In-depth blog about former slave and boxing legend Bill Richmond (1763-1829); subject of Luke G. Williams' biography, published by Amberley in August 2015.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Richmond sites: Copthorne Common

Cribb v Molineaux descends into chaos - Art by Trevor Von Eeden
In the third of an occasional series, Luke G. Williams looks at some of the sites associated with Bill Richmond's life that pugilistic fans might like to visit. The series continues with a look at the locations in and around Sussex connected with the controversial contest in December 1810 between Richmond's protege Tom Molineaux and Tom Cribb for the Championship of England ...

NB: Thanks to Alex Joanides for invaluable advice and assistance with this article. Check out his website here

The Tom Cribb-Tom Molineaux prize fight that took place on 18 December 1810 at Copthorne Common in Sussex remains one of the most controversial and significant contests in sporting history. For this reason - as well as due to my fascination with the life of Richmond and the history of boxing - I have always wanted to visit the location where this contest took place, and last week this ambition was finally realised.

Before I examine the sites I visited last week that have a connection to the contest, a bit of background for the benefit of those who do not know much about the fight and its significance. In 1810, under the canny guidance and expert management of black pugilist Bill Richmond, Tom Molineaux - a former slave from the United States - electrified England's boxing landscape with a series of impressive victories. By popular demand, these wins earned him a contest with Tom Cribb, the reigning champion of All England.

Although the English sense of 'sporting fair play' recognised that Molineaux was easily the best contender to face Cribb, there was palpable nervousness surrounding the prospect of a black boxer becoming Champion of England. Lest we forget, this was an age when slavery was still in operation across the British Empire, while constant years of war with France meant that the English put great symbolic faith in their pugilistic heroes. Champions such as Cribb, Belcher, Gully et al were living symbols of the English characteristics of pluck and heart that were needed to defeat Napoleon. Therefore, for the English champion to be deposed by a foreigner - and a black one at that - was, to many, an unthinkably awful prospect. Indeed, in the build-up to Cribb-Molineaux one newspaper went as far to argue that a Molineaux victory would bring "eternal dishonour" to England.

In the event, Molineaux did not win, but he came damn close and many - myself included - firmly believe that had it not been for foul play, specifically a ring invasion, he would have been declared the winner. (The fight and its fairness or otherwise are examined in detail in my book Richmond Unchained).

As well as its socio-cultural undertones, the first Cribb-Molineaux contest was also significant in terms of sporting history, as it has a good case to be regarded as the first major international sporting spectacle of all time. True, foreign fighters had contested against English boxers in the past - for example, Bob Whitaker's contest with the Venetian Gondolier in 1733 and Frenchman Petit's bout against Jack Slack in 1754 - but these were relatively low-key contests in comparison to Cribb versus Molineaux, which attracted around 10,000 spectators and also made the pages of foreign, as well as domestic, newspapers. The first international events in football, cricket and rugby and other major sports would not occur until many decades in the future.

You would think that the location of such a historic event would be well signposted and a well-known landmark, but, sadly, that is not the case. Much of the glorious (and not so glorious!) history of boxing is unmarked and seemingly forgotten these days, and sadly the Cribb v Molineaux fight is no exception.

Indeed, even working out the exact location of the fight has proved to be something of a challenge! This is partly because accounts from 1810 are pretty vague concerning where exactly the contest took place. Most reports of the contest utilise the variant spelling of Copthall (as opposed to Copthorne) Common, and pinpoint the fight as having taken place in Sussex, close to the border with Surrey, with several mentioning the common's proximity to the town of East Grinstead. The screen grabs below show what the geography of Copthorne Common was like circa 1805, five years before the fight, as well as the comparative geography today. A study of these maps makes it clear that the majority of the northern area of the common no longer exists.

Copthorn (sic.) Common circa 1805
Copthorne Common today
As we can see from the above maps, the modern-day A264 - also known as Copthorne Common Road - was the dividing line between the counties of Sussex and Surrey in 1810. Incidentally, the contemporary references to the fight taking place in Sussex, as opposed to Surrey are hardly surprising given the relative leniency of magistrates in Sussex towards prize fighting at this time compared to their Surrey counterparts.

Taking the geography and county border into account, it is highly likely that the location of the fight was somewhere along the south-side of what is now Copthorne Common Road.

However, where exactly?

Thankfully, contemporary sources provide us with a further, possibly decisive clue. One of the most detailed accounts of the Cribb-Molineaux fight states that: "the spot [where the fight took place] was situated nearly at the foot of a hill, which protected the combatants from the chilling wind and rain from the eastward."

