Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…
I OWN a few absolutely fascinating, privately printed books of gambles between ‘gentlemen’, many placed as long as two centuries ago.
First, though, I recently came across details of wager struck nearer to THREE centuries ago in the London club, White’s, which was in existence from 1693 and where, on November 4, 1754, ‘Lord Montfort wagers Sir Bland one hundred guineas that Mr Nash outlives Mr Cibber.’
Such bets on the lifespan of fellow gentlemen were not that unusual in those days, but it was noted underneath this particular one that, ‘Both Ld M and Sir J.B. put an end to their lives before the bet was decided.’
‘The Betting Book of the 2nd Battalion (78th) Seaforth Highlanders 1822 – 1908’ is one of my favourite punting publications. The 157 pages contain details of many bets struck between officers, presumably to brighten their lives between military engagements.
The opening wager recorded in the book will appal bird-lovers, with Lieutenant Mitchell betting fellow Lt, Hemmans that he he will ‘shoot twelve larks in one day.’
Hemmans wagered on November 19, 1822, one bottle of port that Mitchell would fail in this endeavour – and was duly proved correct in his assessment of the marksmanship of his colleague.
Flushed with success, and possibly also by having glugged the port, Hemmans then took on Ensign Montresor for double the stakes, as the latter backed himself to shoot two dozen larks within 24 hours. Montresor blasted away, but came up short and Hemmans was again pouring the port.
Hemmans was clearly a regular punter, and the book records that on November 23, 1834, he bet a bottle of wine against one Mr Hamilton that the latter could not ‘stand on one leg for ten minutes, the other not touching.’ This time Hemmans lost.
One of the weirder bets recorded was struck in March, 1839 as Mr H Hamilton ‘bet Captain Vassall that Miss Finlay of Elstree Hill married within the last few months a man without thumbs.’ This was thumb mistake by Hamilton, who lost the digital wager.
In December 1861, ‘Lieut Williamson bets Dr Jee a bottle of champagne that he – Lieut W -has more hair on his head and face than Dr Jee.’ The wager was ‘decided by the Majority in the room, decidedly the worse for drink’ – and their verdict was that Lt Williamson was less hirsute that the good Doctor.
One of my favourite bets, this one recorded on January 26, 1871, as ‘Ens Sandeman bets Ens Callander 1 bottle of champagne that he – Ens C – will not sneeze on taking a pinch of snuff, if Ens Sandeman tells him not to sneeze.’ Callander sneezed and lost the wager.
Amongst the final wagers in this fascinating tome was this one struck on August 11, 1907 between Lieut F L Fraser and Lieut Sir John Fowler, with the former declaring ‘that the height of the Eiffel Tower is nearer 1000 feet than 500 feet.’ This bet was for two magnums of champagne – how would you bet on who won?
Well, it was Lieut Fraser, as the Tower’s height was – may still be, for all I know, 985 feet high. Apparently, it is now 1083 feet high.
Another, rather better-known soldier, Field Marshal Montgomery, was also something of a punter – and a shrewd one, as BBC War Correspondent, Frank Gilpin revealed, as he recalled the time he managed to win a wager from Monty – but never received his fiver winnings.
Gilpin bet the money over the date WW2 would end. Gilpin’s forecast was the more accurate. Monty initially delayed paying up – but when he did, it was not with cash, but a cheque, on which he wrote, ‘in full and final settlement of a bet’.
Gilpin, as Monty evidently strongly suspected, could not bring himself to cash the cheque, regarding it, as would so many, as an invaluable souvenir worth more than the amount it recorded!
Monty, who was known to relish a flutter, also staked one against General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, Europe, who ‘was personally so confident…. that I bet Montgomery five pounds that we would end the War by Christmas of 1944. I lost the bet.’
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