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Henry de Ros at Graham's table and Elsewhere in FAMOUS RACING MEN

by THORMANBY p, 117

My grateful thanks to Eric Graham from Devon, who heard my plea for information about Lord Henry De Ros and sent me two articles: this one and Lord De Ros and the Affair at Graham's.

We have said that Mr. Payne was an infatuated gambler, not only on the turf but at the card-table. For upwards of fifty years he spent more nights at play than any man that ever cut a pack of cards, and one eventful incident in his card-playing experience led to a very disagreeable result. In the year 1837 occurred the celebrated trial of Lord de Ros v. Cumming, a cause celébre which convulsed "society," more than any incident of a like nature which has since happened.

Lord de Ros had been a constant player, chiefly at whist and écarte at the West End clubs, and was so steady a winner, that in the winter of 1836, rumours began to circulate that his play was not fair. Hints were given him which he declined to take. He was closely watched on several occasions, and was detected in the act of marking the cards, and performing also the sleight-of-hand feat known as sauter la coupe.

He had many accusers, but the chief among them were Mr. Payne, Mr. Brooke Greville, Lord Henry Bentinck and Mr. Cumming. Lord de Ros, who was abroad when the scandal was first set going, returned to England as soon as he heard of it, and having traced the accusations to their source, was ill-advised enough to bring an action for libel against Mr. Cumming, which was tried before Lord Denman and a special jury, on tne 10th of February, 1837. The sensation produced by the trial was profound; the court was crowded with ladies and gentlemen moving in the highest circles of fashion, and the Times gave an actual verbatim report of the proceedings. A great many witnesses were put into the box, especially for the defence. Mr. Payne's evidence was very important, and, as being calculated to have a great effect on the minds of the jury in days when no second speech was allowed, he was put into the box last. All that could be elicited in favour of Mr. Cumming, and in direct proof that Lord de Ros had cheated at cards on the specific occasions named, having been got from Mr. Payne by counsel for the defence, he was cross-examined by Sir William Follett as follows:

You have been a good deal connected with gambling transactions, have you not ? — Yes, I have.

Spent a great deal of money on the racecourse, and also been connected with racing proceedings, and with cards? — Yes, a great deal.

Have you been in the habit of playing with Lord de Ros? —"Yes."

In the early part of your career, Mr. Payne, you were very unfortunate, I think? — Very much so.

[118] And lost a considerable fortune? — I lost a considerable sum of money, certainly.

You lost, I believe, the whole of your patrimony? — My lord, am I bound to answer that question? And yet I do not see why I should not. Yes, sir, I lost a considerable part of it.

You have been more fortunate since though? — No, my old luck has continued pretty much throughout.

Sir John Campbell, afterwards the first Lord Campbell, one of the bitterest and most sarcastic men of his day, replied on the whole case for the plaintiff in a slashing speech, in which he spoke of "Payne, the professional gamester," accused him of having confederated with Brooke Greville to get up this charge against Lord de Ros, and amongst other aspersions on the character of Mr. Payne, used one phrase which especially exasperated that gentleman. Sir John said that ''having started as a dupe, he soon crystallized into something worse."

So angry was Greorge Payne at the imputation conveyed by this phrase that he waited for Sir John for several afternoons in the neighbourhood of Westminster Hall, with a stout horse whip in his hand, with the firm intention of giving the eminent counsel a sound trouncing. But the shrewd Scotchman got notice of the intended onslaught, and slipping out each afternoon by a back way, allowed sufficient time for Mr. Payne's wrath to cool, when he offered an apology through the medium of Colonel Anson, who was, like Greville, a sort of general peace-maker, and Mr. Payne at once goodhumouredly forgave him.


This gaming club is remarkable for a scandal which made some noise at the time of its occurrence, and one version of which a writer in the Times has been at some pains to rectify. In Mr Duncombe's 'Life' of his father occurs the following account of this curious transaction.

'In Graham's Club there was also a good deal of play, and large sums were lost and won among the noblemen and gentlemen who were its members. An unpleasant rumour circulated in town in the winter of 1836, to the effect that a noble lord had been detected in cheating by means of marked cards. The presumed offender was well known in society as a skilful card-player, but by those who had been most intimate with him was considered incapable of any unfair practice. He was abroad when the scandal was set afloat, but returned to England directly he heard of it, and having traced the accusation to its source, defied his traducers. Thus challenged, they had no alternative but to support their allegation, and it took this [169] shape: — They accused Henry William Lord de Ros of marking the edges of the court cards with his thumb-nail, as well as of performing a certain trick by which he unfairly secured an ace as the turn-up card. His accusers were ---- ------ who had formerly kept a gaming table; Mr ---- ---- also a professional gambler; Lord Henry Bentinck, and Mr J. Cumming.

Lord Henry appears to have taken no very active part in the proceedings; the other three had lost money in play with Lord de Ros, and, as unsuccessful gamblers have done before and since, considered that they had lost it unfairly.

