Tom Sayers vs John C. Heenan 1st ever international boxing event which lasted 2hrs & 27mins RARE commemorative 1860 Victorian clay pipe.
A 19th century clay pipe difficult to date to 1860 as there is no makers mark. The pipe measures 4 1/2" is complete and depicts boxing pose images inscripted Tom Sayers & John C. Heenan.
Condition very good (blackened to some extent from use and no attempt has been made to clean it!)
17th April 1860, Farnborough, Hampshire
On the morning of 17 April 1860 boxing's inaugural "World title" international boxing match took place and, illegal as it may have been, sporting historians on each side of the Atlantic accept that Heenan v Sayers, US v England, in a Hampshire field, was the one and only true beginning – the very first of many thousands of "fights of the century".
John Carmel Heenan, 25, had made a belligerent name for himself as an "enforcer" in rigged elections in and around the sweatshops of the steamship dockyards at Benicia, San Francisco. Gambling backers and buddies had nominated him as all-American champ to take on England's famed title-holder, the 34-year-old "Brighton Titch" Tom Sayers, the "small, clever little ring general", as the public prints described.
On the arrival of Heenan's party at Liverpool, excitement spread. As Bob Mee's colourful 2001 classic Bare Fists has it: "In drawing rooms and drinking houses, in the workhouse and in Westminster, men chewed over the merits, day and night, of Heenan and Sayers. Was it in some kind of massed relief to the close of the Crimean War in 1856, or a subconscious revolt against new disciplines imposed by the Imperial spirit?"
No sooner had 17 April, pre-dawn and Waterloo Station been whispered than vast crowds swamped the London platforms for the fleet of south-bound "specials". Three-guinea tickets were stamped "To Nowhere". The new 30-year-old Metropolitan Police dotted "Peelers" down the track for 15 miles to ensure at least that the contest would not take place on their "manor".
The fields near the tiny village of Farnborough were black with people as the contestants stripped down. "We have a fine morning for our business," Heenan said. "If a man can't fight and win on such a crisp morning, then he can't fight at all", said Sayers. At 6ft 2in and 195lb Heenan towered above Sayers's 5ft 8in and 149lb as they were called to the "scratch" at 7.29 am. Each severely battered and bloodied, yet unbowed, they would finish, level pegging, tit for tat, their business unsettled as a draw and with all bets off, fully two hours 27 mins and 42 rounds later when the Aldershot police, brandishing magistrates' warrants, stormed the ring.
As the reporter from Bell's Life described: "The final round was merely a wild scramble, both men ordered to desist from fighting. The Blues being now in force, there was, of course, no chance of the men continuing, and adjournment was necessary. Heenan had rushed away from the ring, and ran some distance with the activity of a deer, and although he was as fit as ever, he was obviously totally blind. Sayers, although tired, was also strong on his pins and could have fought some time longer, although by then the authorities were up in arms in all directions, so it would be a mere waste of time to go elsewhere."
The two men shared the "purse" of £400. Sayers also dodged the police and entrained "to drink champagne at The Swan in the Old Kent Road". He never fought again and was dead at 39, more than 30,000 attending his Highgate funeral in November 1865. Post-fight, Heenan spent 48 hours "in a totally darkened room in Osborne's Hotel in the Adelphi"; he died in poverty in Wyoming in 1873, aged 38.
Price: £ SOLD
Thomas Sayers, also known as Tom Sayers (25 May 1826 - 8 November 1865), was an English pugilist. During his career as a bare knuckle fighter, at the time illegal, he was only once defeated. At 5 feet 8 inches in height with a fighting weight of under 11 stone, he was the first boxer to be declared the World Heavyweight Champion.
His fighting career lasted from 1849 until 1860, when a match billed as the contest for the "World Championship" ended in disarray. An unprecedented public collection funded his comfortable retirement, but he died only five years later at age 39.
Sayers was born in a one bedroom cottage in the deprived slum district of Pimlico, Brighton, the youngest of the five children of James and Maria Sayers. Some listings state the father as 'William Sayers'. James (or William) Sayers was a travelling cobbler. Thomas received a brief education when he entered Middle Street School, Brighton, aged nine years in 1836, though he would remain illiterate all his life. Aged 13, he left home to become an apprentice bricklayer in London where he worked on the new London and North Western Railway Stations of King's Cross and St Pancras.
Sayers' first fight was against an Irish bricklayer colleague, a grudge match caused by the Irishman's dislike of Sayers' jokes.
