Gully, John (DNB00)

GULLY, JOHN (1783–1863), prize-fighter, horse-racer, legislator, and colliery proprietor, born at the Crown inn, Wick, on 21 Aug. 1783, was son of the landlord of the Crown inn, Wick-and-Abson, between Bath and Bristol. When but a lad his family removed to Bath, where his father became a butcher, and he was brought up to his father's trade; but his father dying, the business gradually declined, and at the age of twenty-one the son became an inmate of the King's Bench prison, London. He had for some time before taken an interest in boxing matches, which led in 1805 to his receiving a visit from an acquaintance, Henry Pearce, the 'Game Chicken,' the champion of England. The two men had a 'set-to,' which so impressed the on-lookers that the patrons of the ring paid Gully's debts, and took him to Virginia Water, where he was put in training to fight Pearce. The contest took place at Hailsham in Sussex on 8 Oct. 1805, in the presence of an immense concourse of aristocratic spectators, among whom was the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV. After a fight of seventy-seven minutes, during which there were sixty-four rounds, Gully, who was nearly blind, gave in. Ill-health obliging the 'Game Chicken' to retire in December 1805, Gully was regarded as his legitimate successor, although he was never formally nominated champion. His fame, however, stood so high that upwards of two years elapsed before he received a challenge. At length he was matched to meet Bob Gregson, the Lancashire giant, for two hundred guineas a side. His opponent was six feet two inches high, and of prodigious strength, while he himself was six feet high. The fight took place on 14 Oct. 1807, in Six Mile Bottom, on the Newmarket Road. This encounter, in point of game and slashing exchanges, was remarkable; both men became quite exhausted, but in the thirty-sixth round Cully put in a blow which prevented Gregson from coming up to time. Captain Barclay took the winner off the ground in his carriage, and the next day drove him on to the Newmarket racecourse. Gregson, not being satisfied, again challenged his opponent. This match, which was for 250l. a side, took place in Sir John Sebright's park, near Market Street, Hertfordshire, on 10 May 1808, the combatants being accompanied to that spot by about a hundred noblemen and gentlemen on horseback and in carriages. The crowd was so great that the report gained ground that the French had landed, and the volunteers were called out. The men fought in white breeches, silk stockings, and without shoes. After the twenty-seventh round Gregson was too much exhausted to be again brought to the mark in time. In this set-to, which lasted an hour and a quarter, Gully, who had commenced with his left arm in a partially disabled condition, showed a complete knowledge of boxing and a remarkable quickness of hitting. Previously to this time he had become the landlord of the Plough, 23 Carey Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, where as a tavern-keeper he was much respected. In June 1808, with Tom Cribb, he took a joint benefit at the Tennis Court, when he formally retired from the ring. Devoting himself to the business of a betting-man, he in 1812 became the owner of horses of his own, Cardenio being his first horse. He at one period resided at Newmarket, and in 1827 gave Lord Jersey four thousand guineas for Mameluke. He backed his purchase for the St. Leger in 1827; but James Robinson on Matilda took the race, and he lost 40,000l. In 1830 he became a betting partner with Robert Ridsale, when their horse, Little Red Rover, ran second to Priam for the Derby. Their best year, however, was 1832, when they won the Derby with St. Giles, and Gully took the St. Leger with Margrave, making 50,000l. on the former and 35,000l. on the latter race. Having fallen out with Ridsale in the hunting-field, he horsewhipped him, and had in an action to pay 500l. damages for the assault. During this period he purchased of Lord Rivers Upper Hare Park, near Newmarket; but this place he sold to Sir Mark Wood, and then bought Ackworth Park, near Pontefract, an accession which led to his representing that pocket borough in parliament from 10 Dec. 1832 to 17 July 1837. He again contested Pontefract on 29 June 1841, but was defeated. In 1835 he brought an action against the editor of the 'Age' for slander in connection with the Pontefract election (Hansard, 17 May 1836, pp. 1004-5, 22 June, pp. 707-10, 717). In partnership with John Day he won the Two Thousand Guineas in 1844 with Ugly Buck, and in 1846 he took the Derby and the Oaks with Pyrrhus the First and Mendicant, an event only once before accomplished by one person in the annals of the turf, namely, in 1801, when Sir Charles Bunbury's Eleanor carried off both prizes. He was again the winner of the Two Thousand with Hermit in 1854, and in the same year gained the Derby with Andover, having Mr. Henry Padwick for his partner in the latter horse. His judgment of horses was considerable, and during his career he had great success in racing. Having sold Ackworth Park to Kenny Hill, he took up his residence at Marwell Hall, near Winchester. He had, however, invested his winnings in coal works in the north and in land. In the new Hetton colliery he purchased a number of shares, which he held until they had risen to a high premium. About 1838 he joined a company in sinking the Thornley collieries, and he was also interested in the Trindon collieries. In 1862 he became sole proprietor of the Wingate Grange estate and collieries. Previously to this he had removed to Cocken Hall, near Durham. He died at the North Bailey, in the city of Durham, 9 March 1863, and was buried at Ackworth, near Pontefract, 14 March. He was twice married, and had in all twenty-four children, twelve by each wife.

[Miles's Pugilistica (1880), i. 171-85, 182-91, with portrait; Egan's Boxiana (1818), i. 161-5, 175-87; New Sporting Mag. (1834-5), viii. 59, 60, 279, with portrait; The Fancy (1826), ii. 365-372,with portrait; Sporting Review, 1863, pp. 274-276, 306-10, with portrait; Rice's British Turf (1879), i. 172-3, 288-93; Day's Reminiscences of the Turf (1886), pp. 53-70; Baily's Mag. (1861), ii. 107-13, with portrait; Sporting Times, 10 Jan. 1885, pp. 5, 6; Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore, February 1888, pp. 74-7.]

G. C. B.