Lord de Ros, instead of prosecuting the four for a libel, brought an action only against Cumming, which permitted the others to come forward as witnesses against him. The cause came on in the Court of King's Bench before Lord Denman. The plaintiff's witnesses were Lord Wharncliffe, Lord Robert Grosvenor, the Earl of Clare, and Sir Charles Dalbiac, who had known and played with him from between 20 to 30 years, as a very skilful but honourable Whist player. The evidence of Mr Lawrence, the eminent surgeon, proved that Lord de Ros had long suffered under a stiffness of the joints of the fingers that made holding a pack [170] of cards difficult, and the performance of the imputed trick of legerdemain impossible. For the defence appeared the keeper of the house and his son; two or three gamblers who had lived by their winnings; one acknowledged to have won £35,000 in 15 years. Mr Baring Wall, one of the witnesses, swore that he had never witnessed anything improper in the play of Lord de Ros, though he had played with and against him many years; another witness, the Hon. Colonel Anson, had observed nothing suspicious; but the testimony of others went to prove that the aces and kings had been marked inside their edges; and one averred that he had seen Lord de Ros perform sauter la coupe a hundred times. The whole case wore much the look of a combination among a little coterie who lived by gambling to drive from the field a player whose skill had diminished their income; nevertheless, the incidents sworn to by some of them wore a suspicious significance, and a verdict was given against Lord de Ros, which he only survived a short time.' On this statement the Times[1] reviewer comments as follows :—

'If many old scandals may be revived with impunity, there are some that cannot. Mr Duncombe [171] the younger has hit on one which affects several gentlemen still living, and his injurious version of it cannot be neutralized or atoned for by an apology to one. We call attention to it in the hope that any more serious notice will be rendered needless by the simple exposure of its inaccuracies.

'It is difficult to conceive a more inexcusable misstatement, for the case was fully reported, and the public judgment perfectly coincided with the verdict. Lord de Ros was not abroad when the scandal was set afloat. He went abroad after the scene at Graham's had set all London talking, and he returned in consequence of a peremptory call from his friends. He was most reluctantly induced to take the required steps for the vindication of his character ; and it is preposterous to suppose that any little coterie would have dreamt of accusing a man of his rank and position with the view of driving a skilful player from the field. His accusers were not challenged. Neither were they volunteers. They became his accusers, because they formed the Whist party at which he was first openly denounced. They signed a paper [173] particularizing their charge, and offered to refer the question to a tribunal of gentlemen, with the Duke of Wellington or Lord Wharncliffe to preside.

Would a little coterie, who lived by gambling have made this offer? Or would Lord de Ros have refused it if he had been the intended victim of a conspiracy? Lord Henry Bentinck signed the paper, appeared as a witness, and took quite as active a part in the proceedings as any of the

[1] The Times of February 11 and 13, 1837.

four, except Mr Cumming, who undertook the sole legal liability by admitting the publication of the paper.

'The evidence was overwhelming. Suspicions had long been rife; and on no less than ten or twelve occasions the marked packs had been examined in the presence of unimpeachable witnesses, and sealed up. These packs were produced at the trial. Several witnesses swore to the trick called sauter la coupe. It was the late Sir William Ingilby who swore that he had seen Lord de Ros perform it from 50 to 100 times; and when asked why he did not at once denounce him, he replied that if he had done so before his Lordship began to get blown upon, he should have had no alternative between the window and the door. Of course, every one who had been in the habit of playing [173] with Lord de Ros prior to the exposure would have said the same as Sir Charles Dalbiac and Mr Baring Wall. With regard to the gentlemen whose names we have omitted we take it for granted that the author is not aware of the position they held, and continue to hold, or he would hardly have ventured to describe them so offensively. He has apologized to one, and he had better apologize to the other without delay.

'The case was complete without the evidence of either of the original accusers, and the few friends of Lord de Ros who tried to bear him up against the resulting obloquy were obliged to go with the stream. When Lord Alvanley was asked whether he meant to leave his card, he replied, "No, he will stick it in his chimney-piece and count it among his honours."

'Having read through the long case as reported in the Times, I must declare that I do not find that the evidence against Lord de Ros was, after all, so 'overwhelming' as the reviewer declares; indeed, the 'leader' in the Times on the trial emphatically raises a doubt on the subject. Among other passages in it there is the following :—

'In the process of the trial it appeared that the [174] most material part of the evidence against Lord de Ros, that called sauter la coupe, — which, for the sake of our English readers we shall translate into changing the turn-up card, — the times and places at which it was said to have been done could not be specified. Some of the witnesses had seen the trick done 50 or 100 times by Lord de Ros, but could neither say on what day, in what week, month, or even year, they had so seen it done.People were excessively struck at this deviation from the extreme punctuality required in criminal cases by the British courts of law.'

