Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

1878 - Siegfried Franck and Australia’s First Tote

If Joseph Oller seems to have been a larger-than-life character as much suited to a Hollywood script as any of his time, then his Australian counterpart Siegfried Franck wasn't far behind.

The first local mention of a totalizator came with a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 October, 1878:

"Mr. Siegfried Franck, the German Consul, has brought under our notice an exceedingly ingenious instrument he terms a "Totalisator." It consists of a number of compartments, each having a distinguishing number sunk in a steel plate. In the cavity are a number of registers, very similar to those used in marking a game of billiards, which are moved by the action of a lever similar to the key of a telegraphic instrument, the difference between the billiard Table register and this being that, in this case, the numbers follow the action of the lever only, from 1 to 999, which are consecutively marked upon three discs or rollers. At the top of the plate is one general register which sums the totals taken upon the sub-ordinate ones, being moved by the independent action of the keys of the latter, and thus a general as well as individual total is kept.

For example, if a score at cricket had to be recorded; twelve divisions would be used, each number corresponding with the name and number of the player on the scoring-card, and one for the sundries. These individual scores would be represented in the respective compartments, and the total score kept in the general one at the top. It will be seen from this that the instrument can be utilised in a variety of ways for keeping tallies and checks, and should be very valuable to theatrical managers, omnibus, railway, and steamboat companies, subject to trifling modifications as it is a complete check against fraud when tallying numbers. Mr. Franck has already a great many orders to fulfil; indeed, at present, more than he is likely to execute for many months".

(One commentator described it as "quite simple, being nothing more or less than a revival of Professor Babbridge’s calculating machine" ... we think he meant "Babbage").

Siegfried Franck appears to have arrived in Sydney around 1860 where he established an import and trading agency in conjunction with an unknown brother (possibly Eduard, later noted as an immigration agent acting for the New South Wales colony in Germany).  

By 1868 (and possibly earlier according some later anecdotal experience), Franck was the Consul for the North German Confederation, the title changing to Consul for the German Empire in 1872, although he continued his trading activities during these years.

He resigned the Consulate early in 1877 and accepted a full-time position with the N.S.W. Colonial Government as their Immigration Agent in Germany.  He returned in May, 1878 and was somewhat controversially granted £150 for loss of income, a grant criticized by some who claimed Franck had not sent a single immigrant to Australia during his time back in Germany.

Others suggested that Franck was on Mission Impossible from day one given the stringent conditions laid down for non-British migrants by the local government, but either way, Franck seems to have hit on the totalizator as a potential gold mine back in Australia.

After the Sydney Morning Herald report, Franck started advertising his totalizator "patented and in infallible for recording cricket scores, ballot votes and checking hotel bars".

There still had been no mention of his totalizator being used for betting purposes, but Franck later revealed that while acting as Immigration Agent in Germany, he had visited several racecourses both there and in France and Italy where totalizators had been legalized.

The address shown in the advertisements was 125 King-street, Sydney "above the Café de Paris", this later shown as the home of the Sydney Sportsman's Club.

Franck did not resume his previous Consulate position and obviously had intentions to make a killing with his device, but like in other Australian colonies, its legality was open to question.

Despite one correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting in advance "this will be a flagrant violation of the Betting Act", Franck gained permission from the Sydney Jockey Club to operate a totalizator at Randwick in January, 1879 at a two-day meeting in honour of the Colonial Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson who was returning to England.  

His activities were noted about 12 months later during the first debate on whether N.S.W. should legalize the totalizator when it was revealed that police had stationed constables around the tote, not so much because of concerns as to the legality of the machine, but rather more to check whether Franck or any of his clerks manipulated the pools after a race.

The police were happy with the conduct of the machine, but questions were raised in the Legislative Assembly as they had been earlier in France as to whether the totalizator was being used as an aid to a "game of chance" and in April, Franck was charged with a breach of the Police Offences Act after operating his totalizator from an office in the grandstand on Randwick racecourse.

The preliminary hearing at the Water Police Court aroused great interest with several magistrates and leading citizens among the spectators.

The primary evidence came from two detectives who admitted they attended the meeting with the sole objective of watching the totalizator, and that after observing a number of races where the public placed wagers with Franck and an assistant, the detectives "backed horses for the Champagne Stakes, and witnessed the whole modus operandi of the contrivance''.


After a postponement of a week, the four magistrates could not agree, but under the laws in place at the time, one magistrate was all it took to commit Franck to stand trial.

Both the circumstances of the case and Franck's previous position in society lent the case considerable publicity, but before it went to trial, Franck submitted that he had received professional advice that his activities were, in fact, illegal and he agreed to cease operations, whereupon the Attorney-General to the chagrin of many that wanted a definite ruling on the legality of the totalizator allowed the case to be dropped.

Given that he was charged, it seems safe to bet (pun intended) that he had not resumed his role as the German consul and was concentrating on the marketing of his machine.

