We have recently offered our guided tour to families who have arrived in Nottingham from the war in Ukraine. It is the least we can do to welcome them to Nottingham. We have adapted our tour to include details of modern Nottingham, but still managed to tell The Bendigo Story.
Ukraine has of course produced some of the best heavyweight fighters in recent years. Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko were in their prime between 2004 and 2015. Then there is Usyk, who is due to fight Anthony Joshua again later this year.
The Guinness World Records show the Klitschkos as the pair of brothers with most world heavyweight title fight wins.
Vitali retired from boxing in 2013, relinquishing the WBC world title, and became a politician. He is now the the mayor of Kyiv. Wladimir successfully defended his titles before losing to Tyson Fury in 2015. Both brothers hold doctorates in sports science and speak multiple languages.
Our Ukrainian guests seemed to enjoy the wonderful buildings and the sporting heritage that Nottingham has to offer. They were shown the Motorpoint Arena and interested to learn that another Ukrainian boxer fought there in 2005.
Andry Kotelnik is from Lviv in Ukraine and had a very successful fourteen year career, winning and retaining the WBA Super lightweight title. His visit to Nottingham in 2005 ended in a rare defeat for him, losing to Junior Witter after 12 rounds and by Unanimous Decision.
Kotelnik went on to winning the world title and successfully defended it three year later in Cardiff, against Gavin Rees in his home town. Kotelnik sensationally won in the twelfth round by a stoppage.
The circumstances of our Ukrainian friends is an awful situation, but we hope that their stay in Nottingham is a positive one, until it is safe for them to return.
We have also offered our Welcome to Nottingham tour to other refugee groups in Nottingham.
You may have noticed we have changed our ‘trading name’ to The Bendigo Heritage Project.
At a recent meeting, we reviewed the objectives of our campaign and also the individual roles of the trustees.
We realised the project has developed into something wider than a statue appeal. It has become a broader heritage project. Whilst the ultimate goal is to commission a prominent statue of Bendigo in Nottingham, the project is an ongoing celebration of Bendigo’s life and achievements.
We want all visitors to Nottingham to be aware of The Bendigo Story, whether they are from the area, tourists, on business. or visiting for another event.
Alan Dawson – Trustee of The Bendigo Heritage Project
To ensure this, the project now includes:
Guided Tour – Publications – Merchandise – Establishing an Archive of Images and Items – Exhibitions and other events – Ensuring that the Local Authority Celebrate The Bendigo Story at every opportunity (Using Civic Plaques and Signage).
We hope you will continue to support us in any way you can.
Here’s a couple of items we have obtained for our collection:
Bendigo – Antique Aquatint by Charles Hunt. London. Published April 10, 1846 by J. Moore.
Bendigo’s interest and involvement with the sport of cricket is well recorded. Not only was the man himself a capable cricketer, he was also a regular visitor to Trent Bridge cricket ground from its inception in the 1830s.
This was the decade that Bendigo’s boxing career took off, and Bendigo would have been somewhat of a celebrity who was always good entertainment. There is a story about Bendigo being at a match when a ball was hit and heading in his direction. He calmly removed his top hat and caught the ball using the hat, only for the ball to go straight through it, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Nottingham Cricket Club is known to have played matches from 1771 and fifteen matches involving this side have been awarded first-class status. There was also a first-class match played by a combined Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire side in 1803. The first matches played as a Nottinghamshire side took place in 1829.
Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club was formally created in 1841, when William Clarke established Trent Bridge as a cricket venue adjacent to the public house he ran. It was Clarke’s successor as Nottinghamshire captain, George Parr, who first captained a united England touring team in 1859.
Bendigo Matched With George Parr
Bendigo’s cricketing ability is further enhanced by an invitation from George Parr to a challenge match one-on-one. George Parr was considered the best player in the world at the time.
Bendigo describes it in this article from BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk
In this article Bendigo brags about his achievements.
‘I have also played and beat at cricket Gerland of Leeds, one of the great All England players at that time’.
Bendigo appears to have mixed up the name Girling with Crossland to make Gerland!
I was matched to throw a cricket ball and then play the then great All-England cricketer George Parr. The match did not take place on account of me being seized with gout.
Bendigo forgets to say that Parr graciously declined to claim forfeit.
George Parr is commemorated at Trent Bridge
Trent Bridge was first used as a cricket ground in the 1830s. The first recorded cricket match was held on an area of ground behind the Trent Bridge Inn in 1838 with Trent Bridge hosting its first Test match in 1899, with England playing against Australia.
The modern Trent Bridge ground has stands that commemorate William Clarke and George Parr.
George Parr’s first-class career lasted from 1844 to 1870. He was a big name in cricket and was known as the “Lion of the North”. He was a right-handed batsman and bowled occasional right-handed underarm deliveries. He played mainly for Nottinghamshire, and was club captain from 1856 to 1870 making occasional appearances for other counties and for Marylebone Cricket Club.
