Shaw, John (1789-1815) (DNB01)

SHAW, JOHN (1789–1815), corporal 2nd lifeguards, son of William Shaw, a farmer, was born at Wollaton, Nottinghamