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Boxing Historian
Deaf Burke

Deaf Burke, 1933 bare-knuckle fighter

The death
of  an Irish pugilist

By Christopher James Shelton
Historian for The Boxing Amusement Park


As we begin research for the tragic, 1833, Simon Byrne/Deaf Burke championship bout, one can Google the event and receive the following story: "A 99-round hard fought battle – 3 hours and 16 minutes – the English deaf man prevails and is arrested/acquitted for murder. Doctors did all they could to save the fallen Irish pugilist." The side story is how we have become such lazy researchers that we believe anything on the internet that is stated as "official" to be factual.


If one Googles Deaf Burke’s boxing record, there are interesting, as opposed to suspicious, numbers. A June 9th, 1829, bout versus Bill Fitzmaurice is listed at an unfathomable 166 rounds and clocks in at 2:55. This would mean a bout that was 77 more rounds than Burke/Byrne, but 21 minutes less. Another Burke battle of August 25th, 1829, versus Bill Cousens, is listed as 111 rounds at 2:03. In comparison to Burke/Byrne is a bout that concluded an hour and 13 minutes earlier, but 12 more rounds.


A nagging and immediate inaccuracy is the almost trivial “hard fought” language. I have studied countless bare-knuckle bouts from Cribb/Molineaux (1810/11) to Goss/Ryan (1880) to Sullivan/Kilrain (1889). These are definitely bruising affairs, but also have many rounds of 5-10 seconds durations without any blow being struck. A bare-knuckle bout round continues untimed until a knee touches the ground – 30 seconds rest between rounds. Though technically illegal, fighters intentionally fell down due to exhaustion. They would stumble and fall more often as a fight progressed. So the Burke/Byrne bout should have many of these 10 seconds rounds, especially from the 15th round onward. It is possible for two rounds to last an hour if the two boxers stand around and refuse to attack.  But it’s more likely, in these marathon bouts, for two later rounds, including 30 seconds rest, to cover about a minute. 166 rounds at 2:55?  I am not officially verifying this account as true, but it is certainly reasonable.


I would probably accept the Byrne/Burke ‘official’ version as true if it were not for a remarkable Scottish ‘broadside’ round-by-round account that is routinely dismissed. The unnamed reporter provides a 28 round bout at 75 minutes – versus 99 rounds and 196 minutes. How can two versions be so different? The first thing I would like for comparison is a round-by-round account of the ninety-nine numbered version. It does not exist.

As suspicious is my nature, when everyone insists the 28 rounds version is untrue, I sort of believe these reports are correct. My next thought is that the Scottish account ignored those 10 seconds type rounds, the intentional and unintentional slips, and only accounted for physical throws and punch knockdowns. But the Scottish account lists them: “Rounds 11 to 14 – Byrne down, mostly slipping.” Not only does the reporter get it right, but it would suggest that Byrne was already tired and/or injured early.

I am officially suspicious: Who says the bout was 99 rounds? Who is this source? It is much easier to research American history inside America while sort of a nightmare, because of the difficulty in obtaining documents, to research another continent. The Burke/Byrne bout has another unfortunate truth: the lack of official witnesses. Because prize fighting was illegal, an English law of several years earlier made attendance an imprisonment crime, so not many people volunteered to step forward and admit their participation. The best witnesses were arrested and charged with manslaughter: Deaf Burke, his two corner men, Tom Gaynor and Richard Curtis, along with Byrne’s corner men, Jem Ward and Tom Spring. It was in their best legal advantage not to speak, so they did not.

Who are our witnesses? The main source and star is a local reporter for “The County Press” named S.G. Shaw. There is also an emotionally wounded acquaintance of Byrne named Daniel Foster – who left the event after 20 minutes. A man named John Tongue was present. And yes, there is an unnamed witness – the Scottish reporter who provided the dry, slang language round-by-round account.  There are three other players: (1)  The surgeon who provided care for the Irish pugilist, Dr. Kingston.  (2)  A chambermaid who attended and spoke with the dying boxer, named Mary Willcox.  (3)  The coroner’s own official explanation as to the cause of death.  For what it is worth, I believe that everyone, except the lead witness, was attempting to tell the truth.