Parr was a stalwart of the All-England Eleven and was captain of the first England touring team, which went to North America in 1859. He also captained England’s unbeaten second tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1864.
Parr played in 207 first-class matches and had 358 innings, in 30 of which he was not out. Parr is widely considered as the best cricket player in the world in his time. He scored 6,626 runs (average 20.20) at a time when conditions greatly favoured bowlers. His highest score was 130 for Nottinghamshire, against Surrey at The Oval on 14 July 1859. He made 31 fifties and took 126 catches. He took 29 wickets in his career.
Reports About Bendigo Facing Arthur Girling
Arthur Girling (1807 – 1849) was a first-class cricketer and umpire. He was born at Burton upon Trent and made his debut in first-class cricket for the North against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s in 1841. He next played first-class cricket in 1845, when he appeared for Manchester against Yorkshire. He played cricket for Manchester until 1848, making six appearances. His best figures of 6 for 32 came against Sheffield in 1848, a match in which he took two five-wicket hauls. He also stood as an umpire in two first-class matches in 1840 and 1841. Girling died at Manchester in June 1849 at the age of 42.
Bendigo faced another first class cricketer in Leeds
There is also a report of Bendigo visiting Leeds in Yorkshire where he played a two-on-two at Woodhouse Moor. Bendigo easily beat a man named Ibbetson who was described as a ‘professor of the noble game’ and who played professionally around 1850. This win against Ibbetson allowed Bendigo (and a fielder) to play Mr J Holland and Andrew Crossland (a first class cricketer and umpire).
Andrew Crossland (1816 – 1902) was active from 1844 who played for Sheffield Cricket Club. Born in Dalton, Huddersfield, he died in November 1902 in Hull. His son Samuel Crossland also played first-class cricket
The Top-Hat Story
This story featured in a 1903 copy of the Evening Star. The game in question is suggested to be 1847 and at Trent Bridge where George Parr was playing.
It was etiquette to wear a top-hat at cricket matches. Before the game, the batsman were practicing, and one of them hit a ball towards Bendigo who was described as a fine athlete and a great cricketer. Bendigo was described as more than capable of catching the ball, removed his hat to preserve his hands and attempted to catch the ball using his hat. However, the ball went straight through – to the amusement of the crowd.
George ‘The Squire’ Osbaldeston
We shouldn’t finish without mentioning George Osbaldeston, a first class cricketer (as well as Member of Parliament for East Retford) who played professionally for Marylebone Cricket Club, Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire.
He also took on the unenviable task of refereeing the third fight between Bendigo and Ben Caunt in 1845, the one that was described as ‘the most scandalous brawl in boxing history.
George Osbaldeston was the classic sporting hero of the period. The Cricket Mash blog describes him as ‘a versatile all-round sportsman, compulsive gambler and life-long philanderer. He was one of the most colourful characters of early cricket’.
Born in 1787 to a wealthy family, Osbaldeston went from Eton to Brasenose College.
In the same year he had his famous duel with Lord George Bentinck. Osbaldeston putting a bullet through his opponent’s hat within two inches of the brain.
Known as ‘The Squire’, Osbaldeston was a High Sheriff of Yorkshire and for six years M.P. for East Retford.
He died in 1866, leaving no heir, just his reputation.
Thanks to BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk for the articles featured here.
When our campaign started in 2016, former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan wished us luck. He also mentioned a similar campaign, for a statue to Rinty Monaghan in Belfast.
In 2015, a statue of the former world champion boxer, John ‘Rinty’ Monaghan was unveiled close to his birthplace in Belfast. Monaghan was the first boxer from the city to win a world title, becoming flyweight champion in 1948.
We have recently discovered that, long before our campaign started, McGuigan had even celebrated the contribution of Bendigo to the sport.
In September 1991, he spoke about Bendigo in a BBC Radio 4 programme. The programme was mentioned in The Reading Evening Post as a Radio Highlight.
Similarities In The Two Campaigns
Having looked at the news reports about the Rinty Monaghan statue, we have identified a number of similarities to the campaign here in Nottingham. The two cities even have a similar population. Belfast 280,000 and Nottingham weighing in at 330,000.
This was the description of Monaghan by the sculptor Alan Beattie Herriot. The same has been said of Bendigo.
Monaghan was the first boxer from the Belfast to win a world title, becoming flyweight champion in 1948.
Bendigo was the first boxer from Nottingham to win the All England title in 1839 and again in 1845.
The 3m bronze statue of Monaghan was erected in Cathedral Gardens Belfast, close to where he grew up.
The statue of Bendigo will (most likely) be erected in Trinity Square Nottingham, close to his birthplace.
Monaghan’s family attended the ceremony, and were joined by well-known boxers, Belfast councillors and crowds of boxing fans.
