Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thompson, William (1811-1889)
THOMPSON, WILLIAM (1811–1880), pugilist, known as ‘Bendigo,’ was born at Nottingham on 11 Oct. 1811. He was one of three sons at a birth, and these boys became popularly known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In youth Thompson became a formidable pugilist. In 1832 he beat Bill Faulker, a Nottingham notoriety, and in the following year defeated Charles Martin. In his first challenge in ‘Bell's Life in London’ in 1835 he styled himself ‘Abednego of Nottingham,’ and from that date he was spoken of in the sporting press as ‘Bendigo.’ His first important fight was on 21 July 1835, near Appleby House, about thirty miles from Nottingham, when he met Benjamin Caunt [q. v.] In the twenty-third round Caunt, wearied with Bendigo's shifty conduct, struck him a blow while he was on his second's knee; by this foul blow he lost the fight, and the stakes (25l. a side) were awarded to Bendigo. His next fight, on 24 May 1836, nine miles from Sheffield, was with John Leechman, known as ‘Brassey,’ whom he defeated in fifty-two rounds after a severe contest. On 24 Jan. 1837, at Woore, near Newcastle, Staffordshire, he encountered Charles Langan, who gave in at the close of the ninety-second round. On 13 June following at Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, he defeated William Looney in a fight extending to ninety-nine rounds.
Again facing Caunt on 3 April 1838, Bendigo was this time unsuccessful. In the presence of fifteen thousand people—the aristocracy forming no inconsiderable portion—he fought Deaf Burke at Heather, Leicestershire, on 12 Feb. 1839, when in the tenth round Burke butted him twice, and the referee gave a decision that the blows were ‘foul.’ During the same year James Ward presented ‘a champion's belt’ to Bendigo at the Queen's Theatre, Liverpool, amid the acclamations of a large assembly of people.
On 23 March 1840, while throwing a somersault at Nottingham, he so hurt his kneecap that he was laid up for two years. He was taken into custody by the police on 28 June 1842 and bound over to keep the peace to prevent his fighting Hazard Parker. A fight for 200l. a side and the belt came off with his old opponent Caunt on 9 Sept. 1845, when a decision, much disputed, was given in his favour. His last appearance in the ring took place on 15 June 1850 at Mildenhall, Suffolk, when, for 200l. a side, he fought Tom Paddock [q. v.]; he would probably have been defeated, as his age told against him, had not Paddock finished the combat by a foul blow.
Bendigo was 5 ft. 9¾ in. high, and his fighting weight was eleven stone twelve pounds. He was very clever with his hands, possessed much judgment, and in his battles with men taller and heavier than himself showed coolness and self-restraint. It is generally stated that the Victorian goldfield, now an Australian city, was called Bendigo after the popular pugilist. After his retirement from the ring, Bendigo fell under the influence of Father Mathew and Richard Weaver, took the pledge, and ultimately became a dissenting minister. While on a visit to London he was a preacher and a leader of revivalist services at the Cabmen's Mission Hall, King's Cross Circus, and also a preacher in the Holborn Circus. He died at Beeston, near Nottingham, on 23 Aug. 1880.
[Greenwood's Low Life Deeps, 1876, pp. 86–94 (with portrait); Davies's Unorthodox London, 2nd ser. 1875, pp. 156–64; Fistiana, 1868, pp. 120–1; Fights for the Championship, by the editor of Bell's Life, 1855, pp. 135 et seq.; Modern Boxing, by Pendragon, i.e. Henry Sampson, 1879, pp. 3–4; Miles's Pugilistica, 1880, iii. 5–46 (with portrait).]