Bendy And The Baer

It is possibly unfair to try to compare Bendigo to other boxers with whom we might be more familiar. However, what is unfortunate for Bendigo, is that technology 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.

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).

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 cell bars. 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.

Carnero and Baer

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 Trent river in Nottingham.

His heroic act of saving a drowning person was once mentioned to Max Baer whilst he was training at Asbury Park and 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. (In Bendigo’s case, to regain his championship in his third meeting with Ben Caunt).

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 Tockard 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 research by Jevon Patrick for the Bendigo Memorial Fund

Memorial Walk – 140 Years On

Supporters of the legendary prize-fighter ‘Bendigo’ will walk the route of his funeral, 140 years to the day.

On Sunday 23rd August 2020, supporters of the Bendigo Memorial Fund will walk the route of Bendigo’s funeral cortege in 1880.

The walk will go from the site of his former home at Wollaton Road, Beeston to his grave at Bath Street in Nottingham City Centre, a distance of 5.7 miles.

Here’s what the Nottinghamshire Guardian reported on 3rd September 1880.

The funeral of William Thompson, better known to the public as ‘Bendigo’, the ex prize-fighter, whose death occurred at his residence at Beeston on Monday last, took place on Friday afternoon in St Mary’s burying ground, St Ann’s Well Road Nottingham. 
The circumstances attending the death of this Nottingham celebrity are already well known, and it is unnecessary here to recount them further than to say that death took place in consequence of injuries received by a fall downstairs some little time ago. 
The funeral procession, which consisted of a hearse and several carriages conveying the relatives and friends of the deceased, left Beeston at one o’clock for Nottingham, the departure being witnessed by an immense number of residents. 
On the journey considerable interest was taken in the cortege, which moved at a very slow pace, and on arriving in Nottingham shortly after two o’clock, by the Derby Road, several hundreds of spectators had assembled to follow the remains to the grave. These were quickly augmented as the procession reached the Market-place, and on arriving at the gate of the burying ground – several thousands of persons were waiting to witness the funeral ceremony. 
Arrived at the door of the chapel the coffin was borne by some of Bendigo’s old friends into the building, where the service of the Church of England appointed for the burial of the dead was solemnly performed by the Rev. William Murray, curate of St Stephen’s Church, Nottingham, in the presence of a few who had been fortunate enough to gain admission. Outside a scene of a very different character was witnessed. As it was impossible for the immense concourse of people to gain admission to the chapel, a sort of religious service was conducted by several revivalists with whom Bendigo when alive was identified. Mr Richard Weaver, a well-known revivalist, through whose instrumentality the deceased prize-fighter is said to have ben brought under religious influence, mounted on of the mourning coaches, and gave out the hymn Welcome Home, which was loudly sung by the crowd, composed to a great extent of the lower classes. After this Mr Weaver delivered an address, in the course of which he said he was glad to see they had met to witness the burial of the ‘rags of Old Bendy’, for in the chapel close by were only the ‘rags’ of their old friend; he himself had gone above. The speaker then went on to give an account of his meeting with Bendigo some years since in the Mechanics Hall, Nottingham, by which led the deceased’s subsequent conversion. 
By this time the first part of the service in the chapel was concluded, and as soon as the coffin and the procession appeared from the building a rush was made towards them, and it was with great difficulty that the grave was reached. Fortunately a strong posse of police was present to keep order, so that there was no disturbance save what was necessarily caused by such a large assembly. The officers, however, were successful in keeping the people so far from the grave as to prevent annoyance, and the concluding part of the funeral service was gone through by Mr Murray. The coffin, which was covered with a number of immortelles, was then lowered into the grave. It bore the following inscription: William Thompson, alias Bendigo, born 11th October 1811 aged 68 years.
Next followed an impressive address by the officiating clergyman, who spoke of the deceased’s life, which had been brought under the influence of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. After the Rev gentleman had finished his observations, which were eagerly listened to, Mr J Dupe gave put a hymn, followed by an address, in which the speaker said that Bendigo’s last words were, ‘Harry, meet me in heaven’. Mr Weaver and other speakers followed, while the spectators pressed forward to take a view of the coffin in the grave, which is situated near to where the deceased’s mother is laid.
The people however, throwing off the restraint under which, for a short time they had been placed, commenced to joke and jeer and to talk of the early life of the deceased. The principal battles in which he had engaged were discussed freely, and such names as ‘Ben Caunt’, and ‘Jem Ward’ were constantly heard. Others directed their conversation to the deceased’s after life, and his appearance upon the platform as a revivalist. This kind of thing continued for some time, after which the multitude quietly dispersed.
Nottinghamshire Guardian article from Friday 3rd September 1880