The bare fist is pre-eminently the Anglo-Saxon's weapon, and surely an honester weapon never was or will be: For, saith the bard:
"Scorning all treacherous feud and deadly strife, The dark stilleto and the deadly knife, We boast a science sprung from manly pride
Linked with true courage and to health allied - A noble pastime, void of vain pretence, The fine, old English art of self defence.
John C. Heenan, called the 'Benicia Boy', was born in 1834 in West Troy, America. He stood 6ft. 2in. and weighed 13 stone 7lb. Chiefly celebrated for his historic encounter with Tom Sayers. John Heenan fought Tom King at Wadhurst, in Kent, for £2,000 a side. He later married Adah Isaacs Menken, the celebrated beauty, who was the "Mazeppa" at Astley's Circus, who was a friend of Charles Dickens and Algernon Swinburne. Heenan died on October 28, 1873, at Green River Station, Wyoming, U.S.A.
Tom Sayers, Champion of England, was born at Brighton on JuIy 17, 1826. He stood 5ft. 8 1/2, and his fighting weight was 10 stone 101b. He was beaten only once, and that by Nat. Langham after sixty-one terrific rounds. For calm courage, science and ring-craft there have been very few to equal him. Tom, being but a smallish man (he was never more than 11 stone) had frequently to give weight away, and fought many an uphill battle, yet his supreme generalship combined with his judgment of distance and the effective hitting of his unerring fists made him the victorious wonder that he was.
So Tom became a champion and celebrated hero, but alas! fame, the extraordinary adulation he received and, above all, Tom himself, proved too much for poor Tom and he died on November 11, 1865, at the early age of thirty-nine. So they buried him in Highgate Cemetery and set up a monument to his memory.
SAYERS V. HEENAN
LONDON Bridge Station at four o'clock of a cold April morning; and a huge crowd, citizens of every degree awaiting the special train. For it is April 17, in the year of Grace 1860. To-day the American, Heenan, is to fight Sayers, England's champion, our mighty, little Tom.
Wherefore this crowd, somewhat furtive, rather like a pack of truant school-boys, waits, with a truly exemplary patience, despite the discomforts of draughty platform and bleak, unseasonable hour; comes the train at last (late of course) into which this model crowd packs itself, good-naturedly, and is whirled away in joyous discomfort to country lanes, chill wind, and clinging mud; and thus at last reaches a field, troublously remote and cunningly screened from chance observation by lofty trees and quickset hedges for this is indeed the field of combat.
Here, upon this remote and shady green we are to to behold an exhibition of such indomitable courage, skill and endurance, such heroic fortitude as shall live in men's memories, shall be told of and written about for many a long year to come.
Who's pushing behind there? What, are they coming... Yes, Ecod it's Heenan, the American! And big enough too! D'ye think Tom can manage him?
Behold this young Goliath, 6ft. 2in of brawn and muscle, leap nimbly over the ropes! Hark to the cheers of his friends and backers. Hurrah for the Benicia Boy - shout for Heenan, lads - come all the way from America to meet our Tom!
And now listen to the counter cheers. This roar of affectionate acclaim, rising wave on wave, and all for this other man who comes with his short, quick stride, a smile on his good-humoured face as he nods this way and that; but, such small man and with no great show of muscle as he strips. Can this be - well, hear the crowd!
"There's Tom! There be our Tom! Hurrah for Tom, Champion of all England."
And Tom, having acknowledged this noisy welcome, glances towards Goliath, notes his determined air, views with practiced eye his powerful limbs and torso; and, looking for some weak spot and finding none, nods him happy greeting; for this is going to be truly a mill, and Tom is a fighter from head to foot. He loses the toss, and consequently must face his gigantic opponent with the sun in his eyes, but Tom only smiles, for his other name - is Sayers.
And now all voices are hushed as the men front each other; 6ft 2in. And 5ft. 8 in., a disparity so ridiculous that the crowd gives tongue, while 5ft. 8in. smiles up at 6ft 2in., whose ferocious mouth curls in confident grin.
Here is no place to record this famous combat blow by blow (besides, unfortunately, I was not there). Hasten we rather to the seventh round which was to earn for our Tom a glory that is yet undimmed.
Meantime the fight has begun.
Watch now! Aha, Heenan leads and just reaches the champions mouth, but receives a hard-driven, unerring reply, and the crowd roars acclaim for that well-timed blow has drawn first blood. And now they are at it, with feint and parry, in and out again, smacking home resounding blows at long range and short, or closing for the fall, with straining arms and play of legs, inner heel and outer, cross-buttock and all the tricks in vogue.
And now, of course, out comes the morning sun, his level beams blinding poor Tom, and so worrying him that he frowns, lowers his head and tries to work round his man, but the big fellow grins and keeps his advantage.