Driving along the gradual downwards slope of Copthorne Common Road it is immediately evident which areas of the common fit these descriptions: namely, the area today occupied by Court House Farm and the adjacent area to the farm, which is now part of Copthorne Golf Course. The maps and photos below outline these locations.

The likely location of Cribb v Molineaux - either immediately south west of the road marked Court House Farm or slightly further south-west in the area now occupied by Copthorne golf course
The sign for Court House Farm, the possible location of Cribb v Molineaux 1

Could this field at Court House Farm have been the very turf where Cribb faced Molineaux?

Author Luke G. Williams at Court House Farm

Another view of author Luke G. Williams at Court House Farm

The entrance to Copthorne Golf Course - locations in this area of the village are too high to be consistent with the original descriptions of the location of Cribb v Molineaux, however the area of the golf course south of the A264 is a good fit
Having visited Copthorne Common, I then decided to visit two other sites associated with the fight, namely the locations where the two fighters and their respective 'teams' lodged before the contest - the Dorset Arms pub in East Grinstead - where Richmond and Molineaux stayed - and the Crown in Turner's Hill - where the champion Cribb resided.

The Dorset Arms is 5.3 miles east of the fight's likely location on Copthorne Common. Driving the same route that Molineaux and Richmond would have travelled to the fight in 1810 was a wonderful experience - I even allowed myself the luxury of wondering what conflicting emotions of excitement and nervousness must have been racing through their minds as they approached their date with pugilistic destiny!

Their journey that day - most likely in a barouche and then on foot - would have been far from straightforward given the horrendous weather, as one account of the fight makes clear: "A more unfavourable day for the sport could not possibly have been selected, as it rained in torrents the whole of the day ... the last three miles of the road were almost knee-deep with clay; so that it can excite no surprise to learn that many horses were knocked up, and the riders, as well as pedestrians, never reached the place of action."

As the below images illustrate, although the frontage of the Dorset Arms has been modernised, it is clearly the same building as in the early 1900s, when it was known as the Dorset Arms Hotel. It seems unlikely that the pub would have been rebuilt between 1810 and the 1900s.

The Dorset Arms today

The Dorset Arms in the early 1900s
Sadly, the temporary residence in 1810 of two historic boxers has not been memorialised in the pub, although there are a selection of interesting historical prints on the walls, as well as a series of fine beers on tap and a good food menu!

Luke G. Williams inside the Dorset Arms

Viewing the Dorset Arms from the rear you get an idea of where the stables probably were in 1810, which possibly housed the horses which dragged Richmond and Molineaux's carriage some of the way to Copthorne Common.

Rear view of the Dorset Arms
Having visited the Dorset Arms, next on my list was the The Crown Pub, where Cribb stayed before defending his title.

Located in Turner's Hill, Cribb's shorter 3.4 mile journey to Copthorne Common may well mean that he was able to leave later in the morning for the fight than Molineaux was. Could this have been an often overlooked reason why his stamina appeared superior in the latter stages of the fight and he appeared less affected by the terrible weather than Molineaux? Perhaps ...

Like the Dorset Arms, the exterior of the Crown has been modernised, but the original core of the building most likely remains the same as in 1810. Although there are many fox-hunting prints on the wall, there is no recognition of the pub's pugilistic heritage, which is a real shame.

Like the Dorset Arms, the Crown has a great selection of beers and a wonderful menu. The dining area of the pub, with its low beams, gives an indication of what the interior of the pub may have looked like in 1810. I can just picture Cribb and his chief second Joe Ward huddled by the fireside while discussing tactics for the fight!

If you are a Cribb, Molineaux or Richmond fan, then a visit to Copthorne followed by visits to these two pubs, makes for a pretty enjoyable itinerary!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Risky Regencies interview

I've been pretty busy lately, hence only sporadic updates to this website. Therefore over the next week or so I'll be fully updating the blog with some recent links and developments concerning Richmond Unchained.

The first of these updates is to let you all know about an interview which I recently conducted with the very entertaining and always interesting Risky Regencies website.

Click here to read the piece in full.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The art of Richmond Unchained - part 1

Since the publication of Richmond Unchained I have received numerous enquiries and compliments about the book's artwork. In order to satisfy readers' curiosity I will be writing a series of articles describing the thinking behind the artwork and the process of working with the brilliant artist Trevor Von Eeden to produce it ...

