In 1907, John Pierpont Morgan, an American millionaire and Lord Lonsdale, known as the ‘Sporting Peer’, were arguing as to whether or not it was possible for a man to walk round the world without showing his face.
Lonsdale believed that it could be done, Morgan did not. They agreed on a wager of $100,000 (£21,000) and then faced the problem of finding someone who would attempt the task.
A 31 year old ‘playboy’ called Harry Bensley, who had an annual income of £5000, agreed to attempt the feat.
The rules were decided. Bensley would push a perambulator wearing an iron mask, which was not to be removed for any reason. He was allowed to set off with £1 in his pocket and a change of underwear in the pram!
He had to pass through specified British towns and 125 towns in 18 other countries. He also had to find himself a wife who was not to see his face and to make money, he was required to sell picture postcards. To make sure he obeyed all the rules a paid escort accompanied him.
Harry set off from Trafalgar Square wearing a 4.5 lb. iron helmet pushing his perambulator on 1st. January 1908.
Harry met King Edward VII at Newmarket races and sold him a postcard for £5, but at Bexley Heath he was arrested for selling postcards without a licence. He was ordered to remove his mask by the magistrate of the court, but when the reason for his wearing of the mask was explained, the magistrate fined him only 2/6d and he was released.
In six years, Bensley pushed his pram across 12 countries gathering 200 offers of marriage on the way! He declined them all.
He was in Italy in August 1914 and had only six more countries to visit when the Great War broke out. As a patriotic young man he felt it was his duty to join the Forces so the bet was called off. He was given a consolation prize of £4000 which he gave to charity.
He survived the War but his investments were lost in the Russian Revolution and he became penniless in 1917. He died in 1956 in a bed-sitting room in Brighton.
Published: 30th June 2015