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John Gully



John Gully (21 August 17839 March 1863), English sportsman and politician, was born at Wick, near Bath, the son of an innkeeper.

He came into prominence as a boxer, and in 1805 he was matched against Henry Pearce, "the Game Chicken," before the duke of Clarence (afterwards William IV) and numerous other spectators, and after fighting sixty-four rounds, which occupied an hour and seventeen minutes, was beaten. In 1807 he twice fought Bob Gregson, the Lancashire giant, for two hundred guineas a side, winning on both occasions. 

As the landlord of the Plough tavern in Carey Street, London, he retired from the ring in 1808, and took to horse-racing. In 1827 he lost 40,000 by backing his horse Mameluke (for which he had paid four thousand guineas) for the St Leger

In partnership with Robert Ridskale, in 1832, he made 85,000 by winning the Derby and St Leger with St Giles and Margrave. In partnership with John Day he won the Two Thousand Guineas with Ugly Buck in 1844, and two years later he took the Derby and the Oaks with Pyrrhus the First and Mendicant, in 1854 the Two Thousand Guineas with Hermit, and in the same year, in partnership with Henry Padwick, the Derby with Andover. 

Having bought Ackworth Park near Pontefract, he was Member of Parliament (MP) for the Pontefract constituency from December 1832 to July 1837. In 1862 he purchased the Wingate Grange estate and collieries. Gully was twice married and had twelve children by each wife. He died at Durham on the 9th of March 1863. He appears to have been no relation of the subsequent Speaker, Lord Selby. 

His body was returned to Ackworth where he was interred with his daughter.

 John Gully in fiction

Gully makes a notable appearance in Royal Flash, in George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series of books, and was played by Henry Cooper in the 1975 film version.

                                                                                                       John Gully

From The prize ring to parliament

Hen PEARCE. the "Game Chicken," never appeared in a notable fight after winning the championship from "Jem" Belcher . Declining health forced his retirement and the field was cleared anew. By common consent the position of champion was conceded to John Gully. Pearce had barely defeated him before disposing of Belcher in what "Hen" always called the hardest battle of his life. The showing made by Gully on that occasion left him without a competitor until the challenge of "Bob" Gregson in 1807.

They met at Six Mile Bottom in October , but the result was not satisfactory. Gully was declared the winner after a fight in which both were terribly punished Followers of the sport declared that the question of superiority was still unsettled, and a second meeting was awaited with great eagerness.After Gully had finally established himself in the championship he voluntarily brought his brief pugilistic career to a close and retired. Engaging in business as a tavern keeper, turfman, race horse proprietor and, finally, owner of extensive collieries, he was returned to Parliament as representative for Pontefract in 1832. His grandson. Sir William C. Gully, was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1895 to 1903.

THE last cheer had been given and the crowd was breaking up into groups. Bets were being paid, here and there an opinionated partisan had already begun to fight over some part of the battle in pantomime, the curious hung about the ropes to view the departure of the boxers and their supporters, the fag ends of a great sporting event had been packed away into the notebooks of the ring reporters.

John Gully, battered, weak and disfigured, but still smiling, as tradition decreed the victor must ever be, had been helped into his clothes and was leaving the. ground through the press, supported by "Tom" Cribb, his late second. Before them as buffer elbowed Captain Barclay, the gallant  patron of the manly sport and personal friend to Gully. They made their way slowly to the edge of the field, where Barclay's carriage was standing. and the champion was glad of aid in mounting the step. As Cribb and the Captain were about to follow him a. tall, dignified man dressed in the height of the fashion approach and saluted.

"Well, Jackson, will yon bear us company on the road?"asked Barclay, waving toward the vacant seat. 

The former title holder. now  the most popular instructor of pugilism in London, bowed his thanks. "I should be most happy if it were not for a certain pigeon pie to which to which owe my duties this evening, Captain. but. I heard some interesting talk back there at the ring a moment ago and thought to give you the benefit  of It before  you left the ground."

"I hope it is promise of good sport." said Barclay. "we have seen to-day at any rate," said Jackson, smiling. "I was aiding Gregson's  friends but now. As you must have seen, the man was not able to stand for  some time  nor to speak until he had been swabbed with gin and water. But the first words were remarkable enough to send me post haste after you."

