King, Thomas (1835-1888) (DNB01)
KING, THOMAS (1835–1888), prize-fighter, was born in Silver Street, Stepney, on 14 Aug. 1835, and as a youth served before the mast both in the navy and in a trading vessel. About 1858 he obtained a position as foreman of labourers at the Victoria Docks. His courage in disposing of a dock bully known as 'Brighton Bill' commended him to the notice of the ex-champion, Jem Ward, who coached him with the gloves at the George in Ratcliffe Highway. On 27 Nov. 1860, on the Kentish marshes, he met Tommy Truckle of Portsmouth for 50l. a side, and defeated him in forty-nine rounds (sixty-two minutes). He was now taken in hand and trained by Nat Langham at the Feathers, Wandsworth, for a contest with William Evans ('Young Broome'), to be followed, if successful, by a fight for the championship with Jem Mace, the finest boxer in England since the retirement of Sayers. The betting of two to one on King was justified by the event on 21 Oct. 1861, after a long fight interrupted by the police at the seventeenth round, but resumed until the forty-third. The fight between the 'Young Sailor,' as King was called, and the 'scientific' Jem Mace of Norwich had another issue, King being outclassed after displaying the utmost pluck in a contest of sixty-eight minutes (28 Jan. 1862). A return match, which excited much greater interest, took place at Aldershot (26 Nov. 1862). The betting was seven to four on Mace, who had the best of the fighting, but was knocked out by a single blow, a 'terrific cross-counter on the left cheek,' in the nineteenth round. In this battle of thirty-eight minutes King had shown himself a glutton for punishment, of a 'bottom' and endurance worthy of the best traditions of the ring. King now married and announced his intention of leaving the ring, thus acquiescing in the resumption of the belt by Mace. But he was yet to champion England against America in the great fight with the 'Benicia Boy,' John Camel Heenan, the adversary of Sayers. The ring was pitched at Wadhurst, below Tunbridge Wells, at an early hour on 10 Dec. 1863. King weighed a little below thirteen, Heenan just over fourteen stone; both were over six feet in height. The former seemed mistrustful, Heenan full of confidence. Bets of 20 to 7 were freely offered on the American, but there were few takers. Heenan's game throughout the early rounds was to close in and 'put the hug on' so as to crush his antagonist by dashing him violently to the ground. King's consisted of dealing his adversary a series of sledge-hammer blows on his nose. Both were extremely successful in their respective tactics, and in the absence of the orthodox feinting, sparring, and 'science,' the result came to be mainly a question of sheer endurance. At the eighteenth round the tide of victory turned in King's favour. At the close of the twenty-fourth round, after nearly forty minutes' fighting, Heenan lay insensible, and his seconds threw up the sponge. Public anxiety as to his condition was allayed by a medical report in the 'Times' (12 Dec.) Both combatants appeared in person at Wadhurst, in answer to a summons, on 22 Dec., when they were bound over to keep the peace, both King and Heenan engaging to fight no more in this country. King, having won about 4,000l. in stakes and presents, fulfilled his promise to the letter. After starring the country at 100l. a week, he set up as a book-maker and realised a handsome competence. He also invested in barge property.
In 1867 he won a couple of sculling races on the Thames, but in later years was best known for his success in metropolitan flower shows. He died of bronchitis at Clarence House, Clarence Road, Clapham, on 4 Oct. 1888. After 1863 the vigilance of the police confined pugilism in England more and more to the disreputable and dangerous classes, and Tom King is thus not incorrectly termed by the historian of the English prize-ring as 'Ultimus Romanorum.'[Miles's Pugilistica, vol. iii. ad fin. (portrait); Pendragon's Modern Boxing, 1879, pp. 43-50, 57-78 : Bell's Life, October 1861; W. E. Harding's Champions of the American Prize Ring, 1888, pp. 54-9 (portrait); Times, 11-12 Dec. 1863; Bird of Freedom, 10 Oct. 1888; Sporting Times, 13 March 1875; Boase's Modern Biography, ii. 229.]