The night-time fight on Wandsworth Common lasted 2 hours 20 minutes, after which the young Sayers felled the 6'3" Irishman. Sayers chose to fight barefoot, which gave him an advantage in the muddy conditions. His defeated opponent was carried away unconscious to a doctor, who later called the police. To escape arrest, Sayers fled back to Sussex.
His reputation as a fighter was now established. A succession of clandestine boxing matches were subsequently arranged, the outcome of which were heavily wagered upon. At this time he continued with his day job also; he is known to have worked on the London Road Viaduct, which was completed in 1846.
Sayers met a 21-year-old divorcee, Sarah Powell, around 1842. The couple quickly had two children, Thomas and Sarah.
Sayers was devoted to his illegitimate children, but his relationship with Sarah Powell was to cause him distress.
Tom's serious career as a prizefighter dates from 1849, following which he won battle after battle, his single defeat being at the hands of Nat Langham in October 1853 in his first attempt to become the "Champion of England", in this case middleweight. Langham won the match by concentrating on injuring Sayers's eyes. Despite the match lasting 61 rounds, averaging 90 seconds each, Sayers's undefeated reputation was lost, even though it was much reported at the time that he was suffering the after-effects of a virus. In financial difficulties, he was forced to travel the country in search of any opponent. He was never to be defeated again.
It was during this period of penury that his wife, Sarah Powell, began a relationship with another man. This man is listed as Alfred Aldridge (a hanson-cab driver) by some listings and James Aldridge (a croupier) by others. She continued the affair by blackmailing Sayers, threatening to announce to the World that he had not married her until after the birth of their children.
Sayers was anxious to avoid his children being labelled with what in Victorian times was a stigma, and complied with her wishes, and allowed the affair to continue unhindered.
Sayers eventually achieved the Heavyweight title of England in 1857, defeating William Perry, the Tipton Slasher in a re-organised bout on the Thames estuary. He became the last holder of the title before the introduction of the Queensberry Rules in 1867. However, as boxing at this time was illegal and incomparable with later legalized boxing, the legitimacy of Sayers' use of the title is open to debate.
Sayers was the first English boxer to fight an international match for the nominated 'world title' when he fought American John C. Heenan, "The Benicia Boy", at Farnborough, Hampshire on 17 April 1860. This would be to ignore the claims of a former fight in 1815 between the English champion Tom Cribb and the American Tom Molineux. The American was both taller and 3 stone heavier than Sayers. The match lasted for 37 rounds and 2 hours 20 minutes, but was brought to an untimely close when the Police intervened and the fight-crowd scattered. Early in the fight Sayers right arm was broken, or his right shoulder dislocated, depending on which report is believed.
Either way he fought much of the fight one handed. According to Lord Redesdale, who witnessed the fight, Sayers fought back and inflicted damaging blows on Heenan. Heenan, clearly tiring, was rescued by the American party who broke into the ring. The Police, who had been watching from a distance without attempting to interfere, then broke up what had become an unruly riot. Lord Redesdale in his Memories said: '...five more minutes would have given Tom Sayers a glorious victory'. The contest was subsequently declared a draw. Sayers received a special Silver Championship Belt to commemorate the fight, but was persuaded by friends and patrons to retire. Other accounts, based on eye witness reports give a slightly different version of the match, suggesting police had been trying to battle through the crowd for sometime before the referee declared a draw. However, in spite of the match being officially a draw, Heenan was later acclaimed as the "World Boxing Champion".
Sayers and Heenan became close friends after the fight, touring the country together and staging theatrical re-enactments of their famed fight.In reality, however, Sayers' boxing days were over. Such was his popularity that a public subscription was made for his benefit which raised £3000, given to him on condition he retire from the ring. This vast sum of money, by the standards of the day, was collected in such places as the House of Commons and the Stock Exchange. The collection was tangible evidence of the aristocratic patrons of a sport that was, at that time, illegal. Such leading figures of the British establishment as the Earl of Derby were undoubtedly among Sayers' patrons, who had wagered heavily on the outcome of his fights. Throughout his fighting career, all Sayers' fights took place following "underground" advertising in isolated fields away from the gaze of the authorities.
The year after Sayers's retirement, the "Anti-prize Fight Act of 1861" was passed, which criminalised anyone who even conveyed a member of the public to a fight. The Act virtually eliminated bare-knuckle fighting in England.
Tomb of Thomas Sayers in Highgate Cemetery, with his hound.