From the moment I signed a contract with Amberley to publish Richmond Unchained, one of the most important, but challenging, aspects of the book I had to consider was the artwork.

The accepted convention with historical biographies is to illustrate them with a 'picture section' in the middle of the book (is there a technical name for such a section? If so, I don't know what it is!) I wanted such a section within Richmond Unchained, in order to feature the many prints and illustrations of Bill that have been produced over the years, however, this idea alone didn't satisfy me. 

You see, I love the style of illustrated fiction which was so prevalent during the Georgian and Victorian eras. To me there is something inherently romantic, inventive and wonderful about Cruikshank's illustrations for Pierce Egan's Life in London, or Robert Seymour's plates in The Pickwick Papers, or Sidney Paget's Sherlock Holmes illustrations in The Strand magazine ...
Tom getting the best of a Charley from Life in London

Seymour's plate Mr Pickwick Addresses the Club from The Pickwick Papers
A Paget illustration of Holmes in fine pugilistic form
All of which got me thinking about whether such a style of 'letterpress plus illustrations' could work in a modern biography ...

It was a question I thought long and hard about. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of utilising the illustrated fiction convention within Richmond Unchained, but decided to use a more modern form of illustrations, namely comic- book / graphic-novel style illustrations. Thus, I hoped, the book would blend old-world charm with a more modern sensibility.

From the start, I also had the perfect artist in mind for these illustrations - the brilliant Trevor Von Eeden, whose work for DC and Marvel Comics, among others, I have always admired. Trevor also has proven form as a boxing illustrator, having created the wonderful two-part graphic novel The Original Johnson about the life of heavyweight legend Jack Johnson. This work had led me to commission him to produce illustrations for Boxiana: Volume 1, an anthology of boxing writing I published last year. (As an aside, in my dealings with Trevor - all conducted via email - I'd found him to be one of the most fascinating, reliable and trustworthy people I'd ever met, as well as one of the most talented!)

Trevor Von Eeden's rendering of Jack Johnson from Boxiana Vol 1
Initially my publishers were pretty ambivalent about my idea. My contract specified that Richmond Unchained would contain a certain number of illustrations, and as far as the publishers were concerned these would be in the middle of the book. When I raised the idea of further illustrations to accompany each chapter they were non-committal, pointing out that any 'extra' illustrations could possibly be accommodated, but only if my text was shortened, so that the book's overall page count was not compromised.

At this stage I was all too aware that I was probably going to overshoot my contracted word count by about 10,000-15,000 words, and the sane decision would have been to drop the idea of illustrations altogether. However, I couldn't shake the idea from my head. Therefore I decided to steam ahead and commission illustrations from Trevor myself. Once my publishers saw Trevor's work I was convinced that they would come around to my idea and expand my page count. If not, then I would at least have a collection of original Bill Richmond illustrations all of my own!

With the deadline for submitting the manuscript of Richmond Unchained fast approaching, I soon realised that there was not enough time to commission illustrations for every single chapter. As a compromise, I decided to aim for 18 illustrations, and sketched out a 'brief' for Trevor detailing my basic ideas for each image ...

To be continued ...

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The converging worlds of Death and Mr Pickwick and Richmond Unchained

Since Richmond Unchained was published I've had the good fortune to chat or correspond with many people online who have an interest in either boxing, black history or Georgian history.
Author Stephen Jarvis, whose brilliant novel Death and Mr Pickwick was published earlier this year, is one of the most fascinating people I have had the pleasure to correspond with recently. 
To our mutual delight, having both enjoyed each other's books, Stephen and I discovered that there are many parallels between the 'world' of Death and Mr Pickwick and the 'world' of Richmond Unchained.
After he finished reading Richmond Unchained, Stephen kindly invited me to contribute a series of guest posts to the Death and Mr Pickwick Facebook page exploring these connections.
The full series of posts and images I wrote appeared over the past week and I have republished them below.
Click on the links to visit the original posts on the Death and Mr Pickwick page and see the discussions that sprung up around each post.
You can also click here for my review of Death and Mr Pickwick which I advise EVERYONE to read!

