Thursday 18th August 1821:
|Henry Stokes: Two-Up King|
|Henry Stokes: Two-Up King|
At noon on a cold wintry day in Melbourne, a tall, hulking figure stood in a doorway waiting for a certain person to emerge from a popular hotel in Little Collins Strret. Through the bustling lunch-hour crowd he saw the man he wanted. Shoppers fled in all directions as Little Collins Street erupted in a hail of gunfire. When the smoke cleared it was Long Harry Slater himself who lay in a pool of blood, however: he had waited patiently enough for his victim, Henry Stokes, but hadn't counted on such efficient opposition.
Henry Stokes was the two-up king of Melbourne. He had emerged from a respectable background to transform two-up from a small, amateur game into a flourishing business. The headquarters of Stokes' gambling empire was a large brick building in the inner city suburb of Richmond. A system of electric bells gave his clientele ample warning of impending
In 1914 Stokes formed an alliance with the famous Melbourne underworld figure, Squizzy Taylor. The deal entitled Taylor to a cut of Stokes' huge profits in return for protection and the dissuasion of would-be competitors. Stokes also gained a share of Taylor's sly grog operations.
Long Harry Slater, the man who would later try to gun down Stokes, was a member of Taylor's team of thugs. In 1919 he broke with Taylor and Stokes over dissatisfaction with the splitting of proceeds from a series of robberies. He formed his own gang, established an opposition two-up school and opened several beer shops for after-hours business. In the next few years he plagued Taylor and his associates with brazen attempts at getting square.
Taylor seemed powerless to stop Slater - indeed he was lucky to survive the vengeance of this wild and powerful thug. The years between 1919 and 1921 saw the gang wars which became known as the Fitzroy Vendetta. Slater made repeated efforts to gun Taylor down, driving past his hideouts and letting loose a fusillade of lead.
|Slater immediately began retreating|
Eventually it was left to the normally peaceful Henry Stokes to put an end to the vendetta.
It was when Stokes was emerging from a meeting with Tavlor in their favoured hotel in Little Collins Street that he was met with the hail of bullets from Slater. All missed their mark, giving Stokes time to draw his own gun. Slater immediately began retreating, but stumbled on the tram tracks. Stokes grabbed the opportunity and pumped four bullets into the floundering Slater. Stokes was deprived of finishing off his man as the police arrived and quickly bundled off the injured Slater and Stokes.
Slater recovered from his injuries, but refused to give police any help in their investigations. Indicative of the power held by Henry Stokes was the six-month sentence he received for the shooting - and this was later suspended on condition that he left Victoria.
|Squizzy and Henry ruled supreme...|
Stokes departed for Hobart, but sneaked back a few weeks later to once again take control of his two-up schools. Long Harry Slater left Melbourne permanently, living in Sydney until he was found shot dead at La Perouse, a suburb of Sydney, one night in 1940.
After the 1921 shooting Squizzy Taylor and Henry Stokes ruled supreme in Melbourne. Stokes continued to dominate the gambling scene, and also played a part in many of the robberies master-minded by Taylor.
With Squizzy Taylor's death in 1927, Henry Stokes was left to go it alone: he continued to employ Taylor's methods, at one stage being charged with blowing up a rival two-up school. As usual he was acquitted. But eventually he came unstuck. In 1934 his plot to steal £100 000 from a bank safe failed and he spent four years in jail. By the time he emerged there were several men controlling two-up in Melbourne - Stokes realised it would be impossible to regain his territory.
Stokes invested in the novel idea of setting up an offshore gambling centre. He bought a luxurious 200-tonne yacht, once owned by King Edward VII, and conducted his operations at sea. All went well until several police, disguised as players, came aboard. Their evidence resulted in Stokes being fined, and soon afterwards he decided to pack in the whole operation.
During World War II Stokes turned his hand to baccarat - the clubs were successful for several years, not one ever being raided by the police. However, just as Stokes seemed to have a highly prosperous future assured, he died of a heart attack on 15 June 1945.
He left behind an estate of £15,000 - no small sum, but considerably less than anyone expected. Many wanted to know the whereabouts of the rest of the fortune Stokes had amassed. They never found out.
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