Let us analyze this ‘star’ witness: reporter S.G. Shaw. He is our ‘official’ chronicler to the length of this bout. Shaw states that he did not know about a prize fight previous. Shaw states that he had never heard of either boxer.  Shaw states that he was basically a good reporter who noticed a large crowd gathering and a couple guys stripping off their shirts, so he decided spontaneously to witness the occurrence.  Shaw’s testimony: “It would be impossible to state the precise number of rounds, but I believe they amounted to ninety-nine, and that the fight lasted three hours and a few minutes.” Boxing historians interpreted this as ‘99 rounds’ even though Shaw spoke a few words earlier that he did not know the length with surety. Boxing historians translated, “a few minutes,” into a factual, “16 minutes,” which would be a laughable interpretation to academic historians of another field. Shaw assures it was ‘impossible’ to be precise about round length, but the Scottish reporter was able to do it while writing notes as he viewed. Apparently, Mr. Shaw is not a reporter who jots notes. Which reporter should be believed: “The palest of ink is better than the best of memory.”

And just how good is Mr. Shaw’s memory? Let me quote: “about the 50th round” - “about the 53rd round” - “about the 78th round”. Was there an umpire inside the ring? “The time keeper was in the ring, but I cannot say whether the umpire was or was not.” Mr. Shaw watched an approximately, 100 rounds, bout of 3+ hours, and he does not remember whether there was an umpire inside the ring with the boxers? This is our expert on memory?!  His account of the bout is absurd. Unless one considers he mixed the boxers in his mind, it is difficult to comprehend who was dominating the fight. “About the 53rd round, Byrne gave Burke a heavy body blow, and they went down, Byrne falling heavily upon the head of Burke.” Question: did he ever see Burke lying down in a state of stupor? “I did in the 28th round; Burke went down and appeared in a state of great exhaustion.” Shaw stated he was close enough to audibly hear Burke request brandy and water that was administered to him.

Based on Shaw’s account, which seems to forget which pugilist died, it appears Burke is the more exhausted and injured pugilist. There are two things that can be safely stated: if Burke was injured and in a ‘stupor’ he would have to be ready to fight the 29th round after 30 seconds. Would this technical rule have applied to both pugilists? Nope – just Burke. For this was not a fair fight. It was heavily biased from the start to Byrne’s advantage.  This was due to Byrne’s corner men: Tom Springs and the notorious current fraud Champion, Jem Ward. Was this a championship bout? Only if Byrne is victorious. If Burke wins, Jem Ward has decided, it is not. It is not an opinion that Jem Ward was involved in the ‘fixing’ of bouts: there is an admission and a legal conviction. The International Boxing Hall of Fame must be proud to have this man as a member. It lists Ward as the Champion of 1825-32. He won the title over a 35-year-old Tom Cannon and only fought twice over the next seven years. He lost to Irishman Peter Crawley in 1827 after he was pushed to the ground during the 11th round and could not continue. His only other bout was in 1831 against Simon Byrne that was likely rigged. In a sad commentary, worthy of a Rod Serling teleplay, it appears Byrne’s corner men, one of them being Tom Spring, had bet on Ward.  When it appeared Byrne would win, they threw in the towel and disqualified their own fighter. It was suspicious immediate so public pressure was placed on Ward to fight the handicapped, #1 challenger.  Burke, nicknamed “Dummy” and “Deaf un” because of his hearing impairment, followed the previous mentioned marathon bouts with an impressive winning streak of seven in a row – all under 45 minutes. Ward did not wish to fight Burke so he officially retired and induced Simon Byrne to fight him instead.

That Jem Ward would not give Deaf Burke a break is an understatement. After Byrne’s death, Jem Ward insisted that he was still Champion. Would Ward face Burke? No. After public pressure, Ward agreed to a bout if certain financial conditions were met. Burke raised the money with much of it being his own. Would Jem Ward fight Deaf Burke now? No. But, the dishonest Ward insists he still Champion because – well – what’s anybody going to do about it?

