Between 1808 and 1810, Lawyer William Hickey wrote detailed and fascinating memoirs of his life, which were finally published by Hurst & Blackett (London) in the early 20th Century. The following amusing anecdote from the first volume describes how Hickey’s father, who had been struggling financially, made his fortune:
When married only a few months, my father dined with a large party at the King’s Arms tavern in Pall Mall, where, after the whole party had drank freely, it was, at a late hour proposed to adjourn to the Ridotto, at the Opera house, where it was then the custom to have public hazard tables. When the going to the Ridotto was first mentioned, my father observed to his friend Colonel Mathews, of the Guards, who sat next to him, that he could not be of the party, as after paying his proportion of the dinner bill, he should have only a few shillings left, whereupon Colonel Mathews took out his purse, and counted the amount therein, which was twenty-four guineas; of these he gave twelve to my father saying, they would play in partnership, and if fortune was kind, whatever both, or either won should be deemed joint stock, and be equally divided between them. Upon these terms they proceeded to the Opera house, where my father having in a few minutes lost his twelve guineas, went and stood at the back of Colonel Mathews’s chair, who threw so successfully that by four o’clock in the morning he had collected nearly the whole amount of cash at the table, upon which they adjourned to my father’s house in Gerard Street, Soho, and there actually divided upwards of three thousand two hundred guineas, each having sixteen hundred and odd to his share. This sum laid the foundation of my father’s fortune. He immediately paid every one to whom he was indebted, and after having so done a surplus of several hundred pounds remained.
To put that into perspective, the amount of money they won in the early 18th Century would have been worth not far off the equivalent of half a million pounds for each of them in today’s terms. The initial stake was somewhere in the region of £3000 each in today’s money.