The ceremony in Nottingham will welcome the many people who have helped us and who have a connection with Bendigo’s story.
The website for Irish Boxing reported that ‘the unveiling of the Rinty Monaghan statue in Belfast this year was one of the biggest occasions in Belfast Boxing.
We know that when Nottingham’s statue to Bendigo is unveiled, it will be one of the biggest occasions in Nottingham Boxing.
Five Year Campaign
In the BBC article, Rinty Monaghan’s great-nephew Eamon McAuley said that the statue was ‘absolutely beautiful’. He described his great-uncle as a ‘working-class hero. He also said that after a five-year campaign to erect the statue, his family were going to celebrate ‘a wonderful day’.
We expect that our statue to Bendigo will also be a beautiful work of art to honour Nottingham’s ‘working class hero’.
Private tours can be arranged by contacting the Bendigo Memorial Fund at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Our guided walk has taken a lot of planning but we feel it has been worth it. We can tailor the tour to different groups with specific interests. We are sure it will be of interest to locals and to people visiting Nottingham for a city break or sporting event”.
Tour guide Alan Dawson
“We’re so excited about this! We can’t wait to introduce people to a story that has been Nottingham’s hidden, little gem. We’re going to unravel a tale that would be fit for filmmakers in Hollywood – and it’s on the city’s doorstep!”
Tour guide Jevon Patrick
Ryan Walker-Drain, the chair of Bendigo Memorial Fund said:
Thanks go to Alan and Jevon (the tour guides) for setting this up, The Bendigo Story will be a great way for visitors to learn about our first boxing superstar. It will also raise funds for our statue appeal.
As we all tried to cope with the COVID19 pandemic, all non-essential activity was put on hold. This included our events and fundraising ideas. Let’s hope that 2021 is a year to remember.
Now that things seem to be improving, we are pleased to announce that in the near future, we will be launching The Bendigo Story. A guided heritage walk in Bendigo’s old ‘stomping ground’ of Nottingham’s city centre.
We are excited about this as it will allow us to meet visitors to Nottingham, and show them around. The timing of it will also coincide with the long awaited re-opening of Nottingham Castle as a major tourist attraction.
The 68 years of Bendigo’s life were during the most turbulent period in Nottingham’s history. On his 20th birthday, Nottingham Castle was destroyed by fire (1831) and it remained a ruin until two years before his death. Nottingham Castle became a museum in 1978, having been purchased by the Nottingham Corporation in 1875.
Was Bendigo one of the first visitors? We don’t know, but the sight of the burnt out ducal palace on Castle Rock would have been a permanent reminder to Bendigo of the political unrest in Nottingham.
The Bendigo Story is a guided walk that celebrates the life and times of William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson, Nottingham’s legendary Prize-Fighter and All England Champion. It will take you to a number of locations where you will learn not just about his life, but also what Nottingham was like during his time.
Without giving everything away, the walk will last about two hours and we have decided it will finish up at St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market. At the end of the walk, each guest will receive a complimentary copy of our heritage booklet ‘10 Bells For Bendigo’.
Watch this space for more details.
Many thanks for your continued support, in particular those of you that follow our social media pages. We are all learning as we go along.
We will end with a recent image sent to us via our Twitter account @bendigonotts.
It is an image from a book that shows a Belgian flyweight boxer visiting Bendigo’s grave. His name was Emile Degand and he was in Nottingham for a bout with George ‘Tish’ Marsden. It gives the year as 1953. We have checked this and for some reason the date is wrong (by almost 20 years).
George Marsden fought 372 times between 1927 and 1946. He beat Emile Degand on 5th March 1934. We also noticed that Marsden’s birth (1911) and death (1980) were exactly 100 years on from Bendigo. Some coincidence eh?
Thanks for reading and maybe we will see you on the guided walk soon.
It is unfair to compare Bendigo to other boxers with whom we might be more familiar. In Bendigo’s time, the technology we enjoy today was not there for him.
The invention of film allowed us to get to know boxers more personally. Facial features, fighting style, and personality are all aspects we can find out about regarding any boxer after the 1900s but when it comes to Bendigo, we are not that spoilt. We must rely on articles, books and sketches. Owing to this, it seems more natural to use more current fighters to get a better feel for past pugilists and that is exactly what the New York Times did in 1935.
John Kieran, was a sportswriter for the New York Times and would go on to become a Hall of Fame sports broadcaster and a regular face on US television. His article in 1935 had the headline.
“Bending Backward From Baer to Bendigo”
“Here. Read about Bendigo. He must have been the Max Baer of old England” cheerfully declared a gentleman as he dropped a hefty book onto Kieran’s office desk.