If a popular fighter kills in the ring it adds to their reputation and popularity. If a popular boxer is on the receiving end of death the other boxer is despised. Deaf Burke was intimidated and threatened away from the United Kingdom so he shipped himself to the United States. It would lead to the first ‘world championship’ bout in America against an Irish boxer named Samuel O’ Rourke. The Irishman had insisted the bout be held in his native Ireland, but Burke was afraid for his life. As it turned out, Louisiana was not much safer.  Burke began with a quick start and advantage. Spectators stormed the ring during the 3rd round and began beating on Burke while pummeling him to the ground. Apparently, so the legendary story continues, Burke stood and ran, abated in his escape by leaping onto a horse as he fled for his life.

Deaf Burke eventually returned to England for an 1839 bout with William Thompson. Was it a championship bout? Only if Thompson is victorious.  Jem Ward was in attendance.  Burke was disqualified (which I would not believe for a moment) so Ward anointed Thompson the title. Thompson retired after the bout and Burke was viewed as Champion again. No, insists Jem Ward, he is still Champion (though he has fought twice in fifteen years – lost once and cheated the other bout) as he insists Burke must fight his brother. Is it a championship bout? Only if Nick Ward is victorious. Burke was getting the better of the, 1840, bout when Jem Ward and his thugs entered the ring while simultaneously attacking the umpire outside the ropes. The creeps inform the official they will beat him to death if he does not immediately disqualify Burke. The umpire, in an understandable gesture of self-preservation, complied.  Nick Ward was now anointed Champion.  Is there anything Jem Ward could have done that would have offended the sensibility and morality of the future International Boxing Hall of Fame officials? Maybe burn down an orphanage? Cheat a few more times inside the ring? Beat up and maim a few more umpires or refs? Returning to Byrne/Burke and 1833, it is safe to state that Shaw’s account of Burke lying on the floor an extended time during the 28th round could not and did not happen.

‘Suspicion’ is too kind a term to describe my attitude toward star witness, S. G. Shaw. I requested the reference team from the British library to background check whether Hertford had a County Press newspaper and has there ever been a reporter by the name of S.G. Shaw? A nice man named Stewart Gillies responds: “There was a newspaper published in Hertford in 1833 called: ‘The County Press for Herts, Beds, Bucks, etc’. It was published between 1831 and 1857 and then incorporated with the ‘Hertford Mercury’. The newspaper does not have an index and we have no sources providing information on the name of its reporters. Most newspaper reports were unsigned in the early 19th century. I did check the ‘Scoop: the people behind the headlines’, a database of British and Irish journalists from 1800-1950, but there was no entry for S.G. Shaw.”


Let us analyze the other witness accounts, not to reach the truth about what happened on that awful day in May, 1833, for this is impossible, but to seek closer to the facts. A young man named Daniel Foster was present for the first twenty minutes of the bout. He and Shaw share a similar tale: that pickpocket thieves targeted spectators, with both of them separately robbed. For a petty, criminal thug, a prize fight was a dream come true: no police, lots of gamblers with money and no chance (since all were engaged in illegal attendance activity) of thefts being reported to law enforcement. So we know early on that chaos ensued outside the ring as spectators were attacked with whips until they handed over money, both Shaw and Foster scattered, while the retreating thieves were attacked themselves by another group of poorly dressed crooks.

John Tongue states that Byrne had received many body blows. He also states around the 5th round, that Byrne was holding onto a wooden stake and did not appear willing or able to continue. He says that both fighters were exhausted long before the conclusion, and that Burke, after a knockdown, rolled over and vomited. Tongue states that both fighters were exhausted and pushed to fight beyond their endurance. I must accept Tongue’s testimony for what it is. Some of it is helpful, while other portions confusing, as for instance with these two nuggets: (1) there was no umpire inside the ring.  (2) A hat was thrown in the air at one point and he did not know why. As to the first, he is likely correct because the English umpires officiated outside the ring. As to the second, almost any casual boxing fan would have known the hat in the air, like the throwing of a towel today, signifies that one side concedes. I question Tongue’s knowledge of boxing, but it appears the bout continued, as if one corner man conceded, while the other rescinded the action.


Mary Willcox was a chambermaid at the Woolpack Inn. She testified that she spoke with Byrne in his final hours as he offered two bits: (1) that alcoholism had damaged his constitution. Byrne used to drink and perspire it off through long walks. But now he had been drinking and not eating while apparently abandoning previous better habits with regard to his athletic conditioning. (2) Byrne told her that he had injured his right hand during the 4th round and that it troubled him for the duration of the bout.

