Ben Caunt (Bendigo)
When Ben Caunt demanded a return fight, Bendigo met him on 3rd April 1838 at Shelby for £300 a-side. This time 'Big Ben' waited for Bendigo to come to him, grabbing him in weakening bear-hugs before crashing him to the ground. Bendigo continued his insults till Caunt again lost his temper. Amid cries of 'Foul!', Ben attempted to crack Bendigo's skull against a ring stake but Bendigo replied with a well-aimed kick. 'Big Ben' grabbed Bendigo by the throat and attempted to fall over him on the ropes before succeeding in fastening his neck between the ropes. By the time the 'Nottingham Lambs' had cut the ropes and invaded the ring, Bendigo's face was black.
In the free fight amongst both sets of supporters that followed, Caunt caught a few thwacks across his back. Order was eventually restored - a noggin of brandy helped Bendigo recover - and the fight re-started. Bendigo continued his verbal attacks till it came to the 75th Round when he slipped. 'Foul!' shouted Caunt's supporters. Adjudged to have fallen without a blow, Bendigo was disqualified.
Pandemonium broke out. The 'Nottingham Lambs' attacked Ben with sticks, stakes, or whatever came to hand, and under protection from his own ruffians, he attempted to flee by coach. The coach was held, Ben dragged out, but in the melee he escaped riding bare-back on a stolen horse.
|Champion of England
James 'Deaf' Burke had toured America as Champion of England and on his return challenged any man in the world between 24 feet of ropes. Bendigo's ready wit and courage had endeared him to the public and the 'fancy', so his backers matched him with Burke.
A crowd of 15,000 saw the fight in 1839 at No Man's Heath in Leicestershire. It didn't last long. Bendigo was again too quick for his opponent, especially with his wrestling. In Round Three he gave the 'Deaf 'Un' the crook, threw him, and fell on him. By Round Ten, Burke had become so enraged that he head-butted Bendigo and was disqualified. With his purse of £220, Bendigo had become Champion of England.
A few weeks later in the Queen's Theatre at Liverpool, Jem Ward, a previous champion, presented him with the Champion's Belt. During the fight with Burke, Bendigo's mother had sat at home by the fire listening to the clock, imagining its ticking saying: 'Bendy! Bendy!' Later she admitted: 'If it had said 'Burke! Burke!' I would have up and smashed its silly face in.'
Third Caunt Fight
On his return to Nottingham, Bendigo somersaulted over-enthusiastically, broke his knee cap, and was out of action for two years. There was much agitation for another fight between Caunt and Bendigo and on 9 September 1845 they met for the third time at Lillingstone Level, Oxford, for £200 a side and the Champion's Belt. The crowd of 10,000 that turned up was a riotous, half-drunken mob that officials found hard to keep in order.
The fight was almost a repetition of their previous encounters. As a writer at the time described: 'It proved to be one of the most scandalous brawls in boxing history. Both men committed every known foul and invented a good many others. Frequently Bendigo was tossed from the ring, Caunt trying to crash him on the ring stakes to break his back. Bendigo's 'Nottingham Lambs' attempted to bludgeon Caunt when within striking distance, one occasion missing his head by a hair's breadth, the blow landing on Caunt's brawny shoulder.'
Hardly a round went by without one or the other claiming he had been fouled. By the 92nd Round Bendigo was the fresher of the two and 'Big Ben' went down in great pain when hit by a low blow. The referee deemed it accidental.
In the following round, Caunt floored Bendigo with a mighty right-hander and thinking the round ended, walked back to his corner. But Bendy immediately sprang to his feet, and when Caunt's second shouted a warning, the Hucknall fighter dropped on his haunches. Bendigo's supporters immediately shouted: 'Foul!' and the referee disqualified Caunt. The epic battle had lasted 130 minutes and the Nottingham jester was still Champion of All-England.
The Champion settled down to a spot of angling, making friends with William Bailey who made and sold fishing tackle from a shop in Broad Marsh, Nottingham. William, a famous exponent of the gentle art, became the 'father' of Nottingham anglers. The pair often spent a day fishing together on the river and Bendigo became a dab hand too, winning several prizes at the All-England Fishing Matches.
In 1850 Tom Paddock, a needle-pointer from Redditch, challenged him to a fight. Enjoying his retirement, Bendigo was not too keen. But under pressure from his 82 year-old mother he had to agree to the fight: 'I tell you this Bendy, if you don't take up the challenge you are a coward. And I tell you more, if you won't fight him, I'll take up the challenge myself.'
The fight took place in June at Mildenham, lasted an hour and went to 49 rounds. It was a near thing. Paddock, a much younger man, was having the better of it, but having floored Bendy he made the mistake of striking him when he was down. Bendy was declared the winner by disqualification.
Observers thought Bendy lucky to win and the Champion agreed. At 39 years he was past his best and so he retired as undefeated Champion of England, holding two prize belts and four silver cups. Proudly he said: 'I was engaged in 21 matched fights and never was beaten in one. What is more, I never in my life had a hit on the nose hard enough to make it bleed; and in all my battles I never once got a black eye.'
For a season he acted as coach to wealthy young men at Oxford University who wished to become proficient in the noble art of boxing. The job was unofficial so the undergraduates had to disguise him as a professor to get him into its classic precincts. Soon after his return home his mother died. Since his aim in life had been to keep his 'Mam' out of the workhouse, he now lost his way and went on a long 'bender.'
The 'Nottingham Lambs' were a disreputable lot of ne'er-do-wells. Along with their rough tactics they were engaged by one or the other of the political parties at election times to boo and heckle the opposition. Bendigo began to keep their company. When sober, Bendigo was good-hearted with a lot of wit and charm yet changed completely under the influence of drink.
'I met him in the Three Crowns tavern,' one chronicler reported, 'occupying more space at the bar than the chucker-out should allow. Upon turning away from my friend to to reach for the tankard that I had ordered, I found him burying a portion of his facial development there-in. When I was informed that it was Bendigo, one of the Nottingham Lambs, I did not question the matter but did exclaim: 'Great Scott! What must the Nottingham wolves be like?''
For a long time he was treated leniently but even his loyal public eventually ran out of patience. Gangs of children began to taunt him in the street. A justice summed him up: 'Bendigo, when you are sober you are one of the nicest men in Nottingham but when you're drunk, you ain't. Therefore you will go to prison for two months and afterwards give bail to keep the peace for two months longer.' For 20 years he was in and out of the 'House of Correction' though sometimes it took half a dozen policemen to get him there. The paragraph heading 'Bendigo in Trouble Again' was permanently set by a Nottingham newspaper.
When 'inside' and sober he particularly enjoyed the prison chaplain's account of the combat between David and Goliath, always anticipating the result by saying: 'I do hope the little 'un will lick the big 'un!'
He did try to reform by moving to Beeston to avoid his drinking companions and in his sober moments fished peacefully on the banks of the Trent. Angling prizes still came his way and even at the age of 59 he dived into the river to save a man from drowning. One time he fished a young woman out of the river who had accidentally fallen in. 'Reward!' he scornfully declined. 'I am the Champion of England!' He liked to make grand gestures.
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