The nearby O2 arena has been the scene of a number of major boxing matches in the last few years, however many people may not realise that the Isle of Dogs was a popular location for a number of sporting activities in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of these activities were illegal and the Island which was barely inhabited at the time was a way to get on with the ‘business’ away from prying eyes. In the early 19th century, boxing was a very popular sport but was very different from the boxing of today.
There were very few rules and the fight would go on until one fighter was unable to continue or would give up, seconds would wait in the ring assist the boxer between rounds. The bareknuckle fights were often brutal and severe injuries or death were not uncommon. The ‘Fancy’ was the name given to aristocrats who followed the sport in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although all sections of society followed the sport and fights could attract huge amounts of gamblers’ money.
A news report from 1832 illustrates that even with relatively small purses, people were willing to fight and risk serious injury or death.
The Fancy – Two Men Killed
On Wednesday night, an inquisition was held at the King’s Head, Church-street. Deptford, before Joseph Carter, Esq. Coroner and a respectable jury, on the body of Richard Dodd, aged 27 years, who was killed under the following deplorable circumstances.-
The deceased was a shoe-maker, and resided in Whiteheart-yard, Coleman street, A month since, a match was made between him and a man named James Cox, a shoemaker at the Crispin public-house, Milton street to fight for two sovereigns, and Monday last was fixed for the fight. The two men dined together at the house of the deceased, and were quite friendly. After dinner they, with a host of their partisans, proceeded to Battersea fields, where they fought 17 rounds, but being disturbed by the new police, the seconds proposed that they should proceed to the Isle of Dogs to terminate the fight. Thither they went, and a ring was formed near the Ferry house; but before the men set-to, they expressed a wish to draw the stakes and shake hands. The stakeholder, a man named Jordan, refused to give them up, saying, the money was placed in his hands for the men to fight, and he would be d-d if they should not. Many persons, and the men themselves remonstrated, but he and the seconds were inexorable, and the men then commenced fighting. Several blows were given on both sides, and the friends of Cox cried on to him “Kill him, murder him,”.
After about 14 rounds, both men fell insensible to the ground, and were unable to come life, and they lay on the grass to all appearances dead. Dodd was carried in a boat to the Grampus Hospital ship, where he was attended to by Dr. Lawson, and every thing that was possible was done to restore animation, but all to no purpose, and lie expired about an hour after. Cox was conveyed home in a dying state in a coach, and the news arrived at the inquest-room, on Wednesday, night, that he had also expired.
Several witnesses were examined, but they were unable to identify any of the parties engaged in the fight, with the exception of one man named Green, who held the clothes of the deceased. He was apprehended and carried to the cage at Deptford ; the others have at present escaped. Dr. Lawson stated, that he had made a post mortem examination of the body, which was most frightfully disfigured and found upwards of three ounces of coagulated blood on the brain, which was cause of death. At 11 o’clock, the Jury came to a determination to adjourn for further evidence to Friday, and the Coroner issued warrants against the seconds, and Jordan the stakeholder, to enforce their attendance.
Both deceased persons were married men, and have left families to deplore their untimely death.
This tragic event on the Island is a reminder that for many years in the 18th and 19th century, the Isle of Dogs had an unfortunate reputation from pirates hanging from gibbets to illegal fights.