Right, the description above is the "official" story. However, not all the details may be factual! Jim (my Grandfather, Harry's son), passed on the following story to my mother several years ago. It all came to light during one of Jim and Win's (his wife) visit to my mother in Doncaster. Though not a very educated man, Jim loved to read, and my mother has lots of books! Whilst reading an old Reader's Digest book of Interesting Facts (1975 edition?), he turned to my mother and said, "Read that lass...". It was a short report on the story of Harry's walk. "That's your Grandfather" he continued, and went on to explain how he found out about Harry and met him just before he died.
But during those meetings in hospital, a secret came out. Harry had not bravely taken up the challenge as reported. What had really happened, was that after a long night's drinking and gambling session by the three friends (Morgan, Lonsdale and Bensley), Harry had been loosing quite heavily. Positive that his luck had to change, he bet his whole Russian inheritance against his evening debts, on the turn of a single card. HE LOST! Devastated that this would make him suddenly into a pauper, he pleaded with the two friends to have a alternative forfeit. They did eventually agree, but the forfeit was extreme: the walk round the world. Imagine, for a rich, womanising playboy, the "rules" were harsh: No money, so he had to finance himself for the first time in his life. Womanising would be difficult, as he could not let on who he was (and had little money to do it with anyway), and he had to find a wife on the way (which might have made those antics less likely on his return!). And he probably had done very little in the way of long distance walking before that.
The story that Harry agreed to settle the argument was a face-saving device for Harry's sake. If it became known that he had actually gambled away his inheritance, then revoked on the bet, he would likely have been cast out of his circle of friends, as tended to happen in those days.
I believe that Harry Bensley is my Great-Grandfather, and Mabel Reed my Great-grandmother. In the "Group 1" photo on the Gallery page, dated 1908 (we are guessing summer) we think the woman is Mabel. If so, she would have been in the early stages of pregnancy with my Grand-father, Jim, at the time. We are still trying to prove the father-son link between Harry and Jim. The problem is that Jim is Harry's illegitimate son, and documentation is, err... difficult to track. We have obtained Jim's birth and death certificates. Though known as Jim, my Grand-father was actually christened Henry Claude and his father's name is (a little surprisingly) also given as Henry Claude Beasley.
As to the name change (Bensley to Beasley), my mother believes this was Harry's way to "cover-up" the illegitimacy. Another suggestion is that there was simply an error made with the birth certificate? It's not unknown, though less likely, in my opinion. We may never know the truth now. But I am glad to have known Jim, the man, a real salt of the earth! It really is a pity we did not start all this before Jim's own time on Earth was up and he could have filled in so many gaps.
Fact or Fiction?
As you may have read from places on this site, there is some doubt about how much of this journey was actually completed. There is certainly plenty of evidence to prove that Harry did indeed start the walk and travel around the southern counties of the U.K. for several months. But there is almost no evidence to suggest that he got much further than that. Several people with better investigative skills than I have, have also drawn a blank. An article by Geoffrey Corfield in the London Free Press on the 15th October 2000, entitled Walk this way, also suggests doubt to the story.
Another letter (unfortunately missing, - I don't recall all the details or who sent it - sorry to them) - contained some of the strongest negative evidence to the journey, such as the fact the Morgan died before the end of Harry's walk, so how did he decided to terminate the bet? Who contacted Harry and told him to quit the wager? And who paid him the consolation money?
Several people have contacted the current Lord Lonsdale who has been keeping family records for over 50 years, but he has no knowledge of the wager. Surprising, as it was supposed to be a record amount at the time.
All good evidence against the journey, unfortunately. But maybe you have that vital piece of evidence that might prove more of the story to be true? If so please do get in touch.