That book was the famed “The Story of Boxing” by Trevor Wignall. In the book, which covers many 19th century old British bare-knuckle boxers, it describes Bendigo as a “Pugilist, Harlequin, and Revivalist”. It is the word ‘Harlequin’ that really grabs Kieran’s attention as to what the cheerful fellow was suggesting.
The Clown Prince of Boxing
At the time of New York Times article, Max Baer (the ‘Clown Prince of Boxing’) was the heavyweight champion of the world.
Baer was a remarkable character who enlightened America during a time the country was rocked by the Great Depression. He was an old school American heart-throb, an eccentric, a joker, and sadly misunderstood. (Hollywood’s depiction of Baer in the film ‘Cinderella Man’ is quite inaccurate).
The Nottingham Jester
Bendigo was also a very colourful character.
Many people during his fighting career referred to him as the ‘Nottingham Jester’ and every article you can read about him describes him as being eccentric.
Bendigo was a master at taunting his opponents. He would dance around them, pull silly faces, reciting rude rhymes, calling his rival ‘a big chucklehead’. The crowds loved it.
When Bendigo retired from the prize ring, he began to enter a particularly dark time in his life, which involved too many pubs and prison cells. However, he would turn his life around when a priest would grab his attention with the story of David and Goliath. Bendigo replied,
‘I should like to know more about that David bloke. He must have been a good’un for a lightweight’.
A notable example of Baer’s mischief and jest was before his world title fight with the ‘Ambling Alp’ Primo Carnera, he sneakily plucked a hair from Carnera’s chest as if it was a garden daisy and said “He loves me!”. He then managed to grab another before the man mountain realised what he was doing and said “He loves me not!”, reporters present were rolling around laughing.
Kieran suggests that the Bendigo comparison is perhaps a lazy one and that he could equally be likened to ‘The Fighting Marine’ Gene Tunney, who twice beat the famous Jack Dempsey and middleweight king Mickey Walker. Interestingly, they both had a history of saving people from drowning, which Bendigo did numerous times whilst fishing on the River Trent in Nottingham.
This heroic act of saving a drowning person was mentioned to Max Baer whilst he was training at Asbury Park. He cheekily responded that ‘the waves were pretty high’ and that he would not attempt to rescue anyone unless they were a ‘prominent person like Johnny Weissmuller’. Maybe this was another example of the boxer’s jest. (Johnny Weissmuller was an Olympic Swimmer who became more well known in the 1930’s as an actor).
Another aspect of the Bendigo-Baer comparison that Kieran perhaps overlooks in his article is that both fighters had to overcome significant size disadvantages to win their championships.
Max Baer overcame four inches in height, four inches in reach and nearly a four stone weight disadvantage against the colossal Primo Carnera, who stood 6ft 5inches.
Bendigo was also the much smaller man in his battles against Ben Caunt who was 6ft 2 inches – a giant of the time when the average height of a man was 5ft 5 inches. Bendigo’s height was chalked up at just under 5ft 10 inches and he would also enter the ring around the 11st 11lb mark. He would look like a snack stood next to Caunt ‘The Torkard Giant’, as he entered the ring weighing up to 18st.
The main aspect that I think links Baer and Bendigo is that they both stood out and entertained people. They were different. They made the sport better and that is why they both have their names in the Boxing Hall of Fame.
I mentioned earlier that Baer was misunderstood and also misrepresented in the film ‘Cinderella Man’. The film seems to portray him as a killer. In my opinion, Baer’s manager’s view has to be considered. He said that Baer’s ‘Heart was too big for his fists’.
I invite readers to watch the Max Baer documentary called ‘Tender Hearted Tiger’ so you can decide in which thought league you stand.
Article written and researched by Jevon Patrick for the Bendigo Heritage Project
We don’t believe that Bendigo ever travelled outside of the British mainland, although many of his fellow prize-fighters did, often to the United States or Australia. All of Bendigo’s fights took place in England, so we decided to take ‘Bendy’ with us on a trip to County Cork in Ireland.
‘Bendy’ is our maquette (a small statue) of him. It was produced by renowned sculptor Andrew Edwards and it always attracts attention whenever it is displayed.
Prior to the trip, we got in touch with one of Ireland’s top middleweights and Corkonian, Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan. Gary is a fine ambassador for Irish Boxing and we are grateful for the welcome he gave us.
Brian Dillon’s Boxing Club
We asked Gary to arrange a visit to one of Cork’s boxing clubs and he chose Brian Dillon’s Boxing Club, where he used to train. It turned out to be the perfect link to connect us, as it already had a Nottingham connection. Roy Keane used to box there, before his football career took off at Nottingham Forest in 1990. The name Brian Dillon relates to a contemporary of Bendigo too. The club is not named after its founder, but is in memory of a local 19th century republican who campaigned and fought for Irish independence. Dillon, like Bendigo, was born into a time of political injustice and both rose up to the challenge.