"And what were they?" asked the captain. "Why he blinks  around Richmond with the corner of an eye that was left him. “Bill” says he, what happened, lad , was I beat ? It. was a game thing for a man in his condition not to know the day had gone against him. For sure  Massa Gregson,” says Richmond. 

“Well” says Gregson, and he was talking with a mouth like a draw purse, “That’s just the start of it. Now were introduced we’ll have a session in earnest” 

“ Then he means to ask another match” demanded Barclay .”just as soon as he can find backers and rest from his hurts”. Here’s news, Gully” said the Captain turning to the champion who was easing himself into the softest corner of the vehicle. “I expected no less and could hope for no more from “Bob” Gregson” said Gully with a grin. “ It would take more than mortal man to convince him he had the worst of it. However I’ll hammer him again if he wants it and glad of the chance” 

“There you are Jackson, what more could you ask” chuckled Barclay as he entered the carriage with Cribb. 

The Last Battle

“Nothing more certainly, and you’ll admit the Lancashire lad deserves another chance." "He does, if  ever a man did," said Barclay, answering the other's salute as the horses plunged forward. On the road the three men discussed the news. They agreed it was quite in keeping with the character of the courageous Gregson to seek another fight while yet blind and staggering under one defeat. 

“It should he a good fight," said Gully, "and I am as anxious to bring it on as he is." "Why''" asked Barclay, in some surprise. "For the same reason a soldier looks forward to the last engagement of  a campaign” returned Gully. “This time I felt him out, next time I will crush him.After that I shall leave the ring” His two friends stared at him while he nursed his stiffened arm into a more comfortable position. 

"What's  that? What for should y' leave the ring?" asked Cribb. "Because then I shall have the championship beyond all question," said Gully. "Look now, I was not made to be a boxer all my life. A boxer I started and a boxer I'll stay until there's no one dares say I'm not the champion. Then I'll put the honor from me, Instead of waiting until yourself, Tom, or someone else, tears it away." 

"Ambition," suggested Barclay. "Ay," said Gully, quietly. "That's what some call it. All I wait for now is a decisive, victory. What's left for a man when he's at the top? Nothing but a fall at the end. I’am for climbing onto another ladder before I’am shaken of this.” 

It was in this spirit that John Gully awaited his next encounter with Gregson. born in Bristol, In 1783, Gully had followed the calling of his father, a master butcher, but at the age of twenty-one had become convinced that his great strength and agility fitted him for quick success in the ring. Like Jackson, he had scorned to work his way by slow and painful degrees up through the ranks of the minor fighters, but had made his play at no less a person than the reigning champion himself.

It was the measure of the great natural ability and his calm faith in his own powers that his maiden effort all but lowered the crest of “The Game Chicken”. Gully was fully determined that his second battle with Gregson, which would be his third appearance in public, should round out his pugilistic career. He was conscious of nothing remarkable In such a brief and brilliant ring history as the one he mapped for himself. Quite simply, he had turned to the sport as the easiest and most congenial method of gaining a foothold in life, money and friends and reputation. Possessed of a good mind, a ready wit and a strong character, he saw that as a champion he would have many opportunities for advancing himself. He knew that he was capable of achievements beyond those of pugilism. He could make the title a stepping stone. Men of wealth and position were ardent followers of the science and did not hesitate to use their influence in aid of favorite boxers. Gully planned to draw such men about him and to cultivate them.

He was well equipped for his immediate task. Indomitable courage, was his and a body that never shrank from pain. His technique was not remarkable, but he was quick to learn and adopt the methods of the best fighter of the day. It might be said that John Gully's entire training in pugilism was acquired during the course of his sixty-four round battle with "Hen" Pearce. This notable adaptability was his most striking characteristic. The annals of the fistic sport show no other man who came to the front at one stride and attained the championship in two. At this time he was twenty-four years old. 

Picked for Gully.

"Rob" Gregson was a formidable fighter, whose fame came to rest, upon the fact that he was the keen competitor of two champions. He was twenty nine years of age and had been captain of a Liverpool packet before bringing his tremendous strength and endurance forward to support a claim for pugilistic honours. His Lancashire supporters had picked him out as the best available rival to Gully and in his first attempt to win the title he amply proved himself a dangerous customer able to take any amount of punishment. In after years he was widely known in London sporting circles as the landlord of "Bob's" Chop House, which was long the headquarters for fight, followers. 

