Gambling was a popular activity in the eighteenth century, and some of the sums involved are staggering. I recently came across an example of someone using it almost as a means of making money, since the outcome was much more in his own hands than on the card tables or at the races.
David Howell of Lanlawren, Cornwall (1751-1804), was the son of the Revd. Joshua Howell, Rector of Lanreath, who had become wealthy through marriage to an heiress, Dunnett Haweis. A commission was purchased for David in the 16th Light Dragoons and he attained the rank of captain.
A tiny account book in the Howell family papers records the following:
At Sir John Morehead’s at Trenant Park in the month of August 1784 I laid a wager with Francis Glanvill of fifty guineas that he Francis Glanvill was married before me. D Howell
<Inserted between lines ‘Rec. the above 50 guineas’>
Likewise at the same time & place I laid another wager of fifty guineas with Francis Glanvill that William Symons of Hat. was married before me D. Howell
I laid a wager of fifty guineas with Lieut. Smollett of the 16th Light Dragoons that he Lieut. Smollett was married before me D. Howell Chichester 1784
I laid a wager with Humphrey Bellamy Esq of fifty guineas that he Humphrey Bellamy Esq was married before me D. Howell Chichester 1784
<crossed through with note ‘Bellamy is married but has not paid’>
I laid a wager of fifty guineas with Cornet Lee of the 16th Light Dragoons was married before me D. Howell. Cornet Pennyman goes ten guineas of Lee’s wager. Norwich 1786
I laid a wager of twenty guineas with Lieut Archer of the 16th Light Dragoons that he Lieut Archer was married before me D. Howell Norwich 1786
<note added ‘Archer is married but has not paid & has paid the above’>
I laid a wager with Harry Harcourt of the Grenr Guards of fifty guineas that he Harry Harcourt was married before me D. Howell
Fifty guineas in the 1780s would be worth over £3000 today, the equivalent of over 300 days of a craftsman’s wages – or four horses, more to the taste of a cavalryman. These particular wagers must have ended soon after the last one, though, because he curtailed his winnings by marrying one Elizabeth Parsons of Cornwall, some time before 1787 when his daughter Elizabeth was born, followed by a son, David, in 1796; the elder Elizabeth died in 1798.
David Howell’s death notice in the Universal Magazine of 1805 says that he was
for some years actively employed in that situation [as captain], in America, during the war upon that continent. He was afterwards returned M.P. for the borough of St. Michael, in this county [Cornwall]; but finding his attendance in the house incompatible with his regimental duty, he retired from the army. He was a sensible man, a cheerful companion, and a benevolent patron of the poor and necessitous.
Although obviously not such a benevolent patron of his hapless friends!
Extract on wagers from HL/213/2, Cornwall Record Office. Image of George III guinea from Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com. Currency and buying power conversions from http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/