Brian Dillon was born on the Rathcooney Road in Cork in 1830. His republican activity got him imprisoned in an English prison. He was five years into his ten year sentence when he died in 1872. He was just 42 years of age.
He us considered a patron of Irish independence in the Cork area and Brian Dillon’s Boxing Club was set up in 1981 at premises used by the GAA Club as a meeting room on Stream Hill near Dillons Cross.
Over the years the club has produced many outstanding boxers who have won numerous County, Munster and, All-Ireland titles. Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan being one. Between 2009 and 2017, held multiple middleweight championships at regional level including the Irish title. He also acted and performed stunts in the 2007 film Strength and Honour.
On our visit to Brian Dillon’s Boxing Club, we presented them with some copies of our Heritage Booklet and let the young boxers admire ‘Bendy’ the maquette.
After our visit, we toured the coastal area of West Cork, taking ‘Bendy’ with us of course.
Here he is at Kinsale
Now at Baltimore
Any trip to Cork means a visit to Blarney Castle, where those that kiss the Blarney stone are supposedly endowed with the ‘gift of the gab’ or great eloquence. Something that Bendigo was certainly skilled at.
Bendigo – From Pugilist to Preacher runs Mon – Fri (9-5) until December 1st.
When the Centre Manager Ian Young contacted us about taking our exhibition to the Centre, we had no hesitation in accepting.
Trustee Alan Dawson and Community Manager Ian Young ‘come up to scratch’ after completing the gallery.
Nottingham’s Famous Sons Named William
Both William Booth and William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson lived in the same period, and both were affected by the poverty and suffering of ordinary people.
William Booth attended the Broad Street Wesley Chapel (Methodist) where in 1844 he had a conversion experience, noting that: “It was in the open street [of Nottingham] that this great change passed over me”.
William Thompson (on his retirement) developed a problem with alcohol and he knew that his lifestyle needed to change. That change came in 1872, when he converted, having attended a congregation held by the former coal miner turned preacher named Richard Weaver. This was at The Mechanics Institute on Milton Street in Nottingham.
New to the gallery is a high quality copy of Bendigo, painted in 1850 by Thomas Earl.
The original oil on canvas is owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The City of Bendigo in Victoria Australia is 90 miles northwest of Melbourne.
We have read various theories about how the name Bendigo made its way there. We have now discovered the truth about the matter.
Bendigo Creek was founded as a sheep run in 1840. Then gold was discovered in 1851 which brought rapid growth to the area. This created the impressive city that still stands today, with fine examples of Victorian architecture and tree-lined streets. Gold mining ceased in 1955.
Bendigo became a city in 1871, although the official name was Sandhurst until 1891. A poll of the residents decided to revert to the original name of Bendigo, to ‘honour a local prize-fighter who compared his own prowess to that of the famous English pugilist known as Bendigo’. The name of this prize-fighter was unknown in most historical text.
The modern location in Bendigo is now called Charing Cross.
They were created in 1853 and show Bendigo Creek at the time of the early gold rush.
On the 21st April 1878 the Australian Town and Country Journal published an article titled:
ORIGIN OF THE NAME ‘BENDIGO’
The origin of the name ‘Bendigo’ has, time after time, led to much controversy. Now the origin of the name is thus accounted for.
A few old residents who are yet in existence will remember that Messrs Heap and Grice occupied a station run in the country now forming the Sandhurst district.
On this quotation says the Independent we have been shown an extract from a letter to Dr Pounds from Mr Grice which should put the matter at rest.
Mr Grice writes:
“Tell your friends who want to know the origin of Bendigo, that it was named by Tom Myers, Heap and Grice’s overseer in 1841. Tom himself was a bit of a dab with his fists and a great admirer of the boxer Bendigo: hence the name.”
From ‘Tom Myers’, those well known localities ‘Myers Flat’ and ‘Myers Creek’ take their name.
Image of the actual article in the Australian Town and Country Journal of 1878
Thanks to Google for the image of Bendigo with Myers Street standing proud.
‘Bendigo Creek’ in August 1852, painted by the artist S.T. Gill.
The much anticipated third and final bout between Bendigo and Ben Caunt took place on 29th September 1845, in a field close to Sutfield Green, beyond Lillington Level, in Oxfordshire.
Here is how the Nebraska State Journal reported on the end of the fight.
Both fighters came to the centre jauntily for the ninety-third round, which was to prove the last, and, incidentally, to turn loose a controversy never quite decided.
Caunt set the pace and pitched in right and left forcing Bendigo to the ropes, where he hung. He scrambled up, when Caunt hit him down again. The champion now repeated a mistake which he had made earlier in the fight believing that Bendigo was down for good and the round therefore at an end. He turned his back and walked for his corner. Bendigo got up and rushed in pursuit. Caunt saw him coming and deliberately sat down. Instantly Bendigo’s friends claimed the decision for him on a “foul.” Declaring Caunt had fallen before being struck, The referee decided that such was the case and rendered the decision, carrying title, stakes and belt, to Bendigo.