'The disclosures,' says Mr Grant,[2] which took place in the Court of Queen's Bench, on the occasion of the trial of Lord de Ros, for cheating at cards, furnished the strongest demonstration that he was not the only person who was in the habit of cheating in certain clubs; while there were others who, if they could not be charged with direct cheating, or cheating in their own persons, did cheat indirectly, and by proxy, inasmuch as they, by their own admission, were, on frequent occasions, partners with Lord de Ros, long after they knew that he habitually or systematically [175] cheated. The noble lord, by the confession of the titled parties to whom I allude, thus cheated for himself and them at the same time.' Lord de Ros was at the head of the barons of England. He was the son of Lord Henry Fitzgerald, and Lady de Ros, who inherited in her own right that ancient title, which dates from the reign of Henry III. He had studied at Eton and Oxford, and afterwards on the Continent, and there was not a more accomplished man in Europe. He possessed an ample fortune, was a member of several of the clubs — White's, Boodle's, Brookes', and Graham's, and one of the best Whist players in England.

It appears that at Graham's Club, at the commencement of the season, and before Lord de Ros came to town, whispers were circulated of unfair play, and various persons were supposed guilty. A determination was therefore formed that the club should be dissolved and reconstructed, leaving out the names of certain persons to whom suspicion attached. The main object of the master of the club, and of some of those who attended it for the purpose of professional gain, was that its character should be cleared. Not long after Lord de Ros [176] came to town he received an anonymous letter, cautioning him against continuing to play at Graham's, and intimating to him, if he did so, that measures would he taken which he would have reason to regret. Of course his Lordship disregarded the threat; he attended the club for several days more assiduously than before, and continued to play until the end of the season, in the beginning of July. In September the Satirist newspaper published a distinct charge of unfair play against Lord de Ros, whilst the latter was at Baden, and he returned to England and commenced an action for libel against the newspaper.

He was charged with being in the habit of marking the cards, the effect being to create a very slight and almost imperceptible indentation, and to make a ridge or

[2] Sketches in London.

wave on the back, so that a practised eye would be able, on looking at the right place, knowing where to expect a mark, to discern whether the ace was there or not. He was also charged with cheating by reversing the cut— that is, when the cards had come to him, after having been cut by his adversary, instead of putting the bottom card at the top, keeping the bottom card at the bottom, by some shuffling contrivance when he [177] dealt. Another witness said :—

When he took up the two parcels of cards, after the operation of cutting the pack by his right-hand adversary, he was always attacked with a hacking cough, or what I may properly denominate, especially from the result it produced, a 'king cough,' because a king or an ace was invariably its effect. The cough always came on at the most convenient moment to distract the attention of the other players, and was evidently indulged in for the purpose of abstracting their attention from the table and from the manoeuvre he was about to perform. However, I never saw him "slip the card," and I never had cognizance of its execution, but certain it was that the ace or the king, which was at the bottom of the pack prior to the cut, invariably found its way to the same position after the cut, and hence was the turn-up card. With regard to the operation of dealing, his Lordship delivered the cards particularly slow, examining every card minutely towards its comers, as if looking for some mark.'

Many curious facts came out during the trial. It was Mr Brooke Greville who admitted that he was a considerable winner at play — having 'no [178] hesitation in saying that he had won £35,000 in the course of 15 years, chiefly at Whist; that he had followed play as an occupation, at Graham's Club. He lost, however, £14,000 at Brighton in 1828, a considerable portion of it to Lord de Ros; but this loss he made up in three or four years (that is, won £14,000 in that time), and, excepting that reverse, he was generally fortunate at play.

A Captain J. Alexander, half-pay R. N., declared that he had won as much as £700 at a time, having, however, to pay half to another partner; his winnings might be £1600 a-year. 'I began to play,' he said, 'about 25 or 28 years ago, and, expecting that I should be asked the question, I have looked into my accounts, and find that I am about £10,000 better than as though I had not played. That is a yearly average of £500.'

He had, however, lost about £1,000 during the previous year.

This Captain Alexander was asked how many hours he played before dinner, and he answered — 'From three to five hours' — adding, however, that he had played all nighht. Then the counsel said, 'I suppose you take but a slight dinner?' He replied : — [179] 'Why, I generally make as good a dinner as I can get.

The learned counsel continued : — 'A small boiled chicken and a glass of lemonade, perhaps?' This seemed an offensive question, and the captain said,—

'I believe never, and (with increased earnestness of manner) mind, 'I deny the lemonade altogether; I never take lemonade. (Laughter, in which the noble lords on the bench joined involuntarily.)

Sir W. Ingilby entered into a description and practical illustration of the trick of sauter la coupe with a pack of cards, and it is said that the performance of the honourable baronet elicited demonstrations of laughter, which the judge suppressed, and even reprobated. Altogether, it must have been a most interesting and exciting trial.

As before stated. Lord Denman was the presiding judge; there was a special jury; the attorney-general. Sir W. Follet, and Mr Wightman appeared for the noble plaintiff; and the keen-witted and exquisitely polished Mr Thesiger (now Lord Cholmondeley), Mr Alexander, and Mr W. H. Watson for the defendant. A great many of the nobility were present, together with several foreigners of distinction.

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