After being somewhat frustrated in his attempts to have his machine accepted in Sydney and Adelaide, it appears Franck turned to New Zealand where he was granted a patent on 4 April, 1880 - a correspondent to the Australian Town and Country Journal reported on a meeting at Dunedin in late May, 1880:

"The totalisator, which is rapidly increasing in favour throughout New Zealand, was on the ground under the auspices of the indefatigable Mr. Franck, who was endeavouring to introduce his instrument at the meetings of the various New Zealand Clubs. We are, however, threatened during the forthcoming season with a Lottery and Gaming Bill which, should it pass, will put a stop to totalisators, consultations, et hoc genus omne.  

With New Zealand also dismissing his totalizator, Franck turned to the one colony where no firm decision had been made on the use of the machine - Victoria.

There had been a couple of unsuccessful attempts to legalize the totalizator.  

The turning point seemed to come in January, 1882 when it was deemed to be legal for a bona fide private club to operate the machine, but it eventually proved to be a false dawn

An unofficial  ruling by the Attorney-General of the short lived and minority O'Loghlen government (July, 1881 to March, 1883) permitted totalizator clubs to register as ordinary trading companies under the Companies Statute 1864, on a general, but indefinite, understanding that they should be conducted in a legitimate and straightforward manner.  

Franck, who took advantage of the legal decision by forming "The Sportsman’s Club" with premises on the upper level of Eastern Arcade in Bourke Street, adjoining the Eastern Market, later the site of the Southern Cross, one of Melbourne’s better known accommodations for visitors in the second half of the twentieth century.

The club came into being in July, 1882 under the auspices of The Victorian Patent Totalizator Company which was officially incorporated on 15 June, 1882.

Franck was noted as pro tempore manager, strongly suggesting he was the sole driving force behind the enterprise, titling himself "patentee of the genuine Totalizator for Victoria" transferred "my Victorian patent right, title and interest" to a company "to be incorporated under the Companies Statute, 1864. A limited amount of £1 paid-up shares without any further liability will be disposed of to the first applicants at the rate of four shillings".


In February, 1882, Franck was in the news again, being arrested along with eight of his clerks (on charges of running a common gaming house) and eleven patrons (for being on the premises) in an enclosure at Geelong racecourse where he was operating his totalizator. The charges were ultimately dismissed after Franks argued that he had struck an agreement with the Geelong Racing Club to fence off an area accessible only to members of The Sportsmen’s Club (including several who appear to have paid the one shilling introductory fee on the day!

Franks later secured an assurance from the Commissioner of Police that they would not interfere further with his activities, but in November, 1882 and after allegations that there were problems with the affairs of The Sportsman’s Club, Franks, along with a rival in a similar establishment were charged with being the occupiers of a gaming house.

The cases resulted in both club proprietors being fined with warnings that similar offences would result in jail sentences; remarkably the defence  for The Sportsman's Club was led by Sir Bryan O'Loghlen, the premier, attorney-general and treasurer of a minority Government in January, 1882 when the use of a totalizator in a private club was deemed legal!

Ironically, O'Loghlen had lost his seat after calling for dissolution of Parliament in March, despite The Sportsman's Club placing several advertisements urging members and others to support candidates that were in favour of legalizing the totalizator.

By May, 1883, The Sportsman's Club was in financial strife under somewhat dubious circumstances - the general minute book had disappeared, the books of account had not been audited for over six months.  On the instigation of the Sheriff’s Office, the totalizators operating at the club were seized and several of the directors ordered the company’s safe to be opened and the Sheriff confiscated Franck’s patent.

Franck later appealed unsuccessfully that the totalizators and the precious patent were his personal property and not of the company, despite him being assigned shares worth supposedly £20,000 in the Patent Totalizator Company for his right, title, and interest in the machine.  

Later reports suggest that the patent, seemingly now outdated, sold for just £12, one of the company's directors suggesting "it is no value to anyone".  Although not much was reported, it seems the manager at the time of the collapse, J. Patient, was owed money with him taking action against the company in the County Court. The shares were virtually worthless – early in September, some four weeks before the disposal of the assets, advertisements appeared under Patient's name as "late manager of Victorian Patent Totalisator Company offering for sale 4000 to 5000 shares at just threepence each "in lots to suit purchasers".   

Little more was ever heard of Siegfried Franck.

Perhaps a broken man, he died of chronic inflammation of the lungs in the General Hospital in East Melbourne on 9 March, 1884, aged 61 years and was interred in Melbourne General Cemetery.

At the time of his demise, he was living with his son, Julius, who was for around six years the licensee of the West Bourke Hotel on the corner of Queen and La Trobe Street West and later the Bush Inn in Prahran.

Strangely, other Franck attracted most of the publicity surrounding the totalizator and its legality, it was never totally clear whether he in fact he ever played any part in designing the machine, although perhaps his mention of a European agent in his letter of offer to potential investors in Adelaide  suggests he was simply the local patentee and agent for an inventor on the continent, possibly even Joseph Oller!


The Totalizator, Sportsman’s Club, Bourke Street, Melbourne

The Australasian Sketcher, November 18, 1882.

Below : The Eastern Market (corner of Exhibition and Bourke) where The Sportsmen's Club was situated. The arcade was the three-storey section facing Bourke Street in the centre.