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.
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.
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
In our guided tour, we visit Bendigo’s grave and then Sneinton Market, where we pause to talk about Nottingham after his death. Most professional boxing in Nottingham took place at the nearby Victoria Leisure Centre or the Ice Stadium. Did you know that Cassius Clay was there in 1963?
He didn’t fight there but we’re proud to say he came to a night of boxing in Bendigo’s town. We found this story by Ethan Lewis and are grateful for the image too.
On the 27th of May 1963 my father, aged 15 at the time, met Cassius Clay at the Victoria Hotel in Nottingham (now the Hilton Hotel). He also obtained his autograph (pictured below).
Cassius Clay was also photographed with two well-known Nottingham Police Officers. PCs Geoff Baker and Denis ‘Tug’ Wilson were both about 7 feet tall in their boots and helmets.
Clay was in the city to watch the British Middleweight Title fight between George Aldridge and Mick Leahy. This was prior to Clay’s fight with Henry Cooper at Wembley.
The Aldridge v Leahy fight was for the British Middle Weight Title and took place on 28th May at the Nottingham Ice Stadium. It lasted just 1 minute 45 seconds. The referee Ike Powell stopped the fight after Aldridge was knocked down twice, Leahy winning on a Technical Knockout.
Leahy’s career spanned nine years between 1956 and 1965. The orthodox middle weight lived in Coventry but hailed from Cork, Ireland. It wasn’t the first time Leahy had fought at Nottingham’s Ice Stadium. He faced Nottingham’s Wally Swift there in December 1964. The promoter was Reg King and again the British Middleweight titel was up for grabs. It went the full 15 rounds with Swift winning on points.
George Aldridge was a middle weight from Market Harborough in Leicestershire. His career of 52 professional bouts was between 1956 and 1963.
“Ask no questions, I’ll just talk”
Back to Cassius Clay and the Victoria Hotel press-conference. Clay said to the press ‘Ask no questions, I’ll just talk’.
In true style, Clay predicted that he would beat Cooper in the fifth round. He was right.
Clay also described that Sonny Liston was an ‘ugly bear’ who would ‘fall in eight’.
Clay and Cooper met on the 18th June 1963 at Wembley Stadium, the referee was Tommy Little. Despite knocking Clay down in the 4th round, the fight was stopped in the next round due to cuts suffered by Cooper. Cooper fought him again (as Mohammed Ali) in 1966 and that fight was also stopped for the same reason.
Clay was nearly right about his fight with Sonny Liston, which took place the following February in Miami. Liston retired in the sixth round, claiming a shoulder injury.
Cassius Clay (as Mohammed Ali) returned to Nottingham in 1992. This time it was for a book signing event, at Dillon’s bookshop in the town centre.
Thanks as always to BoxRec for the records of the boxers and their fights.
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.
An original ticket to one of Bendigo’s exhibition matches is listed on a US Sports Memorabilia site for $2000.
Jo Sports Inc are currently offering for sale a full, unused ticket for an exhibition match between Bendigo and Bob Brettle on December 30, 1856. It is the earliest boxing ticket currently being offered for sale.
The match took place at the Talbot Inn in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Brettle was an active star in boxing at the time and the match was held to raise money for the retired Bendigo.
Robert “Bob” Brettle, born at Portobello, near Edinburgh, in January 1832. He was a successful bare-knuckle boxer active in Birmingham, England, during the 1850s. He was known as “The Birmingham Pet”.
A silver belt, given to him by his patrons to honour his achievements, and made in Birmingham, was featured on the television programme Antiques Roadshow. It was subsequently donated to the British Boxing Board of Control and is now displayed at their headquarters.
Brettle died aged 38 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter’s Church, Harborne in Birmingham.
The ticket is stamped in lower right corner and is not creased or torn. It has the allocated seat number and is described as in outstanding condition given the age. The ticket measures 2 3/8″ x 3 1/2.
Rebecca Thompson – born in 1805. Nothing more is known about her.
Thomas Thompson – born in 1807. We know that Thomas had two sons Benjamin and William.
John Thompson – born in 1809. John became a respected optician in Nottingham. We do not believe he married or had any children.
William and Richard Thompson – born in 1811 as triplets, with the third child (James) not surviving the birth. Richard died a week later. Maybe this created the bond between William and his mother, a bond that was never broken.
Mary Thompson – born in 1815. Mary died as a child in 1818.
Why is it important to identify the grave of Bendigo’s mother?
Mary Thompson had a huge influence on his life. We must remember that not only was Bendigo the only triplet to survive, his father died when Bendigo was 15 years old. Both Bendigo and his mother ended up poverty stricken and spent time in the workhouse.
As Bendigo developed his reputation as a prize-fighter, he remained close to his mother.
She is known to have encouraged him to take on Tom Paddock for his final fight in 1850. As a 39 year-old, Bendigo was in two minds as to whether to accept the fight or not. His 82 year-old mother encouraged him by saying:
“I tell you this Bendy, if you don’t take up the fight you’re a coward. And I tell you more, if you don’t fight him, I’ll take up the challenge myself.”
Bendigo won the fight. He then retired undefeated as champion, with two prize belts and four silver cups to his name, perhaps the last of the great prize-fighters.