Following his retirement, Sayers bought a house in Camden Town where he lived with his sister. He became a familiar figure driving his carriage through the local streets, accompanied by his large bull mastiff, "Lion", a present from his patron Lord Derby. He also shared with Lord Derby a love of horse racing and attended many race meetings with friends such as the artist George Armfield Smith. However, Sayers, uneducated and illiterate, soon succumbed to the temptations that idleness and money can provide. This included investing heavily in a circus that attempted to tour England and Paris. The project was a disaster and Sayers lost most of his money. He began to lead a dissipated life which wrecked his health. Five years after his retirement, he died of diabetes and tuberculosis at the age of 39. Such was his fame that his burial at Highgate Cemetery was attended by ten thousand people. His friends again subscribed for the erection of a large tomb, bearing a statue of his beloved dog.
What remained of his fortune was inherited by his estranged and faithless wife, whom Sayers had never repudiated. By this time, she had three more children by her lover. Sarah won the legal battle for Tom's estate and had her two children with Tom effectively 'cut-off', contrary to Tom's final wishes.
Sayers was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954.
He was depicted in the 1944 film Champagne Charlie.
John Carmel Heenan (May 2, 1835 – October 28, 1873) was an American bare-knuckle fighter born in Troy NY. He boxed under the name "The Benicia Boy" (from his residence in California). His career lasted from 1858 until 1863.
Heenan's parents were Irish immigrants. He was born and grew up in New York City at a time when the city docklands was dominated by Irish gangland rivalry. One of the most feared gang-leaders was a young man called John Morrissey. Heenan witnessed, on more than one occasion, Morrissey exercise his brutal methods of extorting protection money. By a twist of fate, these two would meet again years later in the prize-ring.
Heenan left New York in his early teens and made his way to California. At first he worked as a foundry-man in an engineering company. Later, he would join the Californian gold-rush as a miner. He was never destined to make a living finding gold, but his naturally powerful athletic build brought him a lot of attention, particularly from the bullies that would attempt to victimise pan-handlers into handing over their finds. Heenan of course had seen it all before in New York and was not about to be intimidated. He rapidly established an ever-growing reputation as a prize-fighter with a penchant for putting bullies in their place. So much so he was eventually paid by the mine-owners to seek bullies out and challenge them to a prize-fight.
It is said that during this period he never lost a fight.
Despite never having a formal education, Heenan was literate to the point of being reasonably well-read; something of an exception in the Californian gold mines. He was also witty and comfortable with an audience and became a fixture in the mining town piano-bars, noted for his singing and entertaining.
It was inevitable that this popular and successful fighter would come to the attention of the organised prize-fight community.
Sure enough, in 1858 without ever having fought a recognised contender, Heenan was matched against the heavyweight champion of the USA. This champion was none other than John Morrissey.
The fight took place in Long Point, Canada, to avoid the US police. Prize-fighting was as illegal in the USA as it was in Britain. Heenan fought under two handicaps. Firstly, some weeks before the fight, he injured his leg with a pick-axe whilst mining. This prevented him from training for the fight. Despite this he gave Morrissey a beating for 6 rounds. However, in the 6th round, he suffered his 2nd handicap. He struck a ring-post and broke his right hand. Morrissey supporters exacerbated the injury by stepping on Heenan's hand when he fell over. Heenan continued to jab his way through the fight with his left with some success, but Morrissey eventually caught up with Heenan and knocked him out. Witnesses say the knockout was more through exhaustion than Morrissey's blow.
Contemporary accounts were so favourable to Heenan and against the unpopular Morrissey that, when Heenan arrived in New York days later, he was given a hero's welcome and acknowledged as the true champion of America. A claim underlined by Morrissey's refusal to give Heenan a rematch.
His other most notable fights were against British champion Thomas Sayers and subsequent British champion Tom King.
The fight against Tom Sayers in 1860 is widely regarded as the first ever heavyweight contest to decide the World champion.
The other fight that could be considered as such is the Tom Cribb vs. Tom Molineux fight in 1815. Although Tom Cribb was undisputably the Heavyweight champion of England (just like Sayers), the American Molineux was a complete unknown with no real record that led to any recognisable title.
Heenan officially claimed John Morrissey's title after the latter retired from boxing in 1859. Many believed Morrissey retired to avoid giving Heenan a rematch. Morrissey remained bitter and hateful towards Heenan for the rest of his life, always citing that Heenan's popularity was down to his looks rather than his boxing ability. Morrissey's jealousy was compounded when he hired three heavies to beat Heenan up before Heenan left for England. Morrissey wanted to scupper Heenan's lucrative fight with Sayers, furious that he was never given such a chance.
Unfortunately for Morrissey, things could not have turned out worse. Heenan bettered his three attackers, leaving them unconscious on the ground and leaving no-one on any doubt about his fighting prowess.
