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

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