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robert.snell1@ntlworld.com

the boston belt

 

 

IN the days of bare knuckles there was only one champion, and though there were one or two exceptions Tom Sayers is the most notable little men, or men little by comparison, were quite out of the running. Champion, therefore, meant Champion the best man that could be found. There was no qualification of the title no middle, welter, feather, bantam, fly, or paperweight.

JACK SCROGGINS AND NED TURNER

 

IN the days of bare knuckles there was only one champion, and though there were one or two exceptions Tom Sayers is the most notable little men, or men little by comparison, were quite out of the running. Champion, therefore, meant Champion the best man that could be found. There was no qualification of the title no middle, welter, feather, bantam, fly, or paperweight. 

If a first-rate boxer of eight stone liked to fight another of sixteen stone I suppose he could, but, rather naturally, he didn't. In the old annals, though there is some record of the lesser men lesser very often only in size and not in skill or courage they are overshadowed by the big fellows far more than they are to-day. Even now, of course, from the spectacular point of view, big men heavy-weights cause far more excitement. And, as a rule, a good fight between two good big men is better worth seeing than a good fight between two good little men. The dramatic atmosphere is more intense, blows are harder, there is (though it is overrated) a certain splendour in sheer size. 

But championship battles both now and in the past have been by no means necessarily the best battles : rather the contrary. Many a pot-house quarrel has provided better sport than a stupendously advertised World's Championship with heaven only knows how ridiculously many thousands of pounds "hanging" upon the issue. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were, then, plenty of good little men, though we hear less about them than we do of the champions. Jack Scroggins was one, Ned Turner another. Scroggins may, by present standards, be called a light middle-weight: he was just under 11 stone. Turner was 10 stone 4 lb. just over the present light-weight limit. The first time they fought the ring was broken by rowdy spectators, and the result was a draw. 

The second battle took place at Sawbridgeworth on June 10th, 1817, and Jack Scroggins, who had never yet been beaten, staked 120 to 80 on the event. Ned Turner the Welshman referred to by George Borrow

in the passage quoted in the Introduction was a very fine boxer, and at the outset put up an almost impenetrable defence. Some minutes in the first round went by before the two men really began to fight. Scroggins was accustomed to dash in and hit his man at the very beginning, but something in Turner's attitude daunted him, and he held off. But a start had to be made, and after a while he did rush, came close to his man, and gave him a light hit from which he fell. Scroggins had been a sailor and was a jolly little man, ever eager to see the bright side of a situation. In the present case he was absurdly elated at his trifling success, and dashed in again. 

This time the Welshman caught him hard on the face twice, following these blows with another in the ribs, but when they wrestled for a fall he was underneath. Scroggins saw now that he had taken on a better man than he had ever faced before, and was correspondingly cautious. Round after round Turner showed himself quicker with his fists, the sailor stronger in a close. In the fourth round Turner sent in a vicious blow on his opponent's neck which, Scroggins said later on, decided the fight. It is true that he threw Turner again andagain after that, but he was a hurt man. 

At the end of the fifth round a troop of Yeomanry were seen approaching, clattering down the lane which ran alongside the field of battle. It was thought at first by the ring officials and spectators that these soldiers had come to spoil sport; but as a matter of fact they had heard of the fight and had merely determined to see it.

After this the exchanges were almost equal. Each man planted severe blows, and Turner was undermost when they wrestled for a fall. It was not until the twelfth round that he succeeded in throwing Scroggins. In the following round Turner landed a blow which sent his opponent almost spinning, but the sailorman did not take advantage of it to fall, but dashed in again with commendable pluck. Turner was now a hot favourite. 

He was knocked down in the next round, but not heavily. He was quick and agile at close quarters, though a bad wrestler; and he generally managed to put in a series of fierce half-arm blows before Scroggins could hold him. The seventeenth round was interesting, as it gave an instance of the same kind of temper in Scroggins, remarkable in Humphries when he fought Mendoza, the Jew. Turner gave him a mighty hit in the face which must have hurt him considerably. He turned round, not from the force of the blow, but in real fear, the instinctive desire to get away even to run away, out of reach. And then, even as he turned, Jack Scroggins remembered himself, swung right round in his stride and dashed at his adversary again. As they came together Turner hit him un mercifully, but was yet again underneath when they fell to the ground. 

And so the fight went on, Scroggins invariably getting the worst of the exchange of blows, Turner the wrestling. The twenty-second was a tremendous round. They began with a furious rally, giving blow for blow with all their might, got away from each other in a moment, and then at it again. Scroggins charged in with his head down, and Turner met him with a vicious uppercut which caught him on the neck; and then, in trying for a fall, was underneath once more. The plucky little sailor was now visibly distressed and his wind was badly touched. He gasped for breath, and though he made his characteristic dash in the next round, it was clear that he was being out-fought. The betting on Turner rose to 5 and 6-1, and Scroggins tottered at the scratch, so weak now that when he lunged forward to hit he fell over. Turner hit him as he pleased, and Scroggins replied with wild blows which beat the air. He was nearly done by the time they fell in the twenty-fifth round. 

The men's seconds, for some reason, instead of keeping opposite corners, nursed their principals between the rounds side by side. As they sat on the knees of their bottle-holders, Turner stretched out a hand and took Scroggins's to show him that he admired his pluck and that there was no ill-will. And then, immediately afterwards, on resuming, he planted a blow in the middle of the sailor's face which knocked him clean off  his legs. Such is sport. It is a wonderful thing to show your admiration and affection for a man at one moment and then almost in the same breath to hurt him dreadfully in cold blood. 

No wonder that foreigners think us mad. It was at about this period of the battle that Scroggins had a strong nip of brandy, but he was too far gone for such mild remedies. Again Turner caught him as hard as he could hit, and Scroggins backed away to the side of the ring. Turner beckoned to him and called on him to come and fight, but Scroggins was getting all the rest he could, and Turner in the end had to go after him. The Welshman was still fresh, for all the severe falls that he had suffered. And yet, the sailor with his wind gone, his eyes almost closed, his face swollen and mutilated, though he could not see to hit, even in the thirtieth round he continued to throw his opponent. But Jack Scroggins was quite dazed after that, and only stood at all by the force of his will. Turner upper-cut him again and again. In the thirty-third round he went down before a light hit, and on being carried to his corner gave in. Turner is said to have left the ring with hardly a mark on his face. 

But the plucky little sailorman still believed that he was as good as the Welshman, and he challenged Turner to a third battle. This took place at Shepperton, on the Thames, on October 7th, 1818. The fight lasted for over an hour and a half, and Scroggins was again beaten, this time in the thirty-ninth round, when Turner hit him so that he sprawled over the ropes and was quite unable to come up to time. Otherwise it was a repetition of the previous encounter. Turner was by far the better boxer and hit his opponent as he liked. Scroggins was a rushing and dangerous fighter and a really good wrestler, and until he was weakened by repeated blows, ended round after round by throwing Turner to the grass. This time Scroggins was exhausted sooner, but with very real courage refused to give in, and fought as long as he could stand.

 

As in the previous fight, Turner showed himself a chivalrous and sportsmanlike opponent, bearing not the slightest ill-will, nor showing undue elation when he had decisively beaten his indomitable opponent.