Heenan's claim to being heavyweight champion of America was acknowledged on both sides of the Atlantic. When he arrived in England 3 months before the fight, he quickly gained popularity due to his 'witty and engaging personality'. This was in stark contrast to Tom Sayers, who, whilst respected, was known as a humourless, rather dour man. When the fight took place in Farnborough, Hampshire, some accounts say there was as much support for Heenan as there was for Sayers, though this is unlikely. It is much claimed by Americans that Heenan was winning that fight when Sayer's supporters entered the ring, causing the contest to be disbanded and declared a draw. This is not true. Whilst Sayers supporters did indeed cut the ropes when it looked like their man was about to lose, this was not the end of the fight. In fact, the ring was re-constructed moments later and the fight continued for another five rounds.
It was the intervention of the Police that brought the fight to an inconclusive end. Following the draw Champion belts were made for both fighters. The bout is memorable in the history of pugilism and incidentally was the cause of putting an end to bare-fist prize fighting in England. Heenan was later acclaimed as the English Heavyweight Champion.
According to Lord Redesdale, who witnessed the fight, Sayers was winning when the Americans rescued Heenan by interrupting the fight. Lord Redesdale described these Americans as 'a very low class, and I am bound to say I did not see an American gentleman among them. The men whom I knew afterwards in New York would have been as disgusted as I was'.
The fight was one of the most brutal in prizefight history.
Heenan's facial injuries were such that his eyes completely closed and he was as good as blind for nearly a week afterwards. Sayers dislocated his right shoulder or broke his right forearm, depending on which account is believed. Either way, he fought much of the fight one-handed. It is a little known fact that Sayers never quite recovered the full range of movement in his arm. The fame of the contest was such that many journalists travelled across Europe to cover the event, even though they had never witnessed a prizefight before.
Prizefighting was really a sport for the English-speaking nations and considered plebian by countries such as France and Germany. One French journalist wrote after the fight "this is my first and last witness to such a barbaric ritual. England and America your shame". This feeling was shared by many English journalists who joined in the clamour to ban prizefighting.
Heenan spent the next three months in England, in exhibition matches and theatrical commitments, some of them with Tom Sayers. The two had become friends and Sayers would always speak generously of Heenan, saying Heenan was the most difficult opponent he ever faced.
Although Heenan trained extremely hard for the Sayers fight, he could not be called a dedicated boxer and confined himself to side-shows, carnivals and theatre to make an appreciative living, but showed little interest in defending his title.
Heenan's championship was claimed by Joe Coburn in 1862 after Heenan refused to defend it against Coburn. Instead Heenan returned to England. Most accounts to be found today say he came back to challenge Tom King, the new heavyweight champion of England. However, Heenan spent nearly all of his time establishing a gambling business as a gentleman-bookie. He also spent time with Tom Sayers and re-newed an old friendship.
Heenan did finally challenge Tom King and King accepted. If Heenan had faced King in anything like the condition he faced Sayers, he would have been too much for King. Instead, he was woefully out of condition. Though this is clearly due to Heenan's lack of dedication, much of it is put down to the fact that he asked Tom Sayers to be his chief second and trainer.
This was a terrible mistake. Sayers, during his time as an active fighter, was a very dedicated trainer, far more than any other top fighter of the day. In retirement though, his methods were antiquated to the point of quaint. Sayers, never the most intelligent of men, could not adapt to changing times. In addition, Sayers was suffering from untreated diabetes. He was always tired and constantly suffered from a raging thirst which he would often quench with brandy. Subsequently his faculties were dulled and he was of no help at all to Heenan during his fight with King. Heenan lost in 24 rounds: in later rounds he was constantly sick and vomiting. One journalist speculated that Heenan had been poisoned. Others that he caught a mysterious virus. In retrospect, it's most likely he reacted to some of Sayers' strange preparations, including supplying Heenan with a drink of boiled down stock and ale before the fight.
Nothing is written about Heenan's relationship with Sayers after that, though the two were never seen together again. Heenan would spend the next few years in England and was in the country when Sayers died. He did not attend the funeral.
After his fight with Morrissey, Heenan met and married Adah Menken, the sensationalist actress appearing in New York at the time. The two were married in secret (completely against type for the publicity-loving Menken), much to the chagrin of the press. Though Heenan was emphatuated with Menken, observers were more cynical about her feelings for him.
Menken's acting was receiving (and would continue to receive) scathing criticism at the time. Many felt that the only way she could continue to work is through her marriage to Heenan. This is a harsh observation as Menken did have her own following, despite her low-standing as an actress. In the last days of her life she maintained that John Heenan was the only true love of her life. The marriage lasted little more than a year.
Heenan died at Green River Station, Wyoming in 1873.