So ended the only famous battle of a period which added little to the reputation of the sport. The decision was hotly attacked. It was said that Bendigo had no right to rise again and that Caunt sat down to escape being surprised or taken at disadvantage until “time” was called again. It was openly charged that the referee had been intimidated by the cudgel bands about the ring. No precise settlement of the question was ever reached, but the decision stood reflecting no particular credit upon either contestant. Caunt was undoubtedly the stronger at the end, but his utter inability to land a decisive blow left the ultimate result of a finish fight a question.
Some writers described the fight as ‘the most scandalous brawl in boxing history’.
Following the fight Tom Spring (a supporter of Caunt) challenged the result and thereby, questioned the integrity of the referee.
Tom Spring was a formidable boxer himself, nicknamed ‘Light Tapper and known for his strength of character, courage and skill in the ring.
The referee though, was no other than George Osbaldeston an English politician who served as MP for East Retford.
Known as The Old Squire, Osbaldeston was also respected as a sportsman and first-class cricketer. His integrity was being challenged for the first time.
Osbaldeston responded to Spring’s challenge in a letter to the editor of the Bell’s Life newspaper.
An appeal having been made to me, as referee, by Mr Spring, to reverse my decision in the late fight between Bendigo and Caunt, on grounds unworthy of my consideration, I request you will confirm that decision by paying over the stakes to Bendigo, who, in my opinion, is justly entitled to them.
It was with the greatest reluctance, and at the particular request of my friends and the unanimous solicitations of the backers of the men, that I accepted the office; but I shall always consider it one of the greatest acts of folly I ever was guilty of in my life.
In discharging my duty I endeavoured to do justice to the contending parties to the best of my abilities and judgment; and, arriving at the conclusion I did, and now confirm, I was actuated only by a complete conviction of the justness of my decision, and not by the intimidation of the roughs, as stated by Mr Spring in his letter.
Had I been under the intimidation of the ‘roughs’ I had several opportunities of putting an end to the fight before the conclusion by foul acts on the part of Caunt. A noble lord, and several gentlemen who stood close by me during the whole fight, can corroborate this statement. I most positively deny that I stated to any one that a man going down without a blow, after he himself had treacherously delivered blows, was fair.
In no one instance, in my judgment, did Bendigo break the laws of fair fighting. I must also deny, in the most positive manner, that I ever stated to any person that I did not see the last round. I saw every round distinctly and clearly, and when Caunt came up the last round he had evidently not recovered from the 92nd. After the men were in position Bendigo very soon commenced operations, and Caunt turned round directly and skulked away, with his back to Bendigo, and sat down on his nether end. He never knocked Bendigo down once in the fight, nor ever got him against the ropes in the last round. In my opinion Caunt got away as soon as he could from Bendigo, fell without a blow to avoid being hit out of time, and fairly lost the fight.
We are often asked about where Bendigo fought in and around Nottingham. As his fame and reputation grew, his later fights were at Chapel-en-le-Frith in the Peak District, Selby in Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and Mildenhall in Suffolk.
Remember that prize-fighting (or pugilism) was closely linked to both wrestling and fencing. As the sport developed in England, it was one of the first to have a written code of rules, from 1743. Crowds of up to 10,000 would walk long distances to see a fight. Prize-fighting was patronized by the nobility and huge sums were gambled on fights. In 1786 the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales were among the biggest gamblers.
In Nottinghamshire, Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny was an enthusiast of prize-fighting, using his land for an annual wrestling match in the early 1700s.
These events took place in the open air and often organised on private estates. The precise location was often chosen by the nature of the landscape, using the contours of the land to create a natural amphitheatre to allow for spectators.
In Nottinghamshire, from what we have discovered, Bendigo fought at Sunrise Hill in Bestwood, (known as Bendigo’s Ring), Wilford Hill (before the building of the cemetery), Strelley Woods and near to The Traveller’s Rest Inn on Mapperley Plains.
It is also recorded that Bendigo fought Bill Moulds (known as Winterflood) in Bulwell Forest in October 1833.
Sir Thomas Parkyns even published an early account of boxing in 1713. He was a significant landowner in Bunny, Nottinghamshire who had practised the techniques he described. It was a manual of wrestling and fencing, Progymnasmata: The inn-play, or Cornish-hugg wrestler.
Parkyns recommends to his readers throwing contentious persons over their heads, with practical instructions. In the course of the work he acknowledged obligations to Isaac Newton, for his lectures at Trinity College, to Mr Cornish, his wrestling master at Gray’s Inn.
Parkyns annual wrestling match in Bunny Park included many of his servants who had beaten him in bouts. The competition that he founded continued in Bunny Park until 1810.
