In 1834, the first and second reports from the Select Committee on The Glasgow Lottery were published. Having never heard of a Glasgow Lottery, I was intrigued. So too, it appears, were the Select Committee;
The 1823 Lottery Act was quite clear that, unless authorised by an Act of Parliament, any lottery or games of chance were illegal. Any person found to be involved in such activities was to be “deemed a Rogue and Vagabond, and punished as such.”
The suspicion that something was amiss first arose on the 2nd of August 1832, when the first letter arrived at the Treasury from a Mr Hesse in Glasgow requesting a loan of the old State Lottery wheels for the Glasgow Lottery.
The Treasury initially ignored Mr Hesse, however, after receiving four letters in a month, they decided to request more information about this lottery. Bearing in mind that in the early 19th Century mail is delivered across country by horse-drawn mail coach, Mr Hesse’s prompt reply arrived within a week. The letter quoted powers to hold a lottery under the local Act of Parliament; “An Act to amend certain Acts passed in the Reign of His late Majesty King GEORGE the Fourth for opening a Street from the Cross at Glasgow to Monteith Row”.
Local Acts such as these were a requirement for the expansion of cities and towns. They were the standard instrument for authorising the construction of streets, homes, new railway lines etc. Thousands of such Local Acts were approved each year, and this particular Bill was submitted and proceeded without incident through Parliament to become an Act.
But City Improvement Acts such as these have nothing to do with lotteries. So how was this Act for the addition of a street in Glasgow related to an illegal lottery?
The plan was originally relatively straightforward; a group with an interest in improving access from the east of the city to the High Street planned to build ‘London Street’ (now London Road). In 1824, by Act of Parliament, they bought shares, put up personal securities, and appointed the London Street Commissioners. The Commissioners then requested a £50,000 loan from the Exchequer Loan Commissioners (who loaned Treasury capital for public improvement works). The loan was secured on the properties to be subsequently built on London Street.
Unfortunately, in 1825-6 the economy took a turn for the worse, and property values crashed. As the Exchequer Loan Commission’s loan was secured on these devalued properties, the group found themselves unable to repay the debt, and under threat of financial ruin.
Alternative solutions to the terms of the debt were suggested, including the Glasgow provost and magistrates pleading on the group’s behalf, all to no avail. In 1831 “The Treasury … refused to sanction any departure from the terms on which the loan was granted” (Select Committee Second Report Appendix, Abstract of Treasury Papers, p. 91).
With the Treasury demanding repayment, and the group already owing £16,000 in interest arrears, a solution was needed.
That solution was the 1831 Act to amend certain Acts passed in the Reign of His late Majesty King GEORGE the Fourth for opening a Street from the Cross at Glasgow to Monteith Row. According to Mr Hesse’s reply to the Treasury’s request for more information, the Act contained powers to create and sell new shares on London Street, enabling the group to raise the debt amount in sales. The houses and land were then to be distributed amongst the shareholders, with the existing shareholders guaranteed a return, and the new shareholders gaining a chance, by means of a lottery, to win property or land.
These powers were apparently not clearly spelt out in the Act, as is evident from the Select Committee’s second report;
“There was nothing in the title to arrest the attention of any one not locally interested in Glasgow : the word “lottery” does not occur once throughout the whole Bill”. (p. 7).
The Treasury’s response to Mr Hesse’s explanation was to deny the loan of the State Lottery equipment and to inform him that
“My Lords would be well pleased that he should not be concerned in the management of the lottery” (Second Report Appendix: Abstract of Treasury Papers, p. 94).
Not to be deterred, and desperate to raise the monies needed to release them from their financial situation, the shareholders looked elsewhere, finally securing a loan of lottery wheels and equipment from the Irish Lotteries. The first lottery was held on the 17th April 1833, and prizes included a monetary option “of taking the property or receiving the value in money … subject only to a commission of 5 per cent. on Prizes above £100” (The Examiner, 23rd December 1832, p. 832).
Just over a week later, on the 29th April (HC Deb.) the ‘illegal lottery’ in Glasgow came to the attention of the Government.
Sir Robert Inglis raised the matter of the lottery to the House as “a most objectionable system of raising money which had recently been practised, and to which the House had been a party.”
Lord Althorp replied that the Government had “not the least idea that a Bill authorizing the establishment of a lottery had passed the Houses of Parliament, until he was apprised of the existence of the lottery itself.” … “It was, to say the truth, most skilfully drawn up, and the parties who had concocted it had fully succeeded in keeping the House and the Government entirely ignorant of the real nature of the Bill.”
Sir Robert Peel concluded that “those who were parties to the transaction ought to be subjected to public punishment.”
The ‘illegal lottery’ also came to the attention of the public, including one “Enemy to Gambling”, who gave short shrift to Lord Althorp and the Government in a letter regarding their lack of ability to thoroughly investigate the Bill;
“… perhaps if you had discountenanced the scheme at its first origin, the public would not have been subject to the peculations of a set of men who have turned the British Parliament into a laughing stock.” (An Enemy to Gambling, 13th January 1834).
Select Committee Inquiry
On the 22nd January 1834, the drawing of a second Glasgow lottery took place. Following this, a Select Committee was appointed on the 18th March to “inquire into the origin and present state of a Lottery, purporting to be carried on under authority of Parliament, and entitled the Glasgow Lottery and into any other Lotteries, foreign or otherwise, of which (since legal discontinuance of lotteries) schemes, tickets or shares have been circulated in the United Kingdom.” (HC Deb., 18 Mar. 1834).
In evidence, Mr Richardson, one of the solicitors to the Bill, revealed that the promotors
“were aware that the measure, even its limited form, partook the nature of a lottery ; and as such doubts were entertained of the legality of the plan” without the “intervention of an Act of Parliament”. (Select Committee Second Report, p. 4).
He states that the shareholders wrote a paper to him in March 1830, justifying their intended lottery as one that did not include the “objectionable feature[s] of a Lottery”, that is to say, to make a profit by gaming;
The Select Committee were keen to question Mr Graham (clerk to the London Street Commissioners) on the absence of the word ‘lottery’ in the Bill. He defended his position by explaining that he had not intentionally omitted the word ‘lottery’, rather he had used the term ‘lot’, which would be understood to mean lottery in Scotland, in his opinion.
The Select Committee later seized on this defence, querying the use of the word ‘lottery’ in shareholder meetings in comparison with the exclusion of ‘lottery’ for the term ‘by lot’ in the Bill;
Mr Richardson’s explanation appeared not to convince the Select Committee who, having taken extensive evidence from all parties, noted that it is certain that “the establishment of some species of Lottery, under colour of the Glasgow Improvement Bill, was, from the first to the last, the object of its promotors.” And that “concealment was intended and practised throughout…” (Select Committee Second Report, p. 7) However, the committee were prepared to concede that the whole enterprise eminated from a desire to do public good, and to improve the city of Glasgow, rather than for profit.
Prior to the third, and final, lottery on 28th August 1834, the Committee published its conclusions, stating that it would allow the final lottery to proceed;The Committee continued, stating an intention to pass a Bill as quickly as possible to make any further Glasgow lotteries illegal; Expedient it was. The Bill was passed two months later as an Act on 25th July 1834, and the curious case of the Glasgow Lottery concluded.
Select Committee inquiries and Parliamentary debates provide an excellent primary resource for historical research. First-hand accounts such as these include the views and opinions of politicians, experts, and members of the public, contributing towards a greater understanding of distant, and sometimes misunderstood, events.
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An Act for granting to His Majesty a Sum of Money to be raised by Lotteries 1823. (4 Geo.4, c.LX.) London: George Eyre and Andrew Strahan.
An Act to amend an Act of His present Majesty, for opening a Street from the Cross of Glasgow to Monteith Row [Local] 1824. (5 Geo.4, c.lxix.) London: [George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode].
An Act to amend an Act for opening a Street from the Cross of Glasgow to Monteith Row [Local] 1826. (7 Geo.4, c.lxv.) London: [George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode].
An Act to amend certain Acts passed in the Reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, for opening a Street from the Cross of Glasgow to Monteith Row [Local] 1831. (1&2 Will.4, c.viii.) London: George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode.
An Act to prohibit any further Lotteries under an Act passed in the First and Second Years of the Reign of His present Majesty, for the Improvement of Glasgow 1834. (4&5 Gul.4, c.XXXVII.) London: George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode.
Ewan, C. L’Estrange (1932) Lotteries and Sweepstakes: An historical, legal and ethical survey of their introduction, suppression and re-establishment in the British Isles, Heath Cranton Limited, London.
Final Glasgow Lottery. 1834. The Scotsman. [Online]. 4 June. Available from: Proquest Historical Newspapers [UofG staff and students only]
Glasgow Lottery. 1832. The Examiner. [Online]. 23 December. Available from: Proquest Historical Newspapers [UofG staff and students only]
The Glasgow Lottery HC Deb. vol. 17 cols 739, 29 April 1833.
Glasgow Lottery HC Deb. vol. 21 cols 252-3, 13 February 1834.
Glasgow Lottery HC Deb. vol. 22 cols 402-410, 18 March 1834.
Second Glasgow Lottery. 1833. The Scotsman. [Online]. 16 October. Available from: Proquest Historical Newspapers [UofG staff and students only]
Select Committee. 1834. First Report from Select Committee on The Glasgow Lottery. [Bound in Parliamentary papers, Vol. XXIV] (HC 279, 1834). [London: George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode].
Select Committee. 1834. Second Report from Select Committee on The Glasgow Lottery; with Minutes of Evidence, and an Appendix. [Bound in Parliamentary papers, Vol. XXIV] (HC 560, 1834). [London: George Eyre and Andrew Spottiswoode].