Bendigo’s Backer – Joseph Whitaker

All fighters needed backers and Bendigo found his as a 19 year old in 1932. His name was Joseph Whitaker, a wealthy landowner and squire of Ramsdale House near Arnold, just outside of Nottingham. His estate covered 1800 acres and is now a golf course.

Born in 1798, Joseph was a true sporting squire of the times, known to all by his nickname, The Duke of Limbs. He was a keen horse rider and one of the top riders to hunt with hounds in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. He was also a fine shot, and took great interest in all ‘manly sports’.

Here’s what is recorded about him, taken from the book Bold As A Lion by J.P.Bean

Whitaker was an accomplished horseman who rode hounds and a dedicated breeder of fighting cocks. He developed a new strain of duckwing birds that fought an historic contest against Lord Derby’s finest at the Cockpit in Tufton Street, Westminster. The ‘main’ as such events were known in cockfighting circles, was attended by the cream of the prize ring including John Jackson, Tom Cribb and Tom Molyneux. Other celebrity names were there, such as Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent. The latter lost heavily by backing Lord Derby’s birds, which were soundly defeated by those of Whitaker.

The Duke of Limbs nickname came from his powerful build. Wide shouldered and possessed of extraordinarily well-developed arms and legs. He cut a fine figure at the ropes of the prize ring. He stood over six feet tall, wore side-whiskers and dressed in the fashion of the day – a grey beaver hat, a green coat with silver buttons, a flowered waistcoat, leather riding breeches and shining top boots. His Malacca cane and monocle gave him a foppish air but he had true Corinthian manners. 

It was said of him “ He had a strong vein of eccentricity and many considered him as mad as a hatter”.

Whitaker was reputed to carry a bag of guineas in one pocket and a brace of pistols in the other, and he was not averse to putting on the muffs and sparring – if he could find anybody willing to take him on.

Although his background was one of wealth and class, Joseph Whitaker had the common touch. He was a prodigious drinker, he was equally at home in the fighting pubs of Nottingham as on his country estate. He was a stalwart of the Nottingham Fancy and had a great appreciation of boxing skills. 

One day in 1832 he came across Bendigo sparring with Sam Turner, and The Duke of Limbs liked what he saw. 

He agreed to put up stakes for Bendigo’s fights. It was a partnership that would last eighteen years, from Bendigo’s early ‘bye’ fights to the Championship of England.

Joseph Whitaker died in 1874, aged 75. 

Familiar Name?

If the name Joseph Whitaker sounds familiar, there is a school with that name at Rainworth in Nottinghamshire. The school takes the name, not from The Duke of Limbs but from his son, also named Joseph.

Joseph Whitaker (junior) was born in 1850 at Ramsdale House. He went to Uppingham School and became an English naturalist. He was also a keen sportsman, botanist, fisherman and collected curios. He wrote several books, and some of his collection passed to the Mansfield Museum.

Whitaker junior loved the outdoors, a trait he learned from his father.

He also seems to have inherited his father’s eccentricity.

He had an unusual trait of always walking on the road, and never on the pavement.

He died on 27 May 1932 at Rainworth Lodge.

The Joseph Whitaker School was founded in 1963, and uses the Whitaker family coat of arms, with its motto ‘SPES ET FIDES’. This accurately reflects the expectations of the school – HOPE for our pupils’ future and FAITH in their ability to rise to whatever challenges they meet.

Bendigo And Sheffield

It appears that some people connected to Sheffield did not respect Bendigo in the way most other followers of boxing do. 

Knock – Out Razor Blades

Bendigo featured in a set of collectable cards issued by the Sheffield company that made shaving products including the Knock-Out Razor Blades in 1938. Bendigo featured at No. 13 of 50 Famous Prize Fighters. This was clearly unlucky for him as the text was not well researched or written, describing him as ‘not a stylish fighter’ something that we all know he was. 

Bendigo’s Biography

He had great strength but was not a stylish fighter, and was a very bad sportsman indeed in many ways, though eventually he became Champion of England.

Anon

Ungrateful Sheffield?

We don’t know who wrote these words for the company but whoever did appears to have some agenda against Bendigo’s ability and his reputation.

Even more disappointing was the company involved was Fred C. Cartledge (Sheffield) Ltd.