On his death in 1741, Parkyns was buried in the chancel of Bunny Church, where there a figure of him was in the act of wrestling. It is now by the north wall of the church, following the restoration of it in 1912.
Sir Thomas Parkyns (1664–1741) of Bunny, in a wrestler’s stance. He designed and built his own monument for St Mary the Virgin Parish Church in Bunny.
When we raise a statue to Bendigo in Nottingham, we will have to decide on a suitable location. What about Nottingham Castle?
Bendigo was afterall, a Nottingham man through and through. He never left the town, other than to pursue his fighting career. His name may have reached every continent in the world, but Bendigo stayed in Nottingham, amongst his own people.
Nottingham Castle, though, may not be the ideal location for a statue of Bendigo. Why?
A Symbol of Oppression
Quite simply, the castle did not represent Bendigo’s people. His people were those who lived in its shadow, downtrodden, uneducated and poor.
As a child, Bendigo would have known about the simmering unrest in the disease ridden streets of Nottingham. He would have known that the Duke of Newcastle had moved away from his palace at the castle. The last Great Ball there had been held in 1776 and the Duke was now living his privileged life at Clumber Park.
Throughout Bendigo’s adult life, it was nothing more than a burnt out shell of a building, having been destroyed during riots in 1831. It was a symbol of the social injustice of the time, a symbol of oppression on the hill.
The castle was actually burning on the morning of Bendigo’s 20th birthday on 11th October 1831.
The riots had begun when news reached Nottingham that the Duke, Henry Pelham Clinton had opposed electoral reform, thereby keeping the power in the hands of the rich. Having stormed the building, the rioters stripped it of the remaining furnishings, destroyed statues and lit a great fire in the basement that destroyed the entire building. Bendigo would have been part of the crowds that watched as the palace lit up the sky like a giant bonfire.
Nottingham Castle in Ruins
As if to confirm his attitude to the town of Nottingham, the Duke left the ruins un-repaired for 45 years, until the Town Corporation stepped in.
During this period Bendigo’s career as a prize-fighter took off, undefeated in 21 matched fights up to 1850.
Following his retirement, a portrait of Bendigo was painted by Thomas Earl. This fantastic piece, painted with oil on canvas is now held by the National Portrait Gallery in London,
The Castle Museum
In 1875, architect T.C. Hine was tasked with renovating Nottingham Castle and turning it into a Museum of Fine Art. This work was completed in 1878 and the Castle became the first municipal museum of art in the country.
The curator was a man named George Harry Wallis, who wanted the museum to inspire the creative and curious imaginations of the people of Nottingham.
Bendigo died in 1880 and we don’t know whether he visited Nottingham’s new Museum of Fine Art. It is ironic that the museum could have displayed that portrait of Bendigo. Maybe it did.
Maybe it should be loaned back to the Castle Museum. So it can inspire the ‘curious imaginations of the people of Nottingham’ again.
Bendigo Makes A Visit
Either way, we will finish by sharing some images of Bendigo at the castle. We took him (well our small statue of him) there when the castle reopened in June 2021.
John Thompson was born in 1809 and two years older than William.
Whilst we don’t know much about him, we know he remained in Nottingham. He never married, nor did he have children that we know of.
We do know that he was an optician with a premises on or near Glasshouse Street in Nottingham.
Bendigo seems to have had a good relationship with his brother. In his interview with James Greenwood in 1872 he said:
When my uncle died – an optician he was, and left us his stock-in-trade and his tools – I says to my brother, You take the lot, and allow mother six shillings a week on my account like, and so he did. And I used to buy the old lady her winter clothes, and he bought her her summer clothes, and so she did pretty well until she died at eighty-three.
Bendigo in 1872
John Thompson died in 1873 at the age of 64. He was buried in Nottingham’s Church (Rock) Cemetery, on his own in plot No 1292. The numbering of the plots at the cemetery is quite haphazard and some plots are not easy to find.
Church Cemetery, also known as Rock Cemetery, is a Grade II listed site at the south-east corner of Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham. It was created around an old sand mine and some of the mine tunnels give the place a unique atmosphere. It was founded in 1848 but did not open until 1856. A church was included in the design, which gave the cemetery its name, but this was not built at the time of its opening. The construction works involved the removal and relocation of some 20,000 tons of earth and the laying out of paths and suitable planting including Cedars of Lebanon.
Thanks to the team at Nottingham City Council (Parks and Cemeteries Department), we joined them to look around the site. The tour was titled Rock Cemetery Catacomb Tour and is well worth a visit. The bonus for us was that we finally discovered the grave of John Thompson.
It was very much overgrown and 150 years of nature has added to its character.
Here are some images for you.
How to find the grave
Here is the map of the cemetery with Select Site C marked
Here’s a plan showing Plot 1292 within Select Site C
The Bendigo Heritage Project has teamed up with Cafe Sobar on Friar Lane to exhibit a number of images and artwork that promote the importance of Bendigo to the City of Nottingham.