Perhaps the most important witness is the one who was not there: the coroner. His conclusion was that the heart, brain and spine were healthy. He concluded that vessels around the brain were distilled with blood, consistent with a serious, but not life threatening, concussion. Question: what was the cause of death? “By great bodily exertion aided by blows.” He states the upper chest area, the thorax region, contained some sort of damage that might have released fluid into the lungs, but that this condition either preexisted or would have occurred very early in the bout. The coroner offers two conclusions, one kooky, and the other helpful. His first conclusion appears hardly scientific – that Byrne died as a result of the grief he felt in losing the bout. Question: how does he arrive at this conclusion? “There was not sufficient injury on the head to cause death.”

It would not be melodramatic to suggest that the coroner was wrong about the psychological aspects of losing a bout having killed Simon Byrne, but instead a greater trauma was induced due to a fight he won. It made him a celebrity.


Irish Champion Simon Byrne  vs.  Scottish Champion Sandy McKay

(Prize: 200 pounds.   Byrne scored a 47th round knockout!  McKay died from his injuries).

Scotland broadside (Edinburgh): “A full and particular account of three great riots and mobs that took place at Dundee, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last, the 6th, 7th and 8th July, 1830, when three men lost their lives, and about 200 severely wounded….  The scene at this time was truly alarming, many men, women and children being lying, trampled under foot, much cut and bruised, and unable to make their escape.  After putting all the Irishmen they could find to the route, the mob then proceeded into the town, and began searching out houses of all those whom they knew to be natives of the sister kingdom, dragging them out of their beds, and beating them most unmercifully, breaking all their windows, and even tearing and burning the very wooden stairs that led to their habitations.  Tuesday night was the most alarming, the mob parading the streets, and no Irishman durst not seen, if recognised, they were instantly knocked down and maltreated, the police not daring to interfere with so numerous a mob.” 

The English manslaughter verdicts: not guilty. In a sensational trial that involved English royalty and their gambling habits – patronizing and encouraging an illegal sport – that King George IV and former Champion, John Jackson, aided an activity that resulted in the death of a Scottish pugilist. The Times called King George IV and his clan: “Wealthy monsters” and referred to the gamblers and spectators as: “Cowards who stood by and saw a fellow creature beaten to death for their sport and gain.” The jury believed, or wanted to believe, that Sandy McKay died of blunt head trauma due to a prior accident, with speculation and no proof that the man had tripped and fallen head first onto a rock, and that Simon Byrne’s beating on his head had nothing to do with the pugilist’s death. The corner men and organizers all received not guilty verdicts as well: Tom Cribb and three others.

Scotland citizens declared their own verdict, not aimed at English royalty, but instead at an Irish boxer’s likely religious affiliation:  “On Wednesday, more than eighteen thousand people assembled at the Cross, when the rioters proceeded to the Roman Catholic Chapel, which they partially destroyed, breaking all the windows, and other articles in the interior. The Magistrates had sent for some military, and sworn in about 300 extra constables, to endeavor to preserve the peace of the town. The people assembled again on Thursday, and were searching out the poor Irish, and chasing them out of the town, which they were glad to leave with their lives.”

Thanks to Mary Willcox, we know that Simon Byrne was likely suffering post-bout trauma, 1830-32, and mental illness: clinical depression. Byrne became lethargic about physical conditioning.  He could eat very little.  Byrne mostly wanted to sit by himself (in the dark) and drink alcohol. Four men had died (including Sandy McKay), with hundreds of Irish Catholics wounded, including women and children, as a results of his fisticuffs.  Scottish broadside (Edinburgh):  “There were three poor (Irishman) killed, besides upwards of 200 wounded, some desperately, with broken legs and arms.”  We know, thanks to Mary Willcox, that far from losing his will after the Burke loss, Simon Byrne felt a realization: he wanted to live! Byrne realized that alcohol and self-pity was not the answer.  Byrne never wanted to participate in a boxing bout again. Question: did Byrne ask about Deaf Burke? No, answers Mary Willcox, that instead he talked about his wife and children in Dublin, and his fear that he would never see them again.