As the fight progresses, Tom's foot work is a joy to behold, he is in and out again with stabbing left or thudding right, he is here and there, ducking, dodging yet always attacking, like the born fighter he is.
Both are somewhat battered as they face each other for this historic Seventh Round; one of Heenan's eyes is closing and he drips blood from cut cheek and split eye-brow; not only is he thus swollen and disfigured, but his great chest shows the vivid marks of the English champion's powerful fists, while Tom (smiling, imperturbable Tom), bleeds also from an eyebrow and has, moreover, been knocked down four times, and so heavily that many there are who judge him a beaten man, little knowing then his enormous vitality and courageous spirit.
And now they are at it again with a never ceasing shuffle and stamps of quick moving feet; our Tom is feeling comfortably set, his blows seem even better-timed and harder - there, on Goliath's nose, ye Gods! A crushing blow that nearly lifts him off his mighty legs! And there again - another flush hit that rocks 6ft 2in. and sends him reeling. Heenan, recovering, drives a smashing return blow, but Tom expects it, leaps back -bounds in again and then, out shoots Heenan's terrific right backed by arm, shoulder and mighty body, Tom stops it with his forearm... and is numb to the shoulder... So the fight rages, ever fiercer; now they clinch and 5ft. 8in. drives in damaging body blows ere, wrestling, down he goes beneath.
It is the eighth round, and Tom is as quick as ever but - look! Why doesn't he use his right - that trusty right which has gone so far to make him champion of England? ...D'ye see how he keeps it across his chest - inactive?
Why trust entirely to his left, against so mighty an opponent? And round after round he comes up smiling, his right in the orthodox position, arm across chest, relying now for defence only upon his nimble feet, and, for attack, upon his stinging left. Alas, his good right arm is done for. And yet his left serves him nobly - behold that smashing fist and see Hercules spin, totter and fall. Bravo our Tom! But now, instead of taking his half-minute rest, Master Thomas must go prying into Heenan's corner to watch the seconds wiping blood away.
Next ensues a round that lasts fifteen terrible minutes and Tom, no longer able to even lift his arm, it dangles limp and cumbersome at his side.
Yet round succeeds round, 5ft. 8in.'s left fist against Goliath's two. Tom is down and up again, a distorted grin upon his battered face, his courage still unshaken, for with his solitary fist he is playing for Heenan's eyes, slowly but surely blinding him, since this seems the only chance left. But he is greatly battered, nose and mouth seem one, he is a smear of blood, from the belt up, yet that awful face is still lighted by the quenchless courage of his soul. And he keeps cool, watching every chance, yet, time and again, he is smitten
to the trampled grass, But it is round the twenty-first and Heenan is fast going blind....
Go it, brave Tom, a little longer - only a little longer lad!
Alas, though his spirit is bold as ever, his bruised body (and small wonder) is weakening fast, yet see him rally, see Heenan reel back from that unerring, punishing left. But Heenan recovers again, is on him, has his head in Chancery - alas poor Tom. Yet Heenan is too weak to do much damage, and Tom is free - fighting grimly as ever and - Heenan is blind at last! Now Tom a reward for all thy indomitable courage!
Cheer, shout for Tom the unconquerable, Tom the champion still! - What is that disturbance? Heaven and earth, the police! And if it be known that we - such very respectable members of society as ourselves were here - at a brutal prize fight!!! Let us go... slip off this way. The fight is ended anyhow. What, a draw? Well hurrah for our Tom, and another for the game lad from Benicia - Americans are the right breed after all!
*Jeffery Farnol (1878-1952). Author and war correspondent. In the 1910's through to the 50's he was a best-selling author now sadly neglected, or should I say unfashionable. Well worth seeking out copies of his work in charity or secondhand bookshops.
Titles include The Amateur Gentleman (1913), Black Bartlemy's Treasure (1920), and Beltane the Smith (1950).
** "The Fancy". A broad term that covered the 'toughs's and the 'toffs'. Gambling men, 'game' men. Sometimes the same. Miss. Rosine de Bounevialle knew one of the last. Mr. Robert Seivier who died in 1939. Gambler, boxer, actor, sportsman, racehorse owner (Sceptre most famously), but that is another story for another day. His ivory-gold tie-pin is before me as I type this....
***Lion, Sayers' gigantic English mastiff was a gift from Lord Derby of "The Fancy". A patron of many sports including the "noble art".
The Sayers vs Heenan fight was fought under the London Prize Ring Rules introduced in 1838 by the Pugilistic Society. Previously bouts were fought under the "'Broughton Rules". Known as 'the father of English Boxing, Jack Broughton, champion from 1729 until 1750 introduced the first written rules for boxing in 1743. He died in January ,1789, aged 86 a wealthy man. He was buried in the West Cloister of Westminster Abbey along with his wife Elizabeth where his gravestone can be seen to this very day.