About: a month after the meeting at Six Mile Bottom Gully, who was staying in Norwich Received the following communication from Gregson: 

Mr Gully – it is the wish of myself and friends that I should try my fortune with you in  Another battle, for two hundred a side. If you are inclined to give me the opportunity I will thank you to say so and also to name the time when it will be convenient to meet , to put down stakes and arrange particulars.


The Champion answered :

Mr Gregson, I accept your challenge, but wish you would make the match for 250 instead of 200 a side. I shall not delay a moment in returning to town to make the necessary arrangements as to time and place.


On December 22,1807, the two boxers accompanied by backers and friends met by agreement at the Coach and horses, St Martin’s lane, and discussed the terms of the coming fight. It was decided that the exact spot should be determined as conditions indicated, since the authorities were likely to interfere , but the battle should take place near the scene of a race meet in the following spring. These articles were drawn up; 

"Conditions of the battle:—

"Fjrst—The battle to take place on the Tuesday following the first, spring meeting between the hours of ten and twelve A. M. "Second—To fight in a roped square of forty feet. "Third—Neither to fall without a. knockdown blow, subject to the decision of the umpires. "Fourth—Three umpires to be chosen upon the ground, viz., two and one in reference.



               JOHN JACKSON


Pitching the Ring.

Word was passed among the knowing that it would be well to meet somewhere in the vicinity of Woburn on May 10,1808. The magistrates were active however and the great assemblage on hand for the event was blown about by conflicting rumours of the exact spot until the estate of Sir John Sebright in Hertfordshire was settled upon. Here a forty foot ring was staked and roped out in the center of an acre field. Hundreds of fashionables and distinguished patrons of the sport were present as well as most of the best known professionals and amateurs. “Tom” Cribb and Horton, a Bristol boxer, fought a preliminary in which Cribb proved the victor after twenty five rounds. 

It was well along in the afternoon when Gully and Gregson entered the ring and began to strip. A soaking shower had left the turf soft, and both Prepared to fight, in silk stockings without shoes. They wore while silk breeches. Harry Lee was to act as second for Gregson and the veteran “Joe” Ward for Gully. Captain Barclay was selected as deciding umpire. A few moments before the calling of time Gregson was able to place a final bet of 50 upon himself. 

When the combatants advanced toward the mark for the handclasp the gathering fell silent, every eye measuring the appearance of the rivals. Gregson was a gigantic man, built on massive rugged lines, six feet one and a half inches in height and weighing 218 pounds when ready for action. He was big boned and big muscled, hard as iron and trained by the cunning of Mendoza, under whose care he had placed himself to the pink of condition. He bore himself resolutely and with confidence. 

 Gully was about six feet in height and weighed some twenty pounds less than his  adversary. His figure was not notably symmetrical, nor did it seem to promise a high degree of athletic skill. He was thick limbed and solidly put together,  but lacked  any remarkable development of the chest or arms. He showed, at first glance, to great disadvantage against Gregson,  but those who had seen him fight knew that the seeming was misleading.  Suppleness, agility and great strength were the qualities that lay back

Of his squared and sturdy  form. 

The champion himself approached the combat with Perfect coolness and possession, gauging the huge bulk and brave bearing of his antagonist keenly. He was aware that Gregson had worked hard to prepare himself: for the return match and that he was believed to have improved wonderfully in science. He was conscious, too, that his best move would be to gain a definite lead in the first exchange to remind Gregson sharply that he had his former conqueror to face. As he whipped back from the salute he rapidly planned a campaign that was to result in one of the most remarkable first rounds in fistic history. 

The crowd scarcely breathed as the boxers fell on guard and began to spar warily, feeling for safe play and warming slowly into action. Gregson proved to be surprisingly nimble on his feet and there was promise of a clever exhibition before the real work of the battle was opened.neither man exerted himself, but rapped in with light blows and feints. Gregson was at ease, secure behind his powerful guard. Gully was watching closely. As he hoped the big fellow expected nothing serious so soon in the game and was attentive rather to pose and display than to aggression. 