English Bare-knuckle Bout Championship

  Simon Byrne   vs. Deaf Burke

Pre-bout Both men shake hands and wish the other good luck.

Round 1:  Both sort of stalk, mutual feints, maybe a couple light slap punches here and there. Burke finally lands a hard left to the side of head – Byrne drops to ground.

Round 2:  Burke is methodical as he pounds lefts and rights to the body.  It is likely during this round that Burke lands the “death blow” – a hard left lands to upper chest.  Byrne staggers back, does not wish to fall, but the pain is great and he is having trouble breathing and catching his breath. As Burke advances and steps forward, Byrne intentionally falls to ground.

Round 3:  Byrne has still not fully recuperated from the previous round.  Burke lands to the body, lefts and rights, Byrne backs and backs. Burke steps forward.  Byrne intentionally falls down in an effort to rest and recuperate strength.

Round 4:  Long round.  Byrne is already desperate as he throws and lands lefts and rights.  Both exchange punches. It is probably the toughest mutual combat of the bout.  Burke finally grabs his man in a clinch and throws him violently to the ground…. Whether it is by an attempted punch thrown, or very possibly, an awkward landing, Byrne has wrenched his right hand. It is virtually useless from this moment onward.

Round 5:  Despite the pain, Byrne attempts to fight as he lands blows to head and body while Burke concentrates and lands hard rights to the side of body.  As Byrne receives another hard punch to the left side of body, he likely attempts to block punch and leaves himself exposed.  Burke lands a hard left to throat – Byrne drops to ground.

Round 6:  Burke lands a hard left to nose.  Byrne staggered.  Burke grabs the Irishman and throws him hard to ground.

Rounds 7-9:  Byrne is likely backing.  It could be at this time he grasps the wooden stake to rest and gather balance. Burke is tired himself and not as anxious to chase a retreating opponent.

Round 10:  Byrne utilized the three previous rounds to rest and recuperate.  Now, they stand toe-to-toe and exchange punches.  Burke lands some sort of heavy blow.  Byrne counters and lands a left punch.  Burke steps forward.  Byrne intentionally falls down.

Rounds 11-14:  Byrne realized it was over at this point and that he will not win. He is having trouble breathing with a deep ache on his left side.  The exhaustion of throwing punches as overwhelming as the punches landed upon him.  Byrne retreats and sort of staggers around the ring. He avoids fighting and continues to intentionally fall down.

Round 15Burke lands a hard left blow to body – Byrne drops in agony to the ground.

Round 16:  Burke is methodical with lefts and rights that land to the body.  It is noticeable to spectators that Byrne is weakened, in trouble, and cannot continue.  Spectators have rushed to Byrne’s corner and yelled at Jem Ward/Tom Spring to stop the fight. This fight was decided and over by the 2nd round.  Every body punch from that round to the bout’s conclusion extended the injuries for a man who needed immediate medical treatment.

Notes:  Chaos now reigns supreme with spectators out of control.  There is violence amongst gamblers and thieves.  Despite spectator concern over Byrne’s condition, Jem Ward and Tom Spring, continue to send the Irishman, round by round, to his death.

Round 18Byrne is a man of courage, in serious trouble, but for the only time during this bout, crashes and lands his injured right to the side of head – Burke drops to ground.  One imagines the crowd roars at this unexpected development.  It is not exactly legal, but a quite common occurrence, as Byrne lands his body on top of Burke’s head.  The Englishman himself is now a bit winded and stunned.  Burke possibly vomits since witnesses insist it happened once.  In deference to his opponent’s deafness, and to show there are no hard feelings, Byrne offers a friendly and playful slap, not to injure but out of sportsmanship.

Round 23Burke dominates as he lands a hard blow to the head – Byrne drops to ground.  It is around this time that the Irishman suffers from a serious concussion.

Round 24:  Burke dominates.  Spectators cheer as the Englishman methodically lands right jabs to the left of body.   Byrne is too winded to run and unable to defend himself. The Irishman finally drops to the ground.  Byrne died as a result of internal injury to the left side of his body.

