Episode 111 - Rectal Haggis and his Performance Enhancing Pickles (Back Pocket Week)
Back Pocket Week
Bendigo the boxer: William Thompson. Born 1880 in Nottinghamshire.
Bendigo was a Victorian pugilist and a very successful one at that. Also a rather silly individual as you’ll all soon find out.
His nickname apparently came from his middle name; Abednego; an Old Testament figure, and was merged with the word ‘bendy’ because he was very agile in the ring (much like Jim Carrey in the mask I imagine).
In the Old Testament, Abednego was a Jewish youth with two brothers called Shadrach and Meshach. These brothers refused to bow before a golden statue built by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon because they thought that god wouldn’t like that very much: Idolatry and all that shit. (Nebuchadnezzar: a wonderful name to pronounce but a horrible one to spell). King Nebuchadnezzar was unhappy and demanded that the three young men be thrown into a flaming furnace. All three young men stood in the furnace and were like “so what yeah, what’s the big deal?” Apparently a fourth figure appeared also, possibly the son of god making an early appearance. King Nebuchadnezzar was impressed and promoted the young men to important positions, presumably Chief Officers of getting things out of the oven, or His Majesty’s private tabasco tasters.
Thompson had your traditional working class early 19th century upbringing; one of fifty children, seventy of whom died in childbirth, another ninety died of horrible diseases that we now vaccinate children against and the remaining twelve hundred died fighting for Queen and country in the land o the inferiors. He was bought up in a really horrible area of Nottingham which in itself was a horrible part of the UK. Apparently the area he grew up in had a life expectancy of 22. His dad died when he was fifteen and so Thompson was sent to the workhouses. By the age of eighteen he was getting involved in bareknuckle boxing because life wasn’t dangerous enough! Let’s add some brain damage into the mix. By the age of 21 he was fighting professionally and had developed a south paw stance; one of the first boxers to do so although south paw does just mean fighting left-handed so it’s hardly a radical technical development.
He fought twenty times with only one loss to Benjamin Caunt. He was for a time the English heavyweight champion. He was only 75kgs and 5ft 10, as opposed to, for example, Tyson Fury who is 6ft 9 and weighed 124kgs in his last professional fight against Deontay Wilder. Although Mike Tyson is only 5ft 10 but did way closer to 100kgs. Benjamin Caunt incidentally, who was a great rival of Thompson, was a right unit. He was apparently 6ft 2 and 115kgs! So comparable in height and weight to a modern boxer.
What Thompson lacked in size, he made up for in skill, fitness and showmanship. He soon became a crowd favourite on account of his behaviour in the ring. Apparently he would make up rhymes about his opponents during fights. These rhymes were usually focussed on his opponents’ mothers and wives. He also pulled silly faces at them.
In Victorian boxing there was ample time to make up rhymes, because the fights went on for ages. At this point in the history of boxing, fights in the UK were usually fought in accordance with the London Prize Ring Rules or its precursors which were similar. Amongst other things, a round ended when one of the fighters’ knees touched the ground. The fighter was then given 30 seconds to rest and 8 seconds to ‘come up to scratch’; the scratch being a line drawn on the floor of the ring. If a fighter could not ‘come up to scratch’ the fight was over. So, fights could go on indefinitely.
Here is a selection of some of the other rules:
That on the men being stripped, it shall be the duty of the seconds to examine their drawers, and if any objection arise as to insertion of improper substances therein, they shall appeal to their umpires, who, with the concurrence of the referee, shall direct what alterations shall be made.
“Why he’s got marmite in his gusset. That there’s cheating!”
“What’s all this Worcestershire Sauce in your pockets? Foul play!”
“Piccalilli stains on your bottom! Why this fighter has been using performance enhancing pickles!”
That in future no spikes be used in fighting boots except those authorized by the Pugilistic Benevolent Association, which shall not exceed three-eights of an inch from the sole of the boot, and shall not be less than one-eight of an inch broad at the point; and, it shall be in the power of the referee to alter, or file in any way he pleases, spikes which shall not accord with the above dimensions, even to filing them away altogether.