IN Whirlwind Combat

The thing happened between two winks, Gully was sparring along neatly apparently quite willing to approach the issue gradually. He feinted with his right, swung lightly with his left and stepped back. Suddenly at the instant his adversary guard was slightly relaxed he launched himself forward with all the whirlwind fury of mid combat, lashing out with a straight drive of the left that caught Gregson a terrific smash upon the mouth. Gregson, bewildered, staggered and flung out his arms wildly. But Gully followed on and in with a repetition of the first blow landing full on Gregson’s throat sending him to the sod gasping and crimsoned. 

Not a cry or a murmur had come from the throng during the absorbing rally. This skillful masterly move brought a spontaneous yell of applause and odds rose from even to six to four on the champion. Gregson sought his corner without assistance and sat upon his seconds knee frowning and shaking his head .Gully observed him with a quite smile. He had carried out his scheme to perfection, just as he had known he would. 

At the end of the half minute Gregson stepped to the center eagerly. His manner had changed and every watcher knew that he would not be taken unawares again. The big boxer was angry, alert and resolved to even scores.Gully read his purpose easily enough and was quite willing to meet him knee to knee. The effect of that first advantage would not be lost and it only remained to hold the lead thus gained.They sprang into the second round with equal vigor. 

Gully opened with a feint and Gregson rushing in slammed a tremendous drive of his huge right.The champion side stepped evading a blow that would have crushed his jaw.gully quickly found that wisdom indicated close quarters where the giant could not find him with the full steam of such smashes and pressed into a fierce rally. Gregson found himself hard put to it to guard himself, so quick and well placed were the champions blows, but on taking a light tap to the ribs brushed aside the others arm and landed a hard clip to the side of the head. He was not to slow at following up and a second lunge ripped Gully’s ear. The champion stood up to his punishment and slashed some telling blows to the body when as they were milling with spirit Gregson suddenly whirled on his feet and hammered home a terrible back handed blow on the loins as he drew to one side. 

Gully’s strength was sapped and he tottered, but was able to save himself by closing and wrestling. Greson bore him back but was unable to make a clean fall of it and they came to the ground together. The champion determined to play for his opponents face and eyes as the most effective method of Disabling his aim. At the opening of the third round he started to force the pace.Gregson met his onslaught with a well directed straight drive to the chest, knocking Gully across the ring and pursuing fiercely. The champion was forced to give ground before the determined attack but waited his chance and slipped over two smashes to the face that drew crimson. Gregson enraged sought to close and Gully landed another rocking swing to the side of the head before they came to grips.The big fellow exerted all his strength in the wrestle and Gully was no match for him.he snatched the Champion of his feet and threw him handily. 

Gully’s Offence

In the interval it was seen that Gregson had suffered severely, his head swollen and bleeding.Gully felt himself uninjured save for the weakening blow to the loins. At the opening of the fourth round he took the initiative once more and attacked fiercely planting two vigorous drives to the forehead. Parrying Gregsons return he balanced himself for another blow but slipped on the wet ground. 

Gregson introduced the fifth round with another of his pile driver smashes. Gully unable to get in beyond Gregson’s extended left arm.  The champion evaded the blow and Gregson stepped to the clinch.The huge boxer now gave a remarkable but unprofessional demonstration of his muscular superiority by seizing Gully about the thighs and lifting him several feet.From this position he threw his man with great violence .The move was generally considered to be most unfair and cries of disapproval came from all parts of the ring. The champion however reassured his friends by rising nimbly and walking to his corner with a smile. 

Both fighters were fresh and willing as they set to for the sixth round. They clashed immediately, standing knee to knee. Gully took several hard blows to the ribs and paid for them with slashes to the head, rallying  manfully. The champion's superior science was here clearly shown, for he landed two to his opponent's one and parried Gregson s most threatening blows with great skill and decision Gregson, finding himself still unable to plant a drive with all his power behind it. fell back to his stiff, left armed guard, which, kept Gully off in the danger zone and gave him his advantage of reach. The champion redoubled his agility, pressing hard and cutting Gregson's face repeatedly. Gregson lost his temper under these galling tactics and rushed, taking all chances. Gully was unable to stop him and gave back while disputing every step. Gregson forced him to the ropes and when the champion made a final stand succeeded at last in planting one of his terrific left handers to the side of Gully's head Gully staggered into a clinch and tripped, pulling Gregson with him. In the struggle they fell through the ropes and landed outside the ring. Odds were now two to one on the champion.