Notes:  The bout is out of control with Simon Byrne not rising to fight after 30 seconds.  The delays probably started out at 45 seconds to a minute.  Now the delays are longer. Deaf Burke should be declared the victor.  Byrne cannot fight any longer. Where is the umpire?  Is there an umpire? The only name that appears in the transcripts is Tom Belcher, the former Champion’s brother, and a former pugilist himself.  It would be more than possible he was on Byrne’s side, or to be specific, Jem Ward and Tom Spring’s, side.  The crowd is ugly and violent, hurling insults and threats toward Ward and Spring; otherwise, he could just invent a foul and disqualification against Burke.  At this point, Belcher might have considered self-preservation, and then decided he was not the umpire or official to anything. This bout was evolving, with legal consequences involved, in the wrong direction.  Many spectators have fled, perhaps Belcher has fled, but he certainly has placed himself in the background, and wants nothing more to do with this mess.

Round 25:  A wounded Byrne attempts a final, desperate offensive threat, with wild lefts and rights, all blocked by Burke.  The Englishman counters with a hard punch that lands to nose – Byrne drops to ground.

Round 26:  Burke dominates.  Byrne staggers drunkenly as he is unable to defend himself. Burke pounds and pounds on the Irishman until he falls.  Byrne cannot rise.  Another delay.

Notes:  Gamblers are concerned two-fold.  Their greatest concern is not Byrne’s health.   Those decent people have already left, but instead are concerned about what gamblers are most concerned about: money.  If they have money bet on Burke, the Irishman should be disqualified after lengthy delays, but it is doubtful there is an umpire to disqualify anyone.  It could also be at this moment that a hat lands in the ring.  It was Tom Spring’s dishonesty, as the main force behind a sadly ironic, The Fair Play Club, that has brought upon much corruption. This was English boxing’s greatest political power, which featured kickbacks and corruption, blatant mismatches and false advertisement.  The Fair Play Club placed honest and decent men, such as Simon Byrne and Deaf Burke, at the mercy of their criminal element.

It is also true, as evil was Jem Ward, that Tom Spring was no Jem Ward.  It would be Spring, much too late, who would have recognized the situation as hopeless. The cynic could point to Tom Spring’s actions as selfish: that the gig was up and this Irish fighter would require medical attention.  Law enforcement would be alerted and they all could be in serious trouble. Tom Spring was a cheat, Tom Spring was a crook, Tom Spring was a dishonest man who misused his power, but let us remember: Tom Spring was no Jem Ward.  I believe his concern for Simon Byrne at this moment was legitimate and that he worried more about his fighter than himself.  But Jem Ward likely overruled him as he cajoled Byrne to continue.  Despite interminable delays, Ward insisted that the bout was not over.

Round 28:  Byrne can barely stand, but somehow he rises.  Burke cautiously steps forward. Byrne throws a desperate left to the throat that misses.  Burke counters and lands a punch to the neck – Byrne drops to ground.  The Irishman rises and staggers to his corner.  Byrne collapses into the arms of either Ward or Spring. 

Notes:  Only history recognizes the bout as over.  It is unlikely that Jem Ward recognizes that his fighter has lost, and still hopes to assist Byrne regain consciousness, so that he can send him out to fight round 29.  Burke and his corner men stand around.  Maybe he sipped brandy (used as a pain killer) as he waited.  Simon Byrne lay unconscious, still and unmoving, for 30 minutes.  As time passes, an hour or so, it slowly dawns on everyone that this man is seriously injured. Gamblers would be leaving in droves, others concocting stories and lies, as surely everyone knows they could be deemed legally complicit in the death of a pugilist.

The surgeon, Dr. Kingston, arrived at the Woolpack Inn to stitch an insensible Byrne and tend to his wounds. The following day, Byrne was conscious and cognizant as the doctor asked where he felt most pained:  “I feel sore on each side of my head, and I feel as if I had no heart in me, as if I was sinking.” Asked where this ‘sinking’ feeling was most acute, Byrne placed his hand on his left side and said: “Here.”