Whilst there is no headstone on Mary Thompson’s grave, the records show that Bendigo’s older brother Thomas is also buried there.
He is buried in the plot next to Mary. Thomas was buried there on 27th December 1863, aged 57 years. He was described as an engineer. He is interred in plot 9137 with an Elizabeth Thompson and Eliza Proctor.
What do we know about those buried with Thomas Thompson?
We know that Thomas Thomson had two sons by his first wife. He had moved to Sheffield in Yorkshire. Thomas’ second son (also named William) was charged but acquitted of his wife’s manslaughter in 1876.
Thomas appears to have returned to Nottingham. His second wife was previously known by the name Elizabeth Yates. We know that Bendigo was friends with a man called George Yates. He and George used to go fishing together. This helps to show that the family as a whole remained close. We know nothing more about Eliza Proctor.
Bendigo’s other brother, John Thompson was buried in the Rock Cemetery in 1873 aged 64 years. He is buried on his own in plot 1292.
General Cemetery – How To Find The Grave Of Mary Thompson
Here are a sequence of photographs which will take you to Mary Thompson’s grave.
Why did the family use several burial grounds?
You have to remember that in those days the church was far more influential in society, than today. Also burials were the norm. Cremations didn’t come in until the 1880s.
Nottingham’ main church was St Mary The Virgin Church on High Pavement in what is now known as Nottingham’s historic Lace Market.
With the development of the lace and textile trade, the population of Nottingham had increased dramatically. The area around St. Mary’s Church changed too.
This expansion brought with it many problems, not least of which was where to bury the dead. The parish church yard rapidly began to run out of space and it was decided new burial grounds were needed. Between 1742 and 1813 three new cemeteries were created on land around Barker Gate, near the church.
By the time of Bendigo, even these burial grounds were becoming full. Ordinary people would rarely pre-arrange a family plot. Burials were arranged the most convenient cemetery available.
Bendigo himself is buried at a former cemetery on Bath Street. This was created in 1935, after a Quaker by the name of Samuel Fox donated the land, after an outbreak of cholera in 1835.
The Nottingham General Cemetery Company was opened by Royal Assent for their Act of Parliament on 19 May 1836. The site covers 18 acres which is on a slope. The lower entrance is on Waverley Street (opposite the Arboretum) and then rises up to the cemetery gatehouse and alms-houses at the top entrance of Sion Hill, now Canning Circus. When the cemetery was opened, a single grave cost 7s 6d (equivalent to £34 in 2019). It stopped allocating new plots in 1923. The freehold passed to Nottingham City Council in 1956. The mortuary chapels were demolished in 1958.
The General Cemetery contains the war graves of 336 Commonwealth service personnel and one Belgian war grave from World War I. Most of those buried there had died at military hospitals in the city. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission continue to maintain the graves. One of the notable people buried here in 1888, is Samuel Morley VC. Morley was awarded the Victoria Cross, not once, but twice.
St Mary’s Church was also responsible for the Nottingham workhouse from 1726. This was the same workhouse where Bendigo and his mother were sent in around 1827. The church continued to manage the workhouse until 1834, when responsibility was transferred from parishes to secular Boards of Guardians. The workhouse was demolished in 1895 to clear part of the site needed for the construction of the Nottingham Victoria railway station.
More Churches For Nottingham
As Nottingham expanded, St Mary’s created further parishes, including the Holy Trinity Church near to Bendigo’s birthplace. It is worth noting these, to show the influence that the Anglican Church had in society.
1822 St Paul’s Church, George Street, Nottingham.
1841 Holy Trinity Church, Trinity Square.
1844 St John the Baptist’s Church, Leenside (destroyed by bombing in May 1941).
1856 St Mark’s Church, Nottingham.
1856 St Matthew’s Church, Talbot Street.
1863 St Ann’s Church, Nottingham.
1863 St Luke’s Church, Nottingham
1863 St Saviour’s, Arkwright Street
1864 All Saints’, Raleigh Street, Nottingham.
1871 St Andrew’s Forest Road, Nottingham.
1881 Emmanuel Church, Woodborough Road.
1888 St Catharine’s, St Ann’s Well Road, next to St Mary’s Rest Garden on Bath Street.
1903 St Bartholomew’s Church, Blue Bell Hill Road.
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
On Sunday 23rd August 2020, supporters of the Bendigo Heritage Project walked the route of Bendigo’s funeral cortege in 1880.
The group went from the site of his former home at Wollaton Road in 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 been 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.
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 Lawson fled England in 1851 after some financial problems, leaving a wife and child behind. Travelling to New Zealand and then to Australia, where he joined the Australian Gold Rush. He appears not to have made his fortune, although he never returned to England.
William wrote occasionally to his brother, promising to return to England (although often asking for money). He marries again and has several children in Australia. His son John (from the marriage in England) even travelled to Australia to find his father. It is not clear whether he did.
Letter from William to Thomas (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 from Thomas to William Lawson (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.
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’.
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.
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.
Letter from William to Thomas Lawson (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 (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
Letter from John Lawson (William’s son) to Thomas Lawson (1876)
John describes 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.
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