Gul1y though shaken by the last blow, was greatly Elated by the punishment he had inflicted and was Confident that he had the battle well in hand. He began the seventh round with great spirit and dash.Gregson, who was winded, tried to fight shy and Gully made the most of the opportunity. Boring past Gregson's long guard he smashed home to the head, following up with the same blow time after time, six Clean drives he landed, and at the next he caught his opponent fairly on the point of the chin, lifting him off his balance and sending him down. During this round Gregson had not touched him. 

Gregson came to the murk for the eighth round bent upon revenge, a fearsome, battered, raging figure.He flung upon his man with a fury that Gully could not meet and drove him at will. The champion protected himself only at the expense of incessant watchfulness and. a display of remarkable science. Twice Gregson beat through his guard, but he got away without heavy damage. Gregson, pounding with his tremendous arms, found his prey escaping him and, roaring with anger, closed. Gully was as a child in his hands, and the big fellow dashed him to the ground. 

While he was being carried to the corner Gully was conscious that he had received a sharp check and had suffered more than he could well afford, but the sight of his rival, panting on "Joe" Ward's knee, reassured him. The giant was in great distress with his wind and had lost the sight of his left eye. His face had been hammered to a pulp and his head was greatly swollen. All the champion's spirit came back to him as he noted the situation. He saw that Gregson's effort had been made In desperation and that he would never be so dangerous again. 


End of the Battle.

'At the opening of the ninth round Gully danced to the centre with renewed vigor and awaited the slower  Gregson, whose chest was laboring painfully as they fell on guard and rallied Gully suddenly repeated his tactics of the first round lashing out and landing a smash to the right eye that had all his weight behind it. Gregson sank to his knees under the blow like a stricken bull. In the tenth round they close quickly and fell together. 

Gregson was nearly blind as he advanced for the eleventh round .he put his hand to his left eye in a dazed way and looked at it, then under the whip of sudden anger whirled up with his arms and started to mill.Gully evaded him easily and knocked him down with another straight drive. In fall Gregson managed to stumble forward and get in a back handed blow to the side of the face. Gregson led of the twelfth round with a good driving jolt to the chest.Gully countered with a flush hit to the mouth that again sent the other down. . Gully was leading off the thirteenth round when he slipped and fell. 

The game was now wholly in Gully's hands, and the next two rounds he conducted in conquering style. Gregson  was confused and used little judgment In guarding or countering. In the sixteenth round, however, under the advice of his second, he closed quickly, attempting to bring his strength into play. Gully tried to avoid him and in so doing gave Gregson an opening which the big fellow improved with a telling swing that knocked the champion down. 

In the seventeenth round Gregson again yielded to anger and started a wild battering attack. Gully hit himand got away almost at will for Gregson had lost most of his speed and could not follow up. After suffering heavily in the rally Gregson  tried to retreat in his turn but Gully ripped in a stinging drive, caught him as he was about to fall, hit him again,until  Gregson dropped almost senseless. The next ten rounds were short and were simple successive sappings at Gregsons fortitude and great courage.The champion was no longer in any danger. The end was in sight. It was simply a question of wearing Gregson down to a point where flesh and bone could go no further. 

At the opening of the twenty seventh round Gully bored in and suddenly clipped a swift swing under the left ear. Gregson went down in a heap and was carried to his corner as helpless as a sack. He was supported toward the center for the twenty eighth round but was unable to make the distance and sank to the ground.The efforts of his attendants were unavailing and after the elapse of the half minute Gully was declared the winner. The battle had lasted one hour and a quarter.

Before putting on his clothes Gully stepped to the ropes and motioned for silence. The cheering crowd gave him ills opportunity and he addressed the leading patrons of the ring In the front ranks. "I thank you for your approval and kindness," he said. "I wish to say that. I shall now retire and take up business at the Plough, in Carey street, where I shall be glad to entertain you. I have fought with a Partly disabled left arm and I do not think that Gregson  can demand further satisfaction from me. I should not have accepted his challenge this time save that I felt in honor bound to a brave and willing fighter