Guest post no. 1 - 19 September 2015:

Today, I shall be posting the first in a series of five guest posts by Luke G. Williams, the author of the great new book Richmond Unchained, which I recently reviewed here. So, let me step back and hand over to Luke.
My book Richmond Unchained, which was published in August, is the first ever biography of slave turned bare-knuckle boxer Bill Richmond (1763-1829). Interestingly, many characters and personalities from Richmond’s colourful life also feature in Death and Mr Pickwick, chief among them the writer Pierce Egan and the artist George Cruikshank, who collaborated on the work Life in London.
Before he wrote Life in London, Egan won fame as a boxing writer, with the first volume of his legendary pugilistic journal Boxiana appearing in 1812. In this groundbreaking work Egan featured a lengthy and laudatory profile of Richmond, whose likeness was also captured by Cruikshank.
In what is the first biographical essay ever written about Richmond, Egan introduces him as “a man of colour, and a native of America” and argues that he is entitled to a “niche among the first-rate heroes of the milling art”. Egan concludes his profile by hailing Richmond as “intelligent, communicative, and well-behaved.”
Cruikshank’s original portrait of Bill accompanies this post, as does Richmond Unchained artist Trevor Von Eeden’s re-imagining of Cruikshank’s work. I enlisted Trevor, an accomplished comic book and graphic novel artist, to provide illustrations for Richmond Unchained in a modern-day homage to the illustrated plates and letterpress publication format which is extensively described in Death and Mr Pickwick and was utilised in both Life and London and The Pickwick Papers.
Incidentally, one (of many!) reasons why I loved Death and Mr Pickwick is because of the credit it gives Egan and Cruikshank for the huge influence that Life in London had on the literary scene in the 1820s. Egan is an oft-overlooked figure in literary circles, and Death and Mr Pickwick places him back at the heart of the history of English literature where he belongs!

Guest post no. 2 - 20 September 2015:

Here is the second in the series of guest posts by Luke G. Williams, the author of the new book Richmond Unchained. Over to you, Luke:
One of the many things I found fascinating about Death and Mr Pickwick was the revealing insights it offered into the ‘print shop culture’ of 19th century England, both in terms of the establishments themselves and also in terms of illuminating the lives of many of the leading artists of the day as well as the processes used to produce prints and etchings. As one of the leading sporting celebrities of the day, Bill Richmond, the subject of my recent book Richmond Unchained, would certainly have had prints of his likeness in the windows of the many print shops that populated central London.
The most famous print of Richmond is undoubtedly Robert Dighton’s hand coloured etching of the boxer, entitled A Striking View of Richmond, which was published in March 1810, which accompanies this post.
When this print was first published, Richmond’s pugilistic reputation was on a high due to his famous victory against George Maddox a few months earlier, which had secured revenge for a 1804 reverse against the same opponent. It is therefore fitting that within this print, Dighton renders Richmond in a heroic light, and without the absurdly exaggerated physical stereotypes that characterise many Georgian artists’ conceptions of black subjects. In January 1812, Dighton would produce a similarly complimentary portrait of Richmond’s protégé, Tom Molineaux, which is also shown with this post.
Dighton’s portraits of both men are currently on display in Room 27 of the National Portrait Gallery as part of Simon Schama’s Faces of Britain exhibit, which opened on 16 September and runs until 4 January 2016. Staffordshire figures of Molineaux and the man who defeated him twice, English Champion Tom Cribb, are also part of this exhibit. You can view details of the exhibition here:…/richmond-molineaux-and…
It may also be of interest to readers that a pencil and ink version of A Striking View of Richmond is held within the Royal Collection – this is the image which features on the cover of Richmond Unchained and which I believe was the original work which formed the basis for Dighton’s etching. Copyright restrictions prevent the original Royal Collection image from being reproduced here, but you can view it at:…/bill-richmond-a-striki…

Guest post no. 3 - 21 September 2015:

Here is the latest in the series of guest posts by Luke G. Williams, author of the fantastic new book Richmond Unchained.
For the third post in this series examining the connections between Death and Mr Pickwick and Richmond Unchained, I have decided to focus on The Sporting Magazine. Established in 1792, this influential publication - widely credited with being the first periodical in English history devoted entirely to sporting pursuits - features in one of the many absorbing sub-plots in Death and Mr Pickwick as the novel explores the contribution of the writer ‘Nimrod’ (aka Charles James Apperley) in driving the magazine’s massive explosion in popularity in the 1820s.
As one of the top pugilists of the era, Bill Richmond – the subject of my book Richmond Unchained - frequently featured in the pages of The Sporting Magazine. His first appearance came in the January 1804 issue, with a report of his bout against George Maddox at Wimbledon Common, his debut contest in the major prize ring. A scan of this report accompanies this post, along with Richmond Unchained artist Trevor Von Eeden’s re-imagining of Richmond ‘throwing his hat into the ring’ to challenge Maddox.
In 1804, Richmond was in the employment of Lord Camelford, and The Sporting Magazine revelled in describing his loss to Maddox, mocking his ethnicity and referring to him by the distasteful appellations ‘Massa’ and ‘Mungo’ rather than by his actual name.
Such racist rhetoric was typical of the time. However, as Richmond’s career advanced, and he became more widely known and admired - both for his boxing skills and abilities as a pugilistic instructor - the language used to describe him in journals such as The Sporting Magazine became far more complimentary.
By the time of Richmond’s famous victory against Tom Shelton in 1815, the magazine was barely referring to his ethnicity at all and was now describing him as “perfect in the art of boxing”. Quite a turnaround from his debut appearance in 1804!