It is well known that Bendigo put considerable effort into improving the prize-fighting scene in Sheffield in the late 1830s. Initially he was introduced to the town when he joined Levi Eckersley who ran a touring boxing booth at travelling fairs. Bendigo spent some time with him, working on his technique.

Sheffield even became his base whilst waiting for his opportunity to fight James Burke for the All England title. Burke was in the United States so Bendigo had to wait for his return. He made use of his time by running the Manchester Arms public house on West Street in Sheffield, and organising prize-fights for up and coming Sheffield fighters, who did not match those from his hometown 40 miles south. 

Even more ironic is that two weeks after beating James Burke for the title, he was actually presented with the belt in Sheffield, at the Batty’s Circus Royal in Sheffield.

Collectible Cards

The Knock-Out Razor Blades Famous Prize Fighters are still very collectible as are the razors and blades produced by F.C Cartledge.

Pictures on the cards were black and white. Some were real images while others were renditions of the subjects. The first 30 cards were drawings while the final 20 were in the modern era and used photographs. Like most other collectible cards of the  period, biographies were printed on the back.

Two different sets were issued, one has a matte finish and the other, a glossy finish. The company encouraged collectors to complete a set offering anyone with 50 cards, to send them to the company and their duplicates would be exchanged for cards they needed.

Who’s Who Of Boxing

Here’s the checklist of all the names in the series of Knock Out Razor Blades of 1938:

John Broughton – Jack Slack – Tom Johnson – Isaac Perrins – Samuel Elias – Tom Belcher – John Gulley – Tom Cribb – Thomas Molineaux – Tom Spring – Bill Neat – Jem Ward – William Thompson – Eric Boon – James Burke – Tom Sayers – Jem Mace – Tom King – John Sullivan – Bill Doherty –  Arthur Danahar – Peter Jackson – Frank Slavin – James Corbett – Charlie Mitchell – Bob Fitzsimmons – Georges Carpentier – Jack Dempsey – Gunnar Barlund – Henry Armstrong – Max Schmeling – Joe Louis – Walter Neusel – Al Roth – Don McCorkindale – Arno Koelblin – Maurice Strickland – Pete Sarron – Tommy Farr – Eddie Phillips – Len Harvey – Jack Petersen – Benny Lynch – Johnny Ward – Kid Berg – Gustav Humery – Ben Foord – Max Baer – Small Montana – John Henry Lewis – Harry Mizler

Let’s hope the biographies or these great names were more accurate.

Bendigo v Ben Caunt 1845

The much anticipated third and final bout between Bendigo and Ben Caunt took place on 29th September 1845. The location was in a field close to Sutfield Green, beyond Lillington Level, in Oxfordshire. The site is now part of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, close to the A5 Watling Street at Stony Stratford.

Here is how the Nebraska State Journal reported on the end of the fight.

Both fighters came to the centre jauntily for the ninety-third round, which was to prove the last, and, incidentally, to turn loose a controversy never quite decided.

Caunt set the pace and pitched in right and left forcing Bendigo to the ropes, where he hung. He scrambled up, when Caunt hit him down again. The champion now repeated a mistake which he had made earlier in the fight believing that Bendigo was down for good and the round therefore at an end. He turned his back and walked for his corner. Bendigo got up and rushed in pursuit. Caunt saw him coming and deliberately sat down. Instantly Bendigo’s friends claimed the decision for him on a “foul.” Declaring Caunt had fallen before being struck, The referee decided that such was the case and rendered the decision, carrying title, stakes and belt, to Bendigo.

So ended the only famous battle of a period which added little to the reputation of the sport. The decision was hotly attacked. It was said that Bendigo had no right to rise again and that Caunt sat down to escape being surprised or taken at disadvantage until “time” was called again. It was openly charged that the referee had been intimidated by the cudgel bands about the ring. No precise settlement of the question was ever reached, but the decision stood reflecting no particular credit upon either contestant. Caunt was undoubtedly the stronger at the end, but his utter inability to land a decisive blow left the ultimate result of a finish fight a question.

Disputed Result

Some writers described the fight as ‘the most scandalous brawl in boxing history’.

Following the fight Tom Spring (a supporter of Caunt) challenged the result and thereby, questioned the integrity of the referee.

Spring retired as a fighter in 1824 and became landlord of the Castle Inn at Holborn in London. It was there that he became a respected promoter of the sport. He arranged the patronage and contracts of many of the major boxing events of the period, while overseeing fair play in the ring.

