The Waterford Gentleman WHo Nearly Won Wimbledon
Thanks to James Doherty.
One of the most interesting characters to have ever graced centre court at Wimbledon, was an Irishman impressively named Vere Thomas St ledger Goold. Goold was born in Waterford Ireland in 1853 to a respectable family. As a member of the gentry a life of comparative ease awaited Goold and like many wealthy young men he took up the new sport of lawn Tennis. Goold showed that he had a natural talent for the new sport and in 1879 went on to become the Irish Champion.
The sport of Tennis was originally played indoors on a wooden floored court. The court was hourglass shaped with the net being higher at the poles and dipping towards the middle. The sport of Lawn Tennis developed in the 1870s with the first Wimbledon championships being played in 1877. The new outdoor version of the game was hugely popular with young socialites with the first American championships being played in 1880. Soon there were major tournaments for Men, Women and doubles. The rules of Lawn Tennis varied slightly from tournament to tournament until the international Lawn Tennis association standardized them in 1924.
Then as now one of the major events in the Tennis calendar was the Wimbledon Championships and in 1879 the Irish champion Goold travelled to England to compete at the highest level, he progressed well through the competition until the final where he was defeated by the Rev. John Hartley. After his win the champion Rev Hartley described Goold as “cheery wild Irishman”. Following his defeat in the Wimbledon final Goold’s fledgling tennis career was coming to an end. Despondent with his sporting failure Goold turned to drink and drugs as his life spiralled out of control. Goold’s respectable family in Ireland distanced themselves from the young man as he squandered his inheritance in ale houses and gambling halls.
In 1883 Goold met a lady that would change his life. Marie Giraudin was a widower twice over whose previous husband’s had met an untimely end. Much has been speculated about the fate of Madame Giraudin’s previous husbands but little is known. Giraudin was attracted to Goold’s social standing and they were soon married. Giraudin ran a dressmaking shop and had run up substantial debts; she mixed in the best company and survived by borrowing money from freshly made acquaintances. The young smitten couple both enjoyed the finer things in life and they ate in the best restaurants and were seen at the most popular parties. The couple borrowed heavily as they lived way beyond their means.
Having exhausted their welcome in London and leaving a trail of useless promissory notes behind them the couple headed for Montreal. Now calling themselves Sir and Lady Goold they again became involved in the dressmaking business aiming their wares at a wealthy clientele. “Sir” Goold and his wife were soon a common sight at the gaming tables of Montreal as they pursued their shared dream of making it rich. Once again the couple soon started to exhaust their credit and their welcome in Montreal. A timely announcement by Goold that he was set to receive a fortune as a family member had died in Ireland in a horse riding accident and gained the couple a temporary reprieve from their creditors.
The Goold’s knew that they would soon have to leave Montreal and prepared to move abroad once again. They had worked out a scheme that could break the bank and decided to head for the Casinos of Monte Carlo. The Goold’s “system” was a failure and what little money the Goold’s had was soon exhausted. As with London and Montreal the Goold’s were spending prodigiously with very little to show for it. “Lady” Goold had befriended a wealthy heiress called Madame Liven who was impressed with the couples fake titles and exaggerated social standing the Goold’s had soon borrowed substantial sums of the gullible Levin. Perhaps with a realization of what the couple were really like Liven went to their room on the 4th of August 1907 looking for repayment of her loan. Liven was never seen alive again.
The Goold’s fled Monte Carlo as friends of Madame Liven alerted the authorities that she was missing. When the Goold’s arrived in Marseilles train station they requested that their large travelling trunk be forwarded onto London for their imminent departure. At this point it was noticed that blood was seeping from the case and when questioned Goold lamely stated that it was full of freshly slaughtered chickens. The understandably wary French authorities demanded the trunk opened and inside they found the dismembered body of Madame Liven.
The subsequent trial was international news and on August 6, 1907, The Times of England ran a story with the headline: “A Woman’s Body in a Trunk”. The Times reported “When interrogated by the examining magistrates, the prisoners said their name was Gold and that they were husband and wife. They came from Monte Carlo. They denied having murdered the woman. According to their story, they only knew her through having met occasionally in the gaming rooms at Monte Carlo. On Sunday last she came to see them to ask for money”
The couple tried to maintain that the Madame Liven had come to their room looking for a loan of money and whilst there she was shot dead by a jealous lover who had burst into the room. The couple stated that they were scared that their story would not be believed so they dismembered the body and hid it in the trunk.
The prosecution attested that the body had no bullet wounds only a gruesome collection of stab wounds disproving the unlikely story of a jealous lover. The prosecution went on to state that it would have been physically impossible for one person to carry out the gruesome dismemberment and that the grisly murder was the work of two people. The game was up and when questioned further Goold admitted responsibility. In an attempt to save his wife Goold stated that he had acted alone and that his wife and not been involved. The judge did not believe the improbable defence of “Sir” and “Lady” Goold and the couple were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Despite their respectable backgrounds or perhaps because of them the French authorities showed little mercy. Marie Goold was sentenced to life imprisonment to be served in Montpellier prison, she died there in 1914. An altogether more terrible fate awaited Vere Thomas St ledger Goold as he was sentenced to the notorious Devils Island penal colony in French Guiana. Situated in South America French Guiana was a colony of France. The Cayenne penitentiary more popularly called Devils Island was opened by Emperor Napoleon’s government in 1852. The colony consisted of prisons on three small islands and on the mainland of French Guinea and remained in use for nearly one hundred years.
Devil’s Island was made famous by the 1970s film Papillion starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman the film depicted the horrendous conditions on the Island. Prisoners were forced to endure hard labour and in tropical French Guinea disease was rife with the majority of prisoner’s not surviving sentence to the colony. One can only imagine the shock and horror Vere Goold would have felt when he arrived on the island. Used to the finer things in life and fresh from the hotels of Monte Carlo Goold would have found it impossible to adapt both mentally and physically. Within a year Goold had succumbed to the hellish conditions on the island and had died.
The death in 1909 ended the tale of the Irish gentleman who nearly won Wimbledon.