Andrea here, offering yet another down-the-rabbit-hole research discovery today. I love research, as part of the fun is discovering things you didn’t know you wanted to know! Now, I am not a bellicose person, so I’m not at all interested in an actual boxing match. But as I needed to know a few specifics about ‘pugilism’ for a WIP scene, I had to research a few basic things.
And voila! Down the rabbit hole! Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I find the history of just about anything fascinating on an intellectual level, and as I happen to like sports (the other Wenches have dubbed me the ‘Wench Jock’) I actually found myself very interested in the resources I found. One of the most intriguing is “Fighting Words," an online exhibit from the Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame, from which I have cheerful poached some of the following information.
According to the exhibit, boxing has a long and storied tradition in Britain. Newspapers mentioned boxing matches as far back as 1681. And it was prevalent enough that a national champion—a fellow named James Figg—was recognized by the 1720s. As befits a country that takes both honor and sports seriously, Britain was a leader in codifiying the regulations for fighting. Jack Broughton, a champion pugilist in his own right, published the first rules in 1743 and they were used for nearly 100 years before they were replaced by the London Prize Ring rules in 1838.
Backed by some wealthy patrons, Broughton opened his own amphitheater and staged boxing matches, But in 1750 he was struck in the eye and partially blinded, which forced his retirement. (Word is, he went into the antiques business . . . Chairs and tables don't hit back!) see an engraving of the incident above left.
As many of you know from your reading of Regency novels, boxing was very popular in Regency times. A “mill” featuring well-known fighters, would draw huge crowds, even though the authorities would try to break it up. (I still haven’t managed to find out whether boxing matches were actually illegal back then. A deeper dive is needed!)
Other famous fighters were Daniel Mendoza and Gentleman Jackson. That last name should strike a bell, as many Regency bucks learned the art of fisticuffs at his boxing salon on Bond Street. (I love that the UND exhibit features a large engraving of Jackson’s fist!)
Another very famous bout was between the world champion, Tom Cribb and the American titan, Tom Molineaux in 1811. Cribb had beaten Molineaux for the title of World Champion in 1810, but there was a protest because Molineaux had been injured by the rowdy crowd. A rematch drew a huge crowd, and Cribb once again was victorious.
I also found that a really fascinating character in the history of pugilism in the Regency was Pierce Egan. A careful observer of life and culture in Britain, he wrote Boxiana, a five volume compendium on the world of Regency boxing, including accounts of various bouts, and sketches of the various characters involved, which to this day draw accolades for their “you are there” flavor. In fact, he’s considered by many to be the father of sports journalism.
Jonathan Badcock, who wrote as John Bee, was another Regency writer who got “down and dirty,” frequenting the pubs and and other haunts of ill-repute that drew the boxing crowd. So his journalism also had a air of authenticity.
A striking artistic creation is a highlight of the UND exhibit. Robert Cruikshank, a noted print artist of the Regency, created a panoramic etching—it’s about 14 feet long—which depicts gentlemen spectators traveling to a “mill!” I’ve showcased some of the strips here. Apparently there is only one surviving copy of the actual set of prints all attached together and fitted into the wooden case that unrolls it. And I was delighted to discover that it’s at the Yale British Art Center, which is near where I live. So I will definitely be making a special trip up there to see it in person.
So, what about you? Are you a sports fan? Do you like to watch sporting events, and if so, what’s your favorite ones? Any boxing fans here?