In search of Bendigo

When I first moved to Nottingham a couple of months ago, the first thing I did was go and join the library and spend a couple of hours in the local history section where I discovered a completely amazing book that will be the subject of another blog (probably several because there is so much ammunition in there).

But it was in that book that I first came across the name William Abednego Thompson – or Bendigo, prize-fighting bare knuckle boxer, turned preacher.

His is one of those stories that just catches the imagination. He was one of triplets, born in Sneinton, Nottingham, in 1811 and was the youngest of 21 children. The triplets were named after characters from the Bible, the Book of Daniel – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. To be fair to his parents, with 18 children already, they were probably struggling to think of names.

The family grew up in the slums and ended up in the workhouse after Old Man Thompson died when the triplets were 15.

Bendigo was fighting to earn money for his family before he was 18 and apparently had a fierce rivalry with Ben Caunt, a contemporary from Hucknall.

At 28 years old, Bendigo Thompson won the All England title from a Londoner – the brilliantly named James ‘Deaf ‘Un’ Burke. 15,000 people watched the fight. 15,000! That’s pretty impressive for 1839 I would think.

Bendigo picked up a prize purse of £220. The Inflation Calculator UK obligingly tells me this is worth £15,957.06 in today’s money – further proof that today’s sporting heroes are vastly overpaid. Especially given the efforts Bendigo and his cronies put into their fights. The bout with Burke lasted only ten rounds but others are believed to have gone on round after round after round with reports of fights lasting 75 rounds.

When Bendigo, ‘The Nottingham Jester’, Thompson retired undefeated, he had (according to Wikipedia) two prize belts and four Silver Cups to his name. The Wiki article also credits Bendigo as inventing the Southpaw stance “ensuring his legacy lies within the fabric of boxing forever”.

After retirement Bendigo became a fishing champion, took up with a gang of politically motivated rioters (the Nottingham Lambs), became a boxing coach at Oxford, was sent to the House of Correction for Drunk and Disorderly a reputed 28 times, found religion and eventually became a preacher. That’s a pretty impressive CV in anyone’s book.

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Bendigo died in 1880 – on August 23rd. This is his grave. It lies at the top end of Victoria Park, in St Mary’s rest garden – that’s the hilly bit – and is the only grave that still appears to be in situ – all the other gravestones are lined up around a couple of the garden walls.

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The inscription reads “In life always bravely fighting like a lion, in death like a lamb tranquil in Zion.’ It’s an impressive gravestone.

After visiting the grave, I decided to see if I could find Bendigo’s statue, which, I was led to believe, was on the roof of a pub that used to called The Bendigo but that closed a while ago. I had been told the building was no longer there and then I saw something on social media that indicated the opposite.

I walked through the park and down past Sneinton Market and then up towards Greens Windmill. There are some lovely cottages in that part of Sneinton. Down the other side of the hill and right a bit along a residential street, I stopped a guy and asked him if he knew where the pub was. He pointed to the end of the road and there, at the end of Sneinton Hollows  and St Stephen’s Road was Bendigo, almost completely hidden by a huge tree.

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There it is, the Southpaw stance. Apparently Bendigo’s hands were replaced at some point due to public demand because they had started disintegrating. The tree in front of the old pub is enormous, there were limited angles to get a photograph from. And the Tipo Club sign was a little off-putting. I would have liked to have seen it with the original name on it and when the tree was much smaller.

Before I went on my hunt for Bendigo’s grave and the old pub, I discovered on social media that there is a campaign in Nottingham to erect a Bendigo statue in Trinity Square. And I found this banner attached to the railings of Victoria Park.

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I’m unsure at the moment how much money is needed for the statue, or how much has been raised towards the project so far. But I’m in touch now, via social media, with the fundraisers so I’m hoping to find out more because I have to admit a certain fascination with my namesake.

No, I’m not called Bendigo… but my surname is Thompson.

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Traveler, writer, photographer, seeker of knowledge

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