Visitors to Cafe Sobar can now see a variety of items collated by the project since they formed in 2016. There are photographs, some pieces of modern art and memorabilia. It is hoped that the display will stimulate interest in the story of Nottingham’s first sporting superstar.
It will also highlight the work of Café Sobar as an innovative alcohol-free cafe and social space in Nottingham city centre.
William Thompson (known as ‘Bendigo’) was a 19th century boxer who fought 21 times between 1831 and 1850. He went on to become the undefeated Champion of England and is credited with introducing the ‘southpaw’ boxing stance.
Shortly after his retirement, his mother died and Bendigo developed a problem with alcohol. This led to a number of arrests, behaviour that tarnished his reputation for a number of years.
His life had to change and the moment came when he attended The Mechanics Institute to hear a talk by a preacher named Richard Weaver. Bendigo joined Weaver’s revivalist church and he also preached the sermon to congregations up and down the country. His conversion was written about in various publications, including a well known poem titled Bendigo’s Sermon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Alan Dawson, trustee of the Bendigo Heritage Project said:
We are keen for the public to see the items that we have collated, and Cafe Sobar is an ideal venue. It is a supportive network that gets people back into a positive lifestyle, something that wouldn’t have been available to Bendigo. Our gallery of items is not extensive but there is a variety of Bendigo related imagery to get people’s attention.
Jason Loftus, the general manager at Cafe Sobar said:
“Café Sobar and its parent charity Double Impact are honoured and excited to be in partnership with the amazing Bendigo Heritage Project. There are so many parallels with the life of this Nottingham legend and our own social mission. This partnership is the perfect fit for us to spread the legend of Bendigo and the transformative message he shared even further.”
A preview evening was held to allow supporters of the project to see these previously unseen items.
The free exhibition will run from Saturday 3rd February to the 1st April. It will be accessible during normal opening times at Cafe Sobar.
Legendary Prize-Fighter ‘Bendigo’ is known to have a strong association with the Forest Tavern in Nottingham. He was close to the landlord John Ellis, who supported him in his career and beyond. The building now has a plaque installed in his memory, thanks to funding by Nottingham Civic Society.
The unveiling was conducted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Cllr Nicola Heaton, who spoke about Nottingham’s sporting heritage and the importance of Bendigo to it.
In the 1830s, the Forest Tavern would not have been surrounded by housing, as it is now. It would have had a rural feel to it. The location had until then been known as a place of public execution and was also a turnpike. There were even a dozen windmills along what is now Forest Road, taking advantage of the hilltop location. The Forest Tavern was one of the first properties built along that stretch of Mansfield Road, before the Enclosure Act allowed Nottingham to expand. The Rock Cemetery was created in 1845 and St Andrews Church in 1871.
Alan Dawson of the Bendigo Heritage Project said:
‘We know that the first proprietor of the Forest Tavern was a Londoner named John Ellis. It seems he was a close friend of Bendigo. In addition to allowing the tavern as a base for him to train, it was also used to exhibit his cups and belts. John Ellis was also on the committee that organised and funded the lion memorial over Bendigo’s grave. It’s an important part of the Bendigo story.’
Jevon Patrick of the Bendigo Heritage Project said:
We are really grateful to the Nottingham Civic Society for supporting us and in recognising Bendigo’s contribution to our city. The building is no longer a pub but it has been tastefully maintained in keeping with the Arboretum Conservation Area. The plaque will be a constant reminder to people using the busy Mansfield Road. We have specifically chosen a blue plaque to represent the colour that Bendigo used at his fights, ‘Bird’s Eye Blue’.
Funding for the plaque has been provided by the Nottingham Civic Society.
Hilary Silvester Chair of Nottingham Civic Society said:
Nottingham Civic Society is delighted to be joining with the Bendigo Heritage Project, to celebrate and commemorate Nottingham’s 19th Century sporting hero, William Thompson, nicknamed Bendigo. For a number of years, it seems, he was largely forgotten, so it is good that he once more has an enthusiastic band of followers. We congratulate them on their achievements on Bendigo’s behalf, and wish them well in their future work to publicise the city’s Victorian pugilist.’
Ian Wells of the Nottingham Civic Society also spoke about why they wanted to support us in keeping the Bendigo story accessible to future generations.
The event also welcomed Nottingham’s rising star, welterweight boxer Ekow Essuman. Ekow was joined by his Nottingham trainer Barrington Brown. It was great to see passers-by stopping to acknowledge Ekowe, whose last fight was at Wembley Stadium in April whne he retained his British, Commonwealth and European titles against Darren Tetley.
We were also joined by Colin Wilde and Gaz Peacham, from Castle Rock Brewery. Castle Rock owned the building of the Forest Tavern until its closure a few years ago.