We have now reached #4 in the series of guest posts by Luke G. Williams, author of the new book Richmond Unchained, about the world's first black sporting superstar, Bill Richmond. Here's Luke:

In today’s post about the connections between Death and Mr Pickwick and Richmond Unchained, I’m returning to the subject of writer Pierce Egan and artist George Cruikshank. Both men feature within a prominent sub-plot in Death and Mr Pickwick, connected to their collaboration on Life in London.

Before Life in London’s publication in 1821, Egan had written extensively about Bill Richmond in Boxiana, for which Cruikshank was also the artist. As well as his rendering of Richmond in Boxiana, Cruikshank also featured Richmond in his pair of etchings of the famous rematch between English boxing champion Tom Cribb and Richmond’s protégé Tom Molineaux, one of which, entitled The Close of the Battle, or the Champion Triumphant accompanies this post.

The fact Richmond was spearheading a ‘black challenge’ against the reigning English champion results in Cruikshank’s rendering of him being far more negatively stereotypical than in his Boxiana portrait, which was produced a little later - once the passions engendered by Cribb and Molineaux’s interracial battle for boxing supremacy had abated somewhat.

As you can see, both Richmond and Molineaux’s physical features and facial expressions are comically exaggerated here, making them appear grotesque in comparison to the white champion Cribb and his seconds.

Before Life in London’s publication in 1821, Egan had written extensively about Bill Richmond in Boxiana, for which Cruikshank was also the artist. As well as his rendering of Richmond in Boxiana, Cruikshank also featured Richmond in his pair of etchings of the famous rematch between English boxing champion Tom Cribb and Richmond’s protégé Tom Molineaux, one of which, entitled The Close of the Battle, or the Champion Triumphant accompanies this post.

The fact Richmond was spearheading a ‘black challenge’ against the reigning English champion results in Cruikshank’s rendering of him being far more negatively stereotypical than in his Boxiana portrait, which was produced a little later - once the passions engendered by Cribb and Molineaux’s interracial battle for boxing supremacy had abated somewhat.

As you can see, both Richmond and Molineaux’s physical features and facial expressions are comically exaggerated here, making them appear grotesque in comparison to the white champion Cribb and his seconds.

And so we come to the fifth and final in the series of guest posts by Luke G. Williams, the author of the fantastic new book "Richmond Unchained." Thank you very much indeed, Luke. I think this series of guest posts, and the previous series by Phiz's descendant Val Lester, shows the success of the format, so if anyone else has an idea for a series of guest posts they would like to do, do get in touch with me. Here is Luke:
One aspect of the Pierce Egan-George Cruikshank Life in London phenomena I haven’t yet mentioned in my guest posts examining the connections between my book Richmond Unchained and Death and Mr Pickwick is the hugely successful theatrical version of this influential 1821 classic. The success of this dramatic interpretation of Life in London is vividly described in Death and Mr Pickwick. At one point it is mentioned that the production was simultaneously being performed at ten London theatres!

