William Thompson 'Bendigo' (1811-1880)

Photo:Bendigo pictured c1839

Bendigo pictured c1839


Nottingham's famous bare-knuckle boxer

William Thompson, better known as Bendigo, the famous Nottingham pugilist, was reputedly one of triplets, known locally as Abednego, Mesach and Shadrach, (reflecting the Biblical trio who were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar). However, the record of his baptism at St Mary's, Church, Nottingham, on 16 October 1811, records him as the younger of twins.
He was the youngest of 21 children born to Benjamin Thompson, a mechanic in the lace industry, and his wife, Mary.
William learned the trade of iron turning, but also became a bare-knuckle boxer in his youth. 
In 1832 he beat Bill Faulker, notorious at the time in Nottingham, and in the following year he defeated Charles Martin. In his first challenge, reported in Bell's Life in London in 1835, he named himself Abednego of Nottingham, and from that date he was known as Bendigo.
It was his intense rivalry with Hucknall fighter Benjamin Caunt that captured the imagination of fight fans of the time. Their first important fight was on 21 July 1835, near Appleby House, about 30 miles from Nottingham. In the twenty-third round Caunt, wearied with Bendigo's continually hitting him and then dropping to make any retaliation a 'foul', struck him a blow while he was on his second's knee; this foul blow lost Caunt the fight.
On 24 May 1836, near Sheffield, he defeated John Brassey Leechman in fifty-two rounds after a severe contest. 
On 12th February 1939, in the presence of 15,000 people, he fought Deaf Burke at Heather, Leicestershire. This was the first fight under the new London rules and when in the tenth round Burke butted him twice, the referee gave a decision that the blows were 'foul' and Bendigo won.
On 23 March 1840, while somersaulting Bendigo hurt his kneecap and was laid up for two years. His last appearance in the ring took place on 15 June 1850, aged 38, at Mildenhall, Suffolk, when, for £200 a side, he fought Tom Paddock.
After his retirement from the ring, Bendigo took to drink, and was confined in the Nottingham house of correction twenty-eight times. But after attending a revivalist meeting in 1872, he 'saw the light', took the teetotal pledge and became an evangelist preacher in Nottingham and district.
Bendigo died at Beeston, Nottingham, on 23 August 1880, after a fall downstairs which broke his ribs and  punctured a lung. He was buried in St Mary's Cemetery, off St Ann's Well Road, Nottingham. Today, the tomb can be seen in St Ann's Rest Garden, part of Victoria Park, Nottingham, marked by an impressive carved lion.


This page was added by H W on 28/08/2012.
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There is a campaign to erect a statue of Bendigo. Go to bendigofund.co.uk for details

By Alan Dawson
On 26/09/2017

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