. 19, 1750. There has been a droll cause in Westminster Hall: a man laid another a wager that he produced a person who should weigh as much again as the Duke.[1]When they had betted, they recollected not knowing how to desire the Duke to step into a scale. They agreed to establish his weight at twenty stone, which, however, is supposed to be two more than he weighs. One Bright,[2] was then produced, who is since dead, and who, actually, weighed forty-two stone and a half. As soon as he was dead, the person who had lost, objected that he had been weighed in his clothes, and though it was impossible that his clothes could weigh above two stone, they went to law. There were the Duke's twenty stone bawled over a thousand times; but the righteous law decided against the man who had won!”

“10th July 1774. One of them has committed a murder, and intends to repeat it. He betted £1500 that a man could live twelve hours under water; hired a desperate fellow, sunk him in a ship, by way of experiment, and both ship and man have not appeared since. Another man and ship are to be tried for their lives, instead of Mr Blake, the assassin.”

On 30 June 1765 a wager of 1000 guineas was decided between two noblemen, one of whom had constructed a machine which was to work a boat at the rate of 25 miles an hour: a canal was prepared near the banks of the Thames, on which to try it, but the tackle breaking, the bet was lost.

28 Feb. 1770. A bet was laid by a noble earl that he would procure a man to ride to Edinburgh from London, and back, in less time than another noble earl could make a million of scores, or distinct dots, in the most expeditious manner that he could contrive.

On 12th June 1771 was tried before Lord Mansfield and a special jury, in the Court of King's Bench, a cause wherein Lord March was plaintiff, and Mr Pigot, defendant. The action was brought to recover the sum of 500 guineas for a wager which Lord March had laid with Mr Pigot, whether Sir William Codrington or old Mr Pigot would die first. Mr Pigot happened to die suddenly from gout in his head on the morning previous to the laying of the wager, and the younger Mr Pigot thought, from this circumstance, that it was no bet. The defendant's counsel said, that if you make a bet for two horses to run, and one of them should die before the race came off, there could be no bet; and he hoped that the jury would find for his client. After a short charge from the judge, the jury brought in a verdict for the plaintiff of 500 guineas, and full costs of suit.

On 1st July 1777 a case came before the Lord Chief-Justice Mansfield, which is one of the most extraordinary that ever was tried in a Court of Justice, respecting the sex of the Chevalier d'Eon, formerly ambassador to England from the Court of France.

The action was brought by Mr Hayes, surgeon, against one Jacques, a broker and underwriter, for the recovery of £700, the said Jacques having, about six years previously, received premiums of fifteen guineas per cent., for every one of which he stood engaged to return one hundred guineas, whenever it should be proved that the Chevalier d'Eon was, actually, a woman.

Mr Buller opened the case as counsel for Mr Hayes. He stated the fairness of the transaction, and the justifiable nature of the demand, as Mr Hayes, the plaintiff, thought himself now to be in possession of that proof which would determine the sex of the Chevalier d'Eon, and, for ever, render the case indisputable.

In proof of the fact, M. de Goux, a surgeon, was the first witness called, and gave his testimony to the following effect: That he had been acquainted with the Chevalier d'Eon from the time when the Duc de Nivernois resided in England in quality of ambassador from the Court of France. That to his certain knowledge, the person called the Chevalier d'Eon was a woman.

Being closely interrogated by the counsel for the defendant, as to the mode of his acquiring such a degree of certainty relative to the sex of the party, M. de Goux gave this account of the matter: That, about five years ago, he was called in by the Chevalier d'Eon, to lend his professional aid, as she, at that time, laboured under a disorder which rendered an examination of the afflicted part absolutely necessary. That this examination led, of course, to that discovery of the sex of which M. de Goux was now enabled to give such testimony.

The second witness called on the part of the plaintiff was M. de Morande. He swore that, so long ago as the 3rd of July 1774, the Chevalier d'Eon made a free disclosure of her sex to the witness. That she had even proceeded so far as to display her bosom on the occasion. That, in consequence of this disclosure of sex, she, the Chevalier d'Eon, had exhibited the contents of her female wardrobe, which consisted of sacques, petticoats, and other habiliments calculated for feminine use. That, on the said 3rd day of July 1774, the witness paid a morning visit to the Chevalier d'Eon, and, finding her in bed, accosted her in a style of gallantry respecting her sex. That, so far from being offended with this freedom, the said Chevalier desired the witness to approach nearer to her bed, and then permitted him to have manual proof of her being, in very truth, a woman.

Mr Mansfield, on the part of the defendant, pleaded that this was one of those gambling, indecent and unnecessary cases, that ought never to be permitted to come into a Court of Justice; that, besides the inutility and indecency of the case, the plaintiff had taken advantage of his client, being in possession of intelligence that enabled him to lay with greater certainty, although with such great odds on his side; that the plaintiff, at the time of laying the wager, knew that the Court of France treated with the Chevalier, as a woman, to grant her a pension; and that the French Court must have had some strong circumstances to imbibe that idea; therefore, he hoped the jury would reprobate such wagers. The defendant's counsel did not attempt to contradict the plaintiff's' evidence, by proving the masculine gender.

Lord Mansfield expressed his abhorrence of the whole transaction, and the more so, for their bringing it into a Court of Justice, when it might have been settled elsewhere; wishing it had been in his power, in concurrence with the jury, to have made both parties lose; but, as the law had not expressly prohibited it, and the wager was laid, the question before them was, who had won? His Lordship remarked that the indecency of the proceeding arose more from the unnecessary questions asked, than from the case itself; that the witnesses had declared they perfectly knew the Chevalier d'Eon to be a woman; if she is not a woman, they are certainly perjured: there was, therefore, no need of inquiring how, or by what methods they knew it, which was all the indecency.

As to the fraud suggested, of the plaintiff's knowing more than the defendant, he seemed to think there was no foundation for it. His Lordship then recited a wager entered into by two gentlemen, in his own presence, about the dimensions of the Venus de Medicis, for £100. One of the gentlemen said, “I will not deceive you; I tell you fairly, I have been there, and measured it myself.” “Well,” says the other, “and do you think I should be such a fool, as to lay if I had not measured it?... I will lay for all that.”

His Lordship then went on to state to the jury, that this Chevalier had publicly appeared as a man, had been employed by the Court of France, as a man, as a military man, in a civil office, and as a Minister of State here, and in Russia; there was all the presumption against the plaintiff, and the onus probandi  lay upon him, which might never been come at; for it appeared, the only proposition of a discovery of sex that had been made to the Chevalier, by some gentlemen on an excursion, had been resented by d'Eon, who had instantly quitted their company on that account: it might, therefore, never have been in his power to have proved his wager, but for some accidental quarrels between d'Eon and some of her countrymen. His Lordship was, therefore, of opinion that the jury should find a verdict for the plaintiff.

The jury, without hesitation, gave a verdict for the plaintiff, £700, and 40s. Yet, when d'Eon died, in London, in 1810, it was proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was a man.


[2]Edward Bright died at Malden in Essex, 10th Nov. 1750.