Presumably this allowed boxers to be extra bendy, much like Michael Jackson in the Smooth Criminal video. Or they just end up walking around the ring like Kryten.
Having a set of universal rules makes this bare-knuckle boxing sound legal. It wasn’t and fights, much like today, took place in farmyards or in fields or factories. They were also often broken up by the police midway through.
Many of Thompson’s fights went on for fifty plus rounds. One fight against a Liverpudlian called William Looney went on for 90 plus rounds and two and a half hours. There were a number of memorable incidents. At one point Looney missed Thompson by quite a distance with a haymaker. Thompson responded by lying on the floor wiggling his legs laughing. At another point in the fight, Thompson began performing somersaults in the ring.
Thompson’s greatest rival was Benjamin Caunt. They fought three times and each fight was epic and controversial. These fights were classic David vs Goliath fights. Thompson had the agility, the speed and the fitness, Caunt had the size and the weight as mentioned earlier.
The first fight lasted only 22 rounds with Caunt being disqualified after apparently hitting Thompson whilst he was in his corner. Caunt was getting very annoyed with Thompson’s taunts and insults.
There once was a man called Caunt
Whose wife was fond of a croissant
She was as fat as cow
With a big monobrow
There was no threat of her looking gaunt.
Their second fight lasted 75 rounds and from early on there were signs that the crowd were rowdy. Early in the match Thompson was almost strangled to death by Caunt when members of the crowd stormed the ring. I couldn’t work out whether strangulation was illegal or not. Thompson got his strength back by necking some brandy and started being a bit dirty himself by throwing some kicks. In the 75th round the referee called a foul against Thompson for deliberately falling to the floor to end the round. This ended the match and the crowd went nuts. Caunt’s second dragged him from the ring and he managed to escape on the back of a stolen horse.
Before Thompson and Caunt fought again, Thompson became English champion with a win over James Deaf Burke who had recently toured the US as a prize fighter. Burke had been forced to tour the US because nobody would fight him in the UK after he’d defeated an Irish fighter in a 3 hour fight. The Irishman died of his injuries 3 days after the fight and Burke narrowly avoided being imprisoned for murder. Burke’s nickname; ‘deaf’, was very imaginative. You see Burke was deaf. Despite this, he still got really pissed off when he fought Thompson, this time not because of the rhymes, but because of the face pulling and physical mockery. Half way through his fight he grabbed Thompson and head-butted him twice leading to disqualification. Burke led a very glamourous life after retirement and died at the age of 35 from tuberculosis in poverty.
Thompson returned home to Nottingham to a hero’s welcome. He pulled out a few somersaults for the crowd and fucked his knee, which meant he was out of action for 2 years; stupid, but better than a career break resulting from a criminal conviction for rape.
Thompson’s third fight with Caunt was as controversial as the others. It went 93 rounds and lasted over 2 hours. Both fighters used every cheat in the book and there was a very rowdy and violent crowd. Thompson’s favourite cheat was to go down easily to end a round and earn a break. This was a risky business though because it was how he got fouled in his only ever defeat to Caunt. Eventually Caunt was too tired to carry on so Thompson won.
Thompson fought once more after this and won. In traditional boxer style, he retired, didn’t know what to do with himself, got drunk lots and ended up in prison frequently. For a while, he was also invited to teach students at Oxford how to box. As a very working class man, he was disguised as a professor to not attract attention.
We’d like you to show us how to biff, bop and bosh dear boy. Why we need to be able to handle ourselves when push comes to fisty-cuffs!
In his later life, he became a popular preacher although he couldn’t actually read the Bible. Lord Longford, who had been involved in Thompson’s fighting career is quoted as saying; "I hope you fight Beelzebub with more fairness than you fought Caunt or else I might change sides." He died at the age of 68 after falling down his stairs and even had an obituary in the Times of London.
He actually has a town in Australia named after him; Bendigo in central Victoria, which in turn, although I couldn’t find confirmation of this, led to the naming of the Bendigonnian Stage which is a time division Australian and New Zealand geographical time.