Tom Spring was a formidable boxer himself, nicknamed ‘Light Tapper and known for his strength of character, courage and skill in the ring.

Born in Herefordshire in 1795, he boxed locally and in 1814 met the legendary champion Tom Cribb. Cribb was impressed by Spring’s prowess, and persuaded him to go to London under his patronage; this was the beginning of Spring’s boxing career.

The referee though, was no other than George Osbaldeston an English politician who served as MP for East Retford.

Known as The Old Squire, Osbaldeston was also respected as a sportsman and first-class cricketer. His integrity was being challenged for the first time.

Osbaldeston responded to Spring’s challenge in a letter to the editor of the Bell’s Life newspaper.

Sir,

An appeal having been made to me, as referee, by Mr Spring, to reverse my decision in the late fight between Bendigo and Caunt, on grounds unworthy of my consideration, I request you will confirm that decision by paying over the stakes to Bendigo, who, in my opinion, is justly entitled to them.      

It was with the greatest reluctance, and at the particular request of my friends and the unanimous solicitations of the backers of the men, that I accepted the office; but I shall always consider it one of the greatest acts of folly I ever was guilty of in my life. 

In discharging my duty I endeavoured to do justice to the contending parties to the best of my abilities and judgment; and, arriving at the conclusion I did, and now confirm, I was actuated only by a complete conviction of the justness of my decision, and not by the intimidation of the roughs, as stated by Mr Spring in his letter.

Had I been under the intimidation of the ‘roughs’ I had several opportunities of putting an end to the fight before the conclusion by foul acts on the part of Caunt. A noble lord, and several gentlemen who stood close by me during the whole fight, can corroborate this statement. I most positively deny that I stated to any one that a man going down without a blow, after he himself had treacherously delivered blows, was fair.

In no one instance, in my judgment, did Bendigo break the laws of fair fighting. I must also deny, in the most positive manner, that I ever stated to any person that I did not see the last round. I saw every round distinctly and clearly, and when Caunt came up the last round he had evidently not recovered from the 92nd. After the men were in position Bendigo very soon commenced operations, and Caunt turned round directly and skulked away, with his back to Bendigo, and sat down on his nether end. He never knocked Bendigo down once in the fight, nor ever got him against the ropes in the last round. In my opinion Caunt got away as soon as he could from Bendigo, fell without a blow to avoid being hit out of time, and fairly lost the fight.

I am, your obedient servant,

THE OLD SQUIRE.

Doncaster. Sept 1845.

Our Supporters From The Start

The Bendigo Heritage Project 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 supporters who have helped us so far.

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

Marcellus Baz BEM 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.

Marcellus Baz with Trustee Alan Dawson in 2017. Sharing the maquette and the award for BBC Sports Personality 2016 Unsung Hero winner.

Boxing helped ‘Baz’ to turn his life around, and he is now doing the same for his local community.

Herol Graham

Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham shows his support for our project. Herol Graham is from Nottingham competed from 1978 to 1998. A three-time world title challenger, he is generally acknowledged as one of the best British boxers of the post-war era to have never won a world championship. He is a southpaw and fought at light middleweight, similar to Bendigo himself.

Nigel Collins

Nigel Collins was born in England but now lives in the USA. He is a boxing writer for ESPN and former editor-in-chief of Ring Magazine. Collins is part of the 2015 class for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has recently published his boxing memoirs titled Hooking Off The Jab.

“If you’ve seen the fight, Nigel Collins will fill you in with what you didn’t see, big picture and little picture. If you missed the fight he’ll make you believe you did see it.”–Larry Merchant

Barry McGuigan

Finbar Patrick McGuigan MBE (born 28 February 1961) is an Irish boxing promoter and former professional boxer. Born in Clones, Ireland, McGuigan was nicknamed The Clones Cyclone and held the WBA and lineal featherweight titles from 1985 to 1986. At regional level he also held the British and European featherweight titles between 1983 and 1985. In 1985, McGuigan became BBC Sports Personality of the Year. In 2005 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Jake Meskell

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.

He now runs a Digital Media Company (specialising in boxing) called Braincup Media.

Peter Radford

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

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.

The Right Fist Of God is one of several books written about Bendigo. This one is a novel but relies heavily on some thorough research on Bendigo’s life and career.

Andrew Edwards

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.

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

The Trustees