THE BOXING NEWS
HISTORIC BOXING NEWSPAPERS AND HISTORY
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THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 1938
THE GREAT CONTEST
BETWEEN SAYERS AND HEENAN
This Fight was Debated in the Commons
By CLAUD GOLDING
_ MR. HADFIELD gave notice
that he would call the atten-
tion of the government to a
"meditated breach of the peace by
a pugilistic contest to take place
between an American citizen and
a British subject for a so-called
_ The newspapers, added Mr. Had-
field, had actually given notice of
the time and place!
_ Therefore, he asked the Home Secre-
tary "whether he intended to take
measures to put down such intended dis-
turbance of the public peace and prevent
an exhibition so contrary to the religious
sense of the country at large - (laughter)
- and whether the public might rely on
his doing his best to prevent so brutal
and demoralizing an exhibition to the
rising generation as the announced
contest between this American gladiator
_ The remainder of Mr. Hadfield's question
was drowned in the roar of laughter. That
he finished, however, is shown by the
reply of Sir George Cornewall Lewis,
_ "The contest between these redoubt-
able champions -(loud laughter)- has
been brought under my notice, and I have
transmitted the letter to Sir Richard
Mayne, who, I have no doubt, will take the
necessary steps to prevent a breach of the
peace within the Metropolitan district.
_ "Beyond this I cannot assure my
honorable friend; I cannot venture to
give any positive promise; for if he is
informed of the time and place I am not,
and I don't think they are fixed. It is,
therefore, impossible for me to say
whether the police will succeed in
preventing the incursion in question."-
_ The unfamiliar names given here may
be perplexing. This is not surprising,
for this debate took place in the House of
Commons on April 13, 1860.
_ The fight under discussion was the
classic encounter between Tom Sayers,
champion of England, and John C. Heenan,
the American champion, which took place
on April 17, four days afterwards.
_ No wonder, there was amusement in the
House, for fully three-quarters of the mem-
bers were to be present at the fight them-
_ Leaving the House of Commons for the
present, it is interesting to recall what a
sensation the fight caused on both sides of
_ When the newspapers announced the date
and venue of the match there was a rush for
tickets. All the well-known pugilists, most
of whom kept public houses, were besieged.
_ Strict instructions were given that specta-
tors should be ready at the London Bridge
Station at 4 a.m., at which time the train
would start for "somewhere."
_ There was a bustling scene at London
Bridge an hour before the departure of the
train. In some respects it resembled a
Derby Day crush, though it was still dark.
_ The South-Eastern Railway had made
arrangements down to the last detail.
Fans who had come from the provinces
and had been unable to obtain tickets
beforehand were provided with them by
_ Two long trains were ready. The first
with 33 coaches was full at half-past three.
It left at twenty minutes past four. The
second train with about 30 coaches departed
from the London Bridge soon afterwards.
_ As the trains passed on the journey, the
fans were amused to see, on each side
of the railway, armed policemen, both
mounted and on foot.
_ This array of "force" extended for 15
miles. but the promoters of the fight had
no intention of stopping anywhere in the
London police district.
_ Great preparations, however, had been
made to stop the "mill," both on the Dover
and Brighton lines. This, too, proved an
unnecessary exhibition of caution, for when
the trains reached Reigate they turned off
on the Guildford line, and arrived in the
neighborhood of Aldershot. Here they
halted, and one of the organizers known as
the "pilot" got down from the train and
made inquiries as to the possibility of hold-
ing the fight thereabouts.
_ At length it was decided to go on to
Farnborough, and that station was reached
at seven o'clock.
_ Scores of Americans who had come
down with the fans approved the
decision, for the spot chosen was in a
meadow on the borders of Hampshire and
Surrey, and within half a mile of Fran-
borough, where the utmost peace seemed to
_ About 1500 people had packed into the
two trains. There were officers of the Army
and Navy; the majority of the members of
Parliament, justices of the peace, and even
many parsons. There were as many
American journalists as British.
_ The story of this great fight has often
been told. the newspaper reports filled
_ It was in the 37th round when the
unexpected happened. The two fighters
were exhausted. The rattle of bare
knuckles on the face and body could barely
be heard for neither fighter was able to
put in an effective blow.
_ Suddenly the "blues" appeared on the
scene and stopped the fight, by cutting the
ropes. There was nothing to do but to
return to London with the fight undecided.
_ The contest had started at twenty-four
minutes past seven, and the interruption
came at a quarter to ten. Heenan at the
time was fast becoming blind and was
hugging Sayers on the ropes.
_ At Farnborough station, Heenan was
lifted into his coach. At Bricklayers' Arms
Station, London, he was invited to shake
hands with Sayers, but was unable to do
_ For 48 hours, he lay in a darkened room.
_ The Americans were naturally annoyed
at the stopping of the fight. Had it gone
on, they would probably have been even
_ Nevertheless, it ended more or less
happily, for the two champions agreed that
two belts should be made, and one
presented to each.
_ To return to the House of Commons.
_ "Commons: More fun about the
fight," said Punch.
_ Lord Lovaine, afterwards the Earl of
Beverly, opened fire a few days after the
encounter. He wanted to know whether
action could be taken against the South-
Eastern Railway for "their conduct in
offering facilities for the conveyance of
persons to these illegal contests."
_ He moved for copies of correspondence
on the subject which had passed between
the Company and the Government." Had
the Government attempted to enforce the
law? Had anything been done to stop the
practice of letting trains for prizefights?
_ Lord Palmerston replied: "I will not
argue the technical legal question that a
fight between two men- not a fight of
enmity, but a trail of strength- is legally
a breach of the peace, and an act that
renders the parties liable to prosecution;
nor whether the persons who go to witness
it are technically involved in the charge...
_ "Some people look upon it as an exhibi-
tion of manly courage, characteristic of the
people of this country... This is, of coarse,
a matter of opinion, but I do not see why
any number of persons, say 1000 if you
please, who assemble to witness a prize
fight, are more guilty of a breach of the
peace than an equal number of persons
who assemble to witness a balloon ascent."
_ Lord Palmerston was followed by
Colonel Dickson, who admitted that he
had never seen a prizefight in his life.
"But," he added, "I would say that the two
men who fought on the recent occasion
showed qualities of which the whole Eng-
lish race had reason to be proud."
_ He ended his speech with the remark
that the two fighters deserved all praise.
"Many men in this country received
honors who did not deserve them."
_ While the Home Secretary, under
pressure, was admitting that prizefights
were illegal, Lord Palmerston left the
House and walked into the Lobby. There
he found a sporting M.P. collecting a purse
_ "My lord, I want a sovereign for Tom
Sayers," said the M.P. collector.
_ "He's a splendid fellow," said Palmer-
ston, "I will give you five."
Historic boxing newspapers and articles.