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.
We have now discovered more information about the grave of Mary Thompson, Bendigo’s mother.
It is not in the same plot as Bendigo, but actually in an entirely different cemetery.
Below is a photograph of a plaque, which is near to Bendigo’s grave. The information on the plaque is incorrect.
Not only that, we have also discovered some interesting names to add to the Bendigo story.
Thanks to Scott Lomax (the archaeologist for Nottingham City Council) for pointing us in the right direction, literally. He has located the grave of Mary Thompson, and provided this plan of Nottingham’s General Cemetery to assist us in finding it.
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 had any children.
William and Richard Thompson, born as twins in 1811. They were probably triplets, with the third child 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 and stepped down 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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’.
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.
1 Image of Houses of Parliament, Melbourne
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
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.
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.
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
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.