Among the characters in both the original text of Life in London and its stage adaptation was boxer Bill Richmond’s great pugilistic rival Tom Cribb, whose ‘parlour’ – namely, the Union Arms pub on Panton Street – Egan’s protagonists Tom and Jerry visit. An illustration of this scene by Cruikshank appears with this post – eagle-eyed observers will note that on the wall there are two portraits of black boxers, doubtless meant to represent Richmond and his protégé Tom Molineaux.
Richmond himself did not appear as a character in Life in London, but he was mentioned in scene 7 of the three-act musical version based on it, during the lyrics of a song entitled Tom Thumb that focuses on heroes of the prize ring. Firstly referred to by his common, and somewhat demeaning, nickname of “the lilly white”, later in the song he is described more pleasingly as “Mr. Richmond” and as being smartly dressed in a “white smock frock”, a sight that is said to “astonish us”.
Richmond, incidentally, spent many nights at the aforementioned Union Arms pub with Cribb in the 1820s. He even spent the last evening of his life there having dinner with Cribb before passing away at the age of 66.
Today, this site is occupied by Shepherd Neame’s Tom Cribb pub and, since the Richmond Unchained book launch there on 26 August 2015, a memorial to Richmond has resided on the wall of the pub. An image of this memorial also accompanies this post and you can find out more about the Bill Richmond memorial event here:…/earl-george-percy-unve…

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Richmond Unchained and Boxiana on sale at Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre

I will be attending the Annual Boxing Memorabilia Fayre on 10 October at Dick Collins Hall, London, NW1. On my stall I will be selling signed copies of my books Richmond Unchained (£15) and Boxiana Volume 1 (£10). If you buy both books you will receive a £5 discount (total cost £20).

Details of the Fayre are above - it's a must in the calendar of any serious boxing fan or collector!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Richmond family history update - the tragic tale of Mary Ann Richmond

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read Richmond Unchained, this article gives away some of the details of the Richmond family as outlined in the book and my continuing research ...

Yesterday I examined new evidence relating to my research into Bill Richmond's family. These findings revealed details about Bill's daughter Hannah, her likely marriage and a baptism record for her possible daughter named Rose. If these connections can be firmed up, then Rose could become the first confirmed grandchild of Bill Richmond to emerge from my 12-year study into his life, times and family.

Today I present another possible candidate to be a grandchild of Bill's - namely one Mary Ann Richmond, who features in two articles from the Leicester Chronicle newspaper which I have recently discovered.

Aside from her surname, Mary Ann caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, her Christian name is the same as Bill's wife, suggesting she may have been named after her grandmother. Secondly, both articles I found about her make mention of her ethnicity, with one referring to her as a "mulatto" and the other describing her as a "woman of colour".

The timescale of the articles - which appeared in 1838 and 1843 - fit with the general chronology of Bill's family as we know it. In the second article Mary Ann is described as being 19 years old, which means she would have been born around 1824. If she was indeed related to Bill then that would make her a possible daughter of Bill's son William, baptised in 1797, or Henry, who was baptised in 1813 (but could have been born a few years earlier).

Although Bill and his family seem to have been based in London from the mid-1790s until his death in 1829, the apparent Leicester residence of Mary Ann Richmond does not preclude her from being a family member. Bill's son Henry, for example, ended up in the Midlands at some point, with an 1841 newspaper report I have found - the latest reference I have to Henry's life - suggesting that he was living in the environs of Birmingham, which is only 40 miles, incidentally, from Leicester.

The first article I found about Mary Ann Richmond dates from 14 October 1837. The article describes how Mary Ann, along with one Maaia Fowkes, got into trouble with the law for attempting to spend a fake half-sovereign coin, an offence for which the pair were remanded in custody, but presumably later freed.

Sadly, this was not Mary Ann Richmond's only brush with the law. Six years later a heart-rending article in the Leicester Chronicle described a particularly sad development in her life. Charged alongside a 23-year-old named Eliza Savage with receiving a shawl stolen by one William Vesty and "knowing [it] to be stolen", Mary Ann faced the full wrath of the crown court on 17 October 1843.

This report identifies Mary Ann as being just 19 years of age and a "woman of colour", also noting that she could neither "read nor write". Presumably due to poverty, it is also claimed that Mary Ann "had no lawyer to speak for her" in court. She was therefore forced to defend herself, which she did "with much vehemence",  at one stage accusing one of the prosecution witnesses of being a "lying villain".

Despite Mary Ann's protestations, and an admission on the part of the journalist present at the proceedings that the "evidence against Richmond" was "not so strong as against Savage", she was found guilty and sentenced to ten years' transportation.

Unsurprisingly, given how strongly she had protested her innocence, Mary Ann greeted the news of her punishment with dismay and distress, as did her co-accused Savage, who had been sentenced to transportation for life.

"The severity of the sentence almost rendered the women frantic," reads the report. "The woman Richmond exclaimed: "I did not know! I did not know! Oh, Vesty, what have you done for me?" ... it was with great difficulty either of them could be removed from the bar."

