Wednesday, January 12, 2011


A 19th Century Prize Fighter
Some time back, in the context of Hugh Miller's encounter with Wolverton, I posted Sir Frank Markham's account of the prize fight centred around Wolverton Station in 1845. You can read it here.

I have recently found some further references in The Times to the two protagonists, Ben Caunt and W. Thompson, alias "Bendigo".

Bendigo first, and the sad end of Ben Caunt tomorrow.

According to Sir Frank Markham, Bendigo became a preacher after he retired from the ring. I don't know about his subsequent career, but prize fighting was a tough business. There are frequent reports of fatalities in these bouts and the government had made the practice illegal - not that this stopped it. On more than one occasion the victor of one of these contests found himself up on a charge of murder. It was the Marquis of Queensbury's rules governing fighting later in the century that brought boxing under some sort of code.

On July 19 1851, Bendigo was moved to write a letter to The Times defending The Noble Art of Self Defence. The letter is incoherent and semi-literate, quite unlike the normal letters of the period with their long and elegant sentences. The Time type-setter, however, rendered the letter as it was written and published it with a preface, which is possibly patronising. It is quite Dickensian with phonetic spelling and the "h" appearing before some vowels - hexient for excellent and ham for am. You cant't always make sense of what he says, but as a sociological document it is interesting.

We have received the following letter in defence of the English practice of this "noble" art.
The writer, as will be seen, is modest enough to distrust his own "science," but we cannot presume to improve on the defence of a professor, and leave his blows to tell as he struck them.

"Sir, - Seeing as you ar so palite as to admet opinins of the various arts ento your collms as was the cas with the piana fortes an other maters arterwards the opening off the Great Exhibition i make bold to trubbel you with a fewe Remarkes regarden we profesors off the art of sef defense  In the Ring it appears to mee that the kicking bisness in your most hexient notiece too day off Leicester square assalt at arms in aney thing but fare game an we doant fancy this french in old England its worse nor Lancasher purrin which we turns our backes uppon the gents must hav a prety thirst for Blood to go to Encurage such practessis an i Hope you will put it done as i ham no pertikler schooler i shall be obleege if you wil Mak it knowne an i shal feel obleege

"n,B kickeing an in the face to wit i wish they may get me at that game
"Nottingham jouly 17 Flying Horse."

No comments: