Linking the City of Bendigo with Nottingham

Our research has revealed some fascinating 19th Century history. We have discovered a family with links to the cities of Nottingham, England and Bendigo, Australia.

Thanks to the archives at the University of Nottingham (Manuscripts and Special Collections) we have had access to papers belonging to John Lawson (1878-1969). John trained as a pharmaceutical chemist and was asked by Jesse Boot to join Boots the Chemists as a manager. Lawson lived in West Bridgford Nottingham. On his death, some of his personal documents were given to the Boots Company and these were handed to the University of Nottingham. Of particular interest are letters between two brothers, William and Thomas Lawson. They provide an insight into the early settlers in Australia.

William fled England in 1851 after some financial problems. He left his wife and child behind. William travelled to New Zealand and then to Australia, where he was part of the Australian Gold Rush. William did not appear to make his fortune and he never returned to England. He did write to his brother occasionally, promising to return (although often ask for money). He appears to have married again and had children. His son (from his marriage in England) even travelled to Australia to find his father. It is not clear whether he did.

Letter from William to Thomas dated 17th Dec 1851, from York Farm, Christchurch Plains, Canterbury, New Zealand.

He describes his arrival at Port Lyttleton, and his journey on foot to Christchurch. He initially worked in farming, then as a butcher in Wellington. He intends to make his fortune and then return to England. He describes the abundance of wild life and food. He describes the anniversary celebrations of the first settlers with horse races, Maoris running races, catching pigs, wrestling and cricket.

He thanks his brother for looking after his wife and having to leave England to escape his debts. He mentions the lack of women in New Zealand and wants his wife to come out and join him.

Letter (draft) from Thomas to William Lawson dated 10th Oct 1852.

Thomas asks William why he felt he had to leave England and questions if he is any better off in New Zealand. He hopes he will make money and pay off his creditors. He urges him to wait until he has made some money in Melbourne before bringing his wife out there. He explains the financial arrangements for his wife, who has no desire to join him in Australia.

Letter from William to Thomas Lawson dated 20 Oct 1856, from Snake Valley, 9 Mile Creek, The Ovens, Victoria, Australia.

William describes how he has lived among murderers and states that ‘all the villains in the world I think are here’. He complains that he is miserable because he is lonely, even though he has money.  He explains that he did not send any money home or write as he assumed family in England no longer thought of him and so he had tried to forget them. He apologises for this. He states that he intends to stay in Australia with the wealth to be made from gold. He ends by asking if anything ‘disrespectful’ relating to his wife ‘has come under your notice’.

Image (date inknown) taken from the Snake Valley Facebook site

Letter from William to Thomas Lawson dated 22 May 1857 (from 231 Elizabeth St, Melbourne, Australia).

He justifies why he left England and discusses amount of money he could earn in Australia on the gold fields. He wishes Thomas would speak to his wife and promises to send Brother Tarbotton the money he owes him. He hopes to see his mother again and complains of the lack of charity shown to his wife. There is mention that she was forced into the workhouse. He hopes relations between the brothers will improve.

Elizabeth Street Melbourne in 1870

In July 1857 William sent Thomas a number of prints showing buildings and locations in Australia that he had visited.

He reports that they have just sunk a large shaft to search for gold but found nothing. He mentions that he worked at Pall Mall in Sandhurst four years earlier.

Engraving of Creswick Creek from Spring Hill with note that it is a large goldfield which he had worked twice ‘but always lost money there’.

1 Image of Houses of Parliament, Melbourne

Engraving of New Houses of Parliament, Melbourne with handwritten comment about the fine buildings.
Engraving of Pall Mall, Sandhurst with note that it is a view near Bendigo but that it has been four years since he worked there.
Map of Victoria Gold Fields.

Letter from William to Thomas Lawson dated 13 Mar 1874

William reports that all the money he made in Victoria has been lost in mining transactions and he is now working at his trade in Melbourne. He asks for money to help him come home in three years.

Letter from William to Thomas Lawson dated 10 Aug 1874

Thanks him for letter and praises ‘my Ellen’ and remarks on his children. Promises to send information on them in his next letter. Asks for loan of £50 so he can get home otherwise he will stay in Australia.

Letter from William to Thomas Lawson, dated 8 Sep 1874

Sends details of his marriage to ‘Ellen’ and his 6 children, 3 of whom died in infancy.

Letter from William to Thomas Lawson, dated 9 Sep 1874

Remarks on his work in Victoria and that ‘all esteem him in Victoria. He insists he has never disgraced his name since leaving home 22 years ago.

Letter from John Lawson (William’s son) Thomas Lawson (1876)

Reports that after arrival in Freemantle he discovered there was no work as a mechanic, despite what he had been told. He states that he has taken work carrying coals for P&O Steam Navigation Company. He wishes he had not brought his family out and considers there is little chance of him getting to Melbourne to see his father. States that he has been imprisoned for six months for being on board a steam ship after sunset without a certificate proving he was not a convict. He claims he was only on the ship asking if it could give him passage to Melbourne. He describes working as a navvy creating fish-ponds.

Thank-you for reading. We hope you found this of interest. Follow the links or contact us for for more information.

Heritage Trail Booklet Published

We recently commissioned Porchester Press to publish a Heritage Trail Booklet for us.

The booklet is a fantastic way to advance the culture, heritage and social history of his legacy. We now have a short guide about the story of William Thompson, that will be accessible to visitors to Nottingham and its tourism.

Most of the locations in the booklet are in the commercial area of the city centre. People visiting Nottingham for the first time will be able to get to know something about it’s history whilst enjoying the shops, restaurants and attractions.

The Nottingham of Bendigo’s time could not have been more different. The slums were rife with disease. Life expectancy was 22, less than half the national average. One government official even labelled Nottingham as the ‘Worst town in England’. The people of Bendigo’s childhood home were said to ‘be the poorest of all Queen Victoria’s children’.

The booklet is titled ‘Ten Bells For Bendigo’. This is taken from the tradition of the Ten-Bell Salute, given to honour a boxer or wrestler who has died.

It contains 28 pages of interesting facts, quotes and photographs.

It can be ordered from Porchester Press for £4.50 plus £1.00 postage

William Thompson v William Parsons

During our research into Bendigo, we have found a fascinating piece of history that links our hero to a wealthy Nottingham solicitor named William Parsons.

William Parsons and William Thompson may have lived very different lives, but they lived to a similar age. Both were born and died a year apart, and both moved to Beeston in later life.

Parsons kept a diary and he makes an entry on 11th and 12th February 1839 about attending Bendigo’s fight with Deaf ‘n’ Burke at Appleby near Ashby de la Zouch in Lecestershire. He also writes about betting on Bendigo and winning £70 on the fight.

The entry in the diary reads

Shrove Tuesday.

Fight between Bill Thompson called Bendigo of Nottingham and deaf Burke, won in ten rounds by Bendigo in about 25 minutes. Tho Tate sent £50 to Londo yesterday to make good a bet and he will win about £70 or £80 upon the fight.

Attended meeting of the Corn Law question but did not stay till it was over.

Pancakes for dinner.

This reference to Bendigo highlights the significance of his reputation in the country at the time. The sport of prize-fighting was popular with both the rich and the poor.

Parsons’ diaries are preserved in the Manuscripts and Special Collections of the University of Nottingham. There are eight diaries written by William Parsons. There is also a letter book and a memoranda and address book that belonged to William Parsons and his son Frederick. The collection provides details about the life of a solicitor and gentleman in Nottinghamshire in Victorian times and depicts legal cases, politics, leisure and family life.

William Parsons joined his father and younger brother Samuel as a solicitor the family firm of Parsons and Sons based in St James Street, Nottingham. Parsons’ diaries record his day to day activities although he sometimes grew tired of keeping a regular account part way through the year.

He wrote about his social engagements, often followed by a resolution to live a more sober and serious life, and his professional activities, and makes general comments on life in Victorian Nottingham from the perspective of a well-off and politically engaged young gentleman.

By 1844, William had his own office in Park Row and by 1853, he was operating from Wheelergate and living in College Street. William tried unsuccessfully to become a junior councillor for the Corporation of Nottingham in 1834 in a bid to push through land enclosure that would have benefited his family. He was finally elected in November 1835 as one of the councillors for Park Ward.

In 1864 William Parsons was Mayor of Nottingham and a portrait of him is held at the Nottingham Castle collection.

By 1869, William had moved to Clifton Villas, Beeston, Nottinghamshire where he remained until his death in November 1881.

William Parsons, Mayor of Nottingham (1863–1864)
James Luntley (1827–1887)
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Bendigo Memorial is Cleaned and Restored.

On Friday 13th September 2019, the grave of William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson was cleaned and restored by specialists from AW Lymn The Craftsmen in Stone. The memorial over Bendigo’s grave is approximately 130 years old and has weathered, meaning some of the lettering on the inscription is missing. It has an impressive stone lion which lies prone over the top of the rectangular plinth.

The grave is at St Marys Rest Garden on Bath Street, and is very close to where AW Lymn Funeral Service are situated, The Bendigo Memorial Fund were very grateful for their offer to clean and restore it.

Set in a quiet park with a bench nearby, Bendigo’s grave is a well-respected local landmark. The grave is not visible from the road and is often ‘discovered’ by people using the path through the park.

In 2013, Bendigo was featured in a publication by the Loudspeaker Project. The project encouraged vulnerable women to write letters about things that helped them and gave them comfort. A series of these letters were published by www.changing-lives.org.uk. Here is the letter about Bendigo.

Dear Bendigo,  I first met you, Bendigo the Lion, when I was 7 years old. I have been visiting your grave ever since, I am now 42. Whenever I felt sad and lonely I would talk to you about all my problems. Whenever I was with you, you gave me strength and love and safeness. In life always brave, fighting like a lion… In death like a lamb, tranquil in Zion. I never knew you were a famous bare knuckle fighter born in 1811. You fought to take care of your family but fell into drinking and came out of that seeing the light, becoming a tee-total priest of Nottingham. Subconsciously Bendigo, I choose you, the strongest and nicest guy of Nottingham, to talk to.                                                                                                            Maxine x

Ben Percival, General Manager at AW Lymn The Craftsmen in Stone said,

“As always it is a pleasure to get involved with local projects and give something back to the community”.

Alan Dawson of the Bendigo Memorial Fund said:

“It has been great to get to know and speak to the staff at AW Lymn about Bendigo. We share a lot of history in the area. Lymns started out in 1907, and this was the time that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his famous poem Bendigo’s Sermon. Their offer to maintain his grave is a fantastic gesture.” 

The missing letters on the grave cannot be renewed due to the stone having worn down. In conjunction with Ben from The Craftsmen in Stone and the Conservation Officer at Nottingham City Council, the next discussion will be whether to add a new slate bearing the full inscription.

We are also making enquiries with the company that created the original memorial on Bendigo’s grave. They are still trading under the original name of GH Linnell in Grantham, having started out in 1860.

Thanks for reading this update and best wishes.

The Trustees ( Alan and Ryan)

Lots been happening in 2019

Hello everyone.

Thanks for you continued support.

We have been busy behind the scenes and also attending events.

The Heritage Trail booklet is not quite ready for publication. Maybe this was lucky as one of the locations on the trail has ceased trading recently. The Forest Tavern on Mansfield Road opened in around 1832 and is where Bendigo reportedly trained before his fights. Unfortunately it has recently closed its doors. Hopefully it will re-open quickly and who knows, the owners may want to take advantage of its Bendigo status. Even the BBC Flog It program recorded an episode there.

We have been doing more presentations to various groups. The next one is for Age Concern in Nottingham where we will reminisce about peoples memories of Nottingham and what Bendigo means to them guests. If you have a group that would like to book us to talk about Bendigo, get in touch.

Our next Memorial Walk will be on Sunday 18th August. This event will be an annual walk from Beeston to Bath Street, following the route of his funeral in August 1880.

Keep spreading the word about our cause.

One day we will bring him home

Best wishes Alan and Ryan

The Forest Tavern
195 Mansfield Road
Nottingham

 

Bendigo Heritage

Bendigo Memorial Fund is working across a number of areas to raise the awareness of the man who has so much to offer Nottingham and its heritage. We would like to highlight these areas and the people who have helped us.

Boxing will always be at the heart of the campaign. After all it was through prize-fighting that Bendigo made his reputation. We have established good connections with the boxing community, and we have made some friends along the way.

Marcellus Baz BEM has been supporting us from the start. He runs the Nottingham School of Boxing and other organisations that seek to support young people by giving them opportunities through the discipline and team work that boxing brings. Through him we have established links with national and local boxers. In January we took part in a fundraising skipathon to support local boxing legend Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham through a period of illness.

Jake Meskell is a local television producer with Notts TV. Jake has shown a particular interest in boxing and martial arts. So much so that he produces a boxing show for Notts TV called Fight Night.

Peter Radford is an aspiring actor and works in the tourism area as Little John, the famous character linked to Robin Hood. Peter is also a boxer within the Bare Knuckle Boxing community.

Alan Dance is a historian and author, specialising in the 19th century. He has written a novel about Bendigo  together with David Field. Alan has supplied us with several copies of the Bendigo – Right Fist of God, which we sell at events, the proceeds going to the fund.