Regardless of whether she was related to Bill Richmond or not, the vivid and disturbing glimpses we gain of Mary Ann Richmond's life from these two articles speak eloquently of the harsh attitudes towards theft and the unforgiving judicial attitudes faced by many people living in poverty. 

Once Mary Ann was transported, most likely to Australia, who knows what her fate was, although the following passage, from the documentary A Short History of Convict Australia, paints a bleak picture of existence for female convicts at this time: 

"Women made up 15% of the convict population. They are reported to have been low-class women, foul mouthed and with loose morals. Nevertheless they were told to dress in clothes from London and lined up for inspection so that the officers could take their pick of the prettiest ... Until they were assigned work, women were taken to the Female Factories, where they performed menial tasks like making clothes or toiling over wash-tubs. It was also the place where women were sent as a punishment for misbehaving, if they were pregnant or had illegitimate children ... Other punishments for women included an iron collar fastened round the neck, or having her head shaved as a mark of disgrace. Often these punishments were for moral misdemeanours, such as being ‘found in the yard of an inn in an indecent posture for an immoral purpose‘, or ‘misconduct in being in a brothel with her mistress’ child‘ ... As women were a scarcity in the colony, if they married they could be assigned to free settlers. Often, desperate men would go looking for a wife at the Female Factories."

I will endeavour to find out more about Mary Ann, and her possible link to Bill Richmond, if I possibly can.

If you have any information about Bill Richmond's ancestors or family, no matter how small or anecdotal, please email me at

Monday, 21 September 2015

Richmond family history update - Bill's granddaughter found?

Artist Trevor Von Eeden's imagining of Bill and Mary Richmond's wedding

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read Richmond Unchained, this article gives away some of the details of the Richmond family as outlined in the book's final chapters ... 

Those of you who have read the final chapters of Richmond Unchained will know that Bill's wife Mary tragically ended up living a poverty-stricken existence in and out of the St Martin's workhouse, before dying there in 1858.

The fate of Bill's children and grandchildren is something of a mystery though. We know that his son Henry attempted, unsuccessfully, to launch a boxing career of his own, losing two contests and getting in trouble with the law, before disappearing from the public record in the early 1840s.

However, very little indeed is known about Bill's other children. Baptism records located by my researcher Kristina Bedford during the long process of working on Richmond Unchained suggested five possible Richmond children. The shakiest candidate was one Charles Richmond, baptised on 2 January 1792 in Wakefield, who was possibly buried in  St Andrew's in Holborn on 12 April 1807.

More conclusively, Bill and Mary had a daughter, Hannah, who was baptised on 28 September 1795; a son, William, who was baptised on 6 August 1797 and the aforementioned son, Henry, and a daughter, Betsy, who were both baptised on 24 May 1813. All these baptisms took place at St Andrew's.

Apart from what we know of Henry, brief references to Bill's children and grandchildren in reports of his funeral in 1830 and a mention in the St Martin's workhouse documents of Mary leaving the workhouse to "nurse her daughter", extensive research has turned up no further information about Bill's children and grandchildren.

Until now!

While searching through a set of newly scanned periodicals in the British Newspaper Archive at the weekend, an item caught my eye from the Evening Mail, a London-based newspaper, dated Wednesday 22 October 1828.

The article featured an account of a court case in which two men were accused of having robbed a Chelsea pensioner. According to the report, one Ann Humphreys, a "woman of colour" and "the daughter of Richmond, the pugilist",  was called to the stand as a witness.

The Evening Mail reference to Richmond's daughter
Does this reference allude to the existence of a possible fifth (or sixth?) offspring of Bill Richmond? Or could 'Ann' have been used as a diminutive version of Hannah? 

Further investigation, thanks again to Kristina Bedford, has revealed that the latter is the more likely interpretation, for Kristina has succeeded in discovering details of a marriage between one Hannah Richmond and Robert Humphryes on 8 October 1821, again at St Andrew's.
The marriage record of Robert Humphryes and Hannah Richmond
If this marriage record does refer to Bill's daughter then it represents an important step in the long journey of trying to eventually trace any living ancestors of Bill Richmond.

Devoted followers of pugilism will, of course, find their ears pricking up at the mention of the surname Humphryes (also spelt, with little consistency it seems, as Humphries or Humphreys), for it was the surname of one of the sport's brightest stars of the late 18th century, namely Richard Humphryes, who thrice fought the great Jewish pugilist Daniel Mendoza.