Simon Byrne had two constant visitors: Daniel Foster and an anxiety ridden, Tom Spring. As the news worsened, the latter became frantic and begged the doctor not to give up. Spring spoke to Byrne and one assumes the downtrodden Irishman apologized for losing the bout. Tom Spring likely told him not to worry about it. Where was Jem Ward? He was too busy only giving a damn about Jem Ward. Yet a relative stranger, Daniel Foster, admitted he had attended this illegal prizefight, thus risking law enforcement impunity, and remained with Simon Byrne until the end. “I subsequently saw the deceased at the Woolpack,” stated Foster, “and I attended on him constantly, from motives of humanity, until the time of his death.”

This is not meant for comedic relief, but the United States based, “Saturday Night Live” produced a classic television skit with Steve Martin as a medieval doctor from the 1300’s, with every cure requiring: “a good bleeding.” While Scottish pugilist, Sandy McKay, lay alive for 30 hours, doctors made sure he received a bleeding. The first thing Dr. Kingston did for Simon Byrne was to bleed him. The real problem seems to me that the surgeon concentrated on Byrne’s concussion, stitched or ‘leeched’ his forehead, side of head and neck.  But Dr. Kingston appears to have done nothing with regard to internal damage of the left side. The coroner states it was a body blow, along with the continued exertion beyond the initial injury, which aggravated Byrne’s condition. News reports state: “Doctors did everything they could.” Everything except do anything about the left side where Byrne stated he was “sinking”.

Dr. Kingston’s testimony: “(Byrne) gradually sunk into a state of utter helplessness and insensibility, in which state he continued till 12 o’ clock on Sunday, when he again rallied, and was able to swallow, but he did not again speak intelligibly; mustard poultices were then applied to his feet and other remedies were used, but all of was no avail, and he died between eight and nine o’ clock on Sunday evening.”

Sporting Magazine, 1841:  “Having thus declared our approval of the principle of British boxing as an athletic exercise; as well as a preventive of the more dangerous ‘stab i’ the dark’ proceedings of our continental neighbors: - we cannot conclude this paper without entering our strong protest against its present practice.  Whether the present low condition of the prize ring, be a cause, or an effect, it is not here worth while to seek.  But one thing is most certain, that it is now both brutal and demoralizing; since the old ‘champions,’ and ‘pets of the fancy,’ have left the scenes of their labours, the feeling of the British public has undergone a change; and the recent deaths of Simon Byrne, and Brighton Bill, have given the finishing stroke to a pursuit already at its last gasp.”

English ‘publisher for the poor,’ James Catnach, a sort of ghoulish Will Rogers - he never met a murder scene he didn’t like – published a contemporary poem that suggests history recorded a  monster for the ages:

On Thursday, May the 30th day, Brave Simon took the ring,

Back’d by Jem Ward the Champion, likewise by gallant Spring,

To fight Burke for two hundred pounds, a man of courage bold,

      To stop reports that with Ward the battle he had sold.

With all stories involving reprehensible villains there is hopefully a hero to counter. This terrible tale might have three: (1) Daniel Foster.  (2) A kindly English chambermaid named, Mary Willcox, who tenderly administered a proud and frightened man as he neared and feared death.  (3) A bland Scottish sports reporter, but an actual journalist who wrote the truth, and will forever be remembered as anonymous.

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 Christopher James Shelton is a product of the American West Coast. He has lived in Los Angeles and San Ysidro, California, Tijuana , Mexico, and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Shelton was the editor of CHEEERS Soundboard, the first solely written/produced mental health recovery center newsletter in America.  He has several credits as researcher/writer/interviewer for CyberBoxingZone including: “Scandal In San Francisco (1896).” “The Last Bareknuckle Championship Bout (1889)” and “The Art and Science of Daniel Mendoza.”

  His research discovery credits include 19th century pugilists George Godfrey, Professor Hadley, Tom Hyer, John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain.  Family interviews, mixed with historical research, include lightweights Jack Britton and Billy Hawkins. 

Shelton conducted the final interview with legendary Phoenix manager Al Fenn, and asked candid questions about George Foreman and H.I.V. with former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison.  HIs favorite historical article, “124-year-old woman challenges John L. Sullivan for the title," recounts the life story of a feisty 19th-century female slave named Sylvie Dubois.

Contact Christopher Shelton


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