Friday, March 30, 2012

Pugilistic Encounters

Boxing matches, referred to in Colonial Queensland as pugilistic encounters, were popular events, whether they were prize fights or privately organised grudge matches to settle some score.

Poster for a Colonial Prize Fight

One fight of the latter variety took place in the rough and tumble world of South Brisbane in 1846. Strangely they were mates and remained so after the bout.  The physical contest seemed to be the only honourable way to settle a dispute.

As was the habit of the day, it was an open ended contest with no set number of rounds.  No gloves were worn.

After about forty rounds, the match was stopped by the police, but the two men later completed their trial by combat in the nearby bush.

Pugilist with Trophy
PUGILISM.-At the Police-office, on Tuesday, two sawyers, both rejoicing in the patronymic of William Davies, were summoned before the Magistrates to answer an information which had been filed against them for being the principals in a regular stand-up fight in South Brisbane, on Monday morning last. The defendants it appeared had made arrangements to settle an old grudge existing between them by an appeal to arms, on the morning in question.

Accordingly at the appointed hour a number of their backers as well as a great many other persons assembled to witness the contest. As we were not present on the occasion, it is out of our power, even if we had the inclination, which we have not, to furnish an account of the hits and knocks which were exchanged between the pugilists in about forty rounds of hard fighting; suffice it to say, that as soon as the Chief Constable got information of what was going on, he proceeded to the scene of action; his appearance with the other "traps" was the signal for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the parties retreated to the scrub, where they finished the battle.

The battle-worn chums presented a comical sight in the Court the next day.  Supporting one another they declared that honour had been satisfied on both sides and the dispute was now resolved. They were sent on their way with a fine.

The combatants appeared before the Bench on the following morning, with their frontispieces beautifully decorated with cuts, as the publishers say, and each with one eye in mourning. "Well," says the Police Magistrate to the defendants, "you appear to be two very reputable characters, what have you got to say for yourselves?" 

One of the parties thus questioned replied, "that he and his friend did not fight for money - nothing so low as that besides," says he, "there is no one in court can say that our noddles have not been disfigured by accident" (here the speaker tried to wink with his damaged eye, but failed most lamentably in the attempt).

His friend then put in a word, and said that they were both perfectly satisfied now, and were the best of cronies, having, "buried all unkindness." Whereupon, the Bench ordered them to find bail to keep the peace for three months, themselves in £10, and two sureties in £5 each.[1]

A rather less gentlemanly display occurred north of the river in 1848.

The correspondent was horrified not so much by the fury of the encounter but by the sight of an enthusiastic clutch of women urging them on.

PUGILISTIC DISPLAYS. - A correspondent in calling our attention to a desperate fight which took place in North Brisbane on Tuesday last, between a soldier and a sawyer, says:- "I counted no less than eight women who were present, looking on with great interest; and one disgrace to her sex was actually cheering and goading the men on by applause, oaths, and shouts! The virago was the wife of one of the combatants." 

O tempora, O mores![2]

Classic Pugilistic Stance
In 1848, a prize fight was organised in Ipswich between two pugilists with the colourful sobriquets of "The Native" and "Black Bill."  Ipswich at that time was a nascent township but the event drew a great crowd from the surrounding districts. Because the bouts could go on for hours, the contest was set to commence at seven in the morning.

A pugilistic encounter took place yesterday morning at seven o'clock, about four miles from hence, between James Smith, a Scotchman by birth, but having arrived in the colony as a child, commonly called "the Native" and William Jones, better known as "Black Bill." The match was for £50 side; it caused great excitement among the "Fancy," many of whom came a long distance to witness it; and on Monday evening the time appointed for settling preliminaries, our town was crowded with strange faces - all was bustle and preparation during the whole night, and about daylight in the morning the road leading to the scene of action was for at least a mile dotted with groups of twenty and thirty, equestrians and pedestrians, all flocking to the "mill".

Along with horse races, prize fights were accompanied by heavy wagers.

The partisans of each of the belligerents were about equally divided, bets consequently ran high. Shortly after seven the fight commenced but not withstanding the apparently friendly grip given at the commencement of these encounters, there was evidently a latent grudge existing between the parties, they therefore went at it pell mell, science being first kicked out the ring. Thirty-two rounds, which occupied only forty-two minutes, were fought with varied success, until the last round, when an unlucky blow on the jugular from the brawny fist of the "Native" left the hitherto victor of our northern settlement hors de combat[3].

Early View of Ipswich from Limestone Hill

After "Black Bill" is unable to continue, it is agreed to continue the match the following morning.  Accordingly many of the crowd decided to stay over in town and enjoy the hospitality of the local inns. Inevitably, a few over-indulgers found themselves guests in the town lock-up for the night.

On their return to town a large sum was, again, immediately subscribed for Jones to challenge his conqueror, but rounds has not been decided. As fighting was the order of the day during the whole forenoon of Tuesday, the "small fry" or backers of each party, considered that they might as well amuse themselves with a "turn up”, but as all had been sacrificing pretty freely to the Jolly God[4], it invariably ended with a shake hands and "another glass" saving the unfortunate wights[5] who happened to fall aboard of the officials, and were kindly accommodated with a night's lodging, for the trifling gratuity of eleven shilling to the funds of the Benevolent Society.[6]


No further mention of a rematch is mentioned in The Moreton Bay Courier, so it is reasonable to speculate that, for whatever reason, it did not eventuate.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 19 December 1846
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 December 1847; 
     O tempora, O mores! - Oh, the times! Oh, the morals! (Latin) Cicero.
[3] Out of fight, disabled from fighting (French) i.e. unable to continue.
[4] Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and merriment.
[5] A living being in general. OED
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 4 March 1848

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