Little is known about the pugilist Humphryes, who died in either 1799 or 1800, but one of the witnesses on the marriage record of Hannah and Robert is, tantalisingly, also listed as being named Richard Humphryes. Could this Richard perhaps be the pugilist's son? And Robert his brother? It is pure speculation, of course, but considering the pugilistic circles in which Bill Richmond mixed, it is not inconceivable that his daughter might have married a member of another great boxing family. 

The trail doesn't quite end there either.

As well as the above marriage record, Kristina Bedford has also discovered a possible baptism record that might very well be describing one of Bill Richmond 's grandchildren.

A girl named Rose Humphryes, whose parents are listed as Robert and Hannah Humphryes, was baptised at St Andrew's on 20th July 1823. We discover a little more about the family on this record, for Robert's occupation is listed as a glass cutter, while the family residence is listed as 20 St Martin's Street - bang in the heart of London's pugilistic community - it being the same street on which the Fives Court and Bill's old pub, the Horse and Dolphin (no. 25), were located.

Rose Humphryes' baptism record
Much of the above is speculative at the moment, of course, and needs further investigation and reinforcement. But it may well prove an important step in finding out more about the family of the world's first ever black sporting superstar!

It's a big IF, but if any modern-day relatives of Bill Richmond could eventually be traced then maybe I would be in a position to test my theory, via DNA testing, that Bill's father was the Reverend Richard Charlton and that he is therefore related to the iconic Elizabeth Bayley Seton, Richard's granddaughter and the first ever American-born citizen to be canonised by the Catholic church. 

If you have any information about Bill Richmond's ancestors or family, no matter how small or anecdotal, please email me at

Saturday, 19 September 2015

New series of articles for Boxing Monthly begins today

I'm delighted to announce that I'll be writing a new series of articles for the Boxing Monthly website on the theme of 'fight of the century'.

This 12-part series will follow the entire history of the sport from the 18th century to the modern day, examining 12 iconic contests which were labelled, or deserved to be labelled, as 'the fight of the century'. Each article will be based on extensive archival research - which in some cases may challenge the conventional orthodoxies in the boxing history books about the fights concerned. The series begins today with a look at Jack Broughton v Jack Slack from 1750.

Click here to read the article on the Boxing Monthly website

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Richmond, Molineaux and Cribb at the NPG

Yesterday I posted about the fantastic news that Robert Dighton's famous prints of pugilists Bill Richmond and Tom Molineaux are now on display from today at the National Portrait Gallery as part of Simon Schama's new Face of Britain exhibition, along with Staffordshire portrait figures of Molineaux and Tom Cribb. These artworks are all on display in Room 27, entitled "The Face of People". 

Today, with heartfelt thanks to the NPG press office for their cooperation, I am able to present these wonderful official images and captions from the exhibit.

NPG D10726
Bill Richmond ('A striking view of Richmond')
by and published by Robert Dighton
hand-coloured etching, published March 1810
Credit line: (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG D13314
Tom Molineaux ('Molineaux')

by and published by Robert Dighton
hand-coloured etching, published January 1812
Credit line: (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG 5812
Tom Cribb
by Unknown artist
Staffordshire portrait figure, circa 1810-1815
Credit line: (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG 5813
Tom Molineaux
by Unknown artist
Staffordshire portrait figure, circa 1810-1815
Credit line: (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

Face of Britain background:
The following introduction to the Face of Britain exhibition appears on the NPG's website:
"Simon Schama’s Face of Britain explores how portraiture has been used as a statement of power, a declaration of love, for the promotion of fame, to offer insights into the artists themselves and to capture ordinary people. Portraits can provide a fresh perspective on the history of Britain and the identity of its people. The exhibition is divided into five themes, which are displayed over three floors of the Gallery."
The portraits of Richmond and Molineaux, as well as the Staffordshire figures of Molineaux and Cribb, are all on display in Room 27, entitled "The Face of People". The NPG writes of this section of the exhibition: "The majority of portraits ever painted have been of the great and the good. But there has always been a glorious strain in British art that tells it like it is, and for which all humanity is fit for portrayal. History isn’t just made up of influential people, it is also made up of an infinity of wonderful characters without whom history loses all its richness and human variety. With technological advances in printmaking and photography, portraiture has increasingly recorded and celebrated the individuals in the crowd — faces that might otherwise be forgotten."

The Face of Britain exhibition runs from 16 September until 4 January 2016 and admission is free. There is also a BBC TV series to tie in with the exhibition and a book by Schama. I understand that Richmond does not feature in the TV series, but is referenced in the book.