Andrew Edwards is a renowned sculptor who has supported us from the start. He is based in Liverpool and heard about us through his interest in the sport of boxing. Andrew has created a small prototype statue (maquette) of Bendigo at no cost. This maquette has been on the road with us and always draws attention.

Andrew Edwards presents the maquette to us.

We have also been invited to join a group called Nottingham Heritage Professionals. We hope that our involvement with this group will help us in getting the most out of the Bendigo Story and in ways to raise funds. We will soon be meeting with one of this group, Rehannah Mian a historian and author who has produced a guide to Nottingham. Hopefully this will help us to put Bendigo on the map and in a heritage booklet of his own.

Thanks for reading

Alan and Ryan

 

Making Progress

This year we have made good progress. We have been holding events of our own such as the Sponsored Walk and an event at the former Bendigo Public House in Nottingham.

Local and national boxing promoters have also invited us along to their shows. It is pleasing that many people in the boxing world know already knew about Bendigo’s importance to the sport.

We have also done presentations to various local history groups who are always interested in our campaign, aswell as speaking to teachers with a view to prepare a teaching pack so that schools can tell the story of Bendigo to future generations.

We have also been developing a Heritage Trail so that future visitors to Nottingham will be able to discover the Bendigo story.

The Heritage Trail will be titled Ten Bells For Bendigo, in recognition of the boxing custom of ringing the bell ten times when the sport mourns the passing of someone.

Ten Bells For Bendigo will focus on ten locations that are important to the Bendigo story.

We will publish more about this in the near future.

Thanks for your continued support and get in touch if you want to hold an event.

Trinity Square Nottingham in 1853. The Mechanics Institute where Bendigo attended in 1872 is the central building. All were demolished in the 1960s.

 

 

Bendigo Community Event – 14th July

With thanks to the Sneinton Festival Events committee, we are pleased to announce this family friendly event to celebrate Bendigo at the former Bendigo Pub in Sneinton, Nottingham

The pub is currently closed but the iconic concrete statue of Bendigo still stands above the entrance.

This is a community get together with a 1950s theme, to acknowledge the pub’s opening in 1957.

Music from the 1950s and a free buffet will be provided.

The former Bendigo Public House is certainly the most well-known of Nottingham’s landmarks that celebrate Bendigo. The pub was built and opened in 1957, replacing a nearby pub called The Wrestlers Arms. The reason for naming the pub after Bendigo is unclear, although he had been entered into The Boxing Hall of Fame (UK) two years earlier. This may have brought his name back into public consciousness, almost 80 years since his death.

It was run by Nottingham’s Home Ales Brewery and is situated at the end of Meadow Lane, a short walk to the home of Notts County Football Club.

We hope that Nottinghamians join us and bring their relatives who remember this famous pub during its heyday in the 1950s and 60s.

The event will be on the paved area on Hermitage Square between the pub and Sneinton Hermitage Community Centre

 

Sponsored Walk in Memory of Bendigo

On Sunday 29th April 2018, a group of supporters will walk the route of Bendigo’s funeral cortege in 1880.

This will be from his home at Wollaton Road in Beeston to his grave at Bath Street in the City Centre, a distance of 5.7 miles. The walk will take approximately 2 hours and will be limited to twenty one people representing his 21 fights.

The group will meet at the Bendigo Lounge  on the High Road, where the general manager has kindly invited them in for refreshments before they set off

The walk will officially start from the site of his cottage at 1100hrs and take Wollaton Road to Bramcote Hills, then Derby Road into the city centre via Lenton Abbey, Dunkirk, Lenton, and Canning Circus. The final route will be through The Old Market Square and on to St Mary Rest Garden on Bath Street. They will gather at the graveside where the moment will be commemorated with a reading about the funeral taken from the novel of his life Bendigo – The Right Fist of God.

All are welcome to join the group at St Mary’s Rest Garden from around 1300hrs.

Bendigo’s Grave at St Marys Rest Garden

Each of the walkers will raise individual sponsorship. Anyone wishing to donate directly to the fund can do so via the link on our website.

Andrew Edwards, the renowned sculptor who created a maquette of Bendigo is unable to do the walk, as he is in New York that weekend. He sent this reply:

A gallery in Manhattan is promising to show my scale model of my new Beatles statues so I can’t refuse being there – I’d rather be in Nottingham though, honestly. In fact if I could pick any job to be working on now anywhere in the world, it would be Bendigo’s statue.

Andrew Edwards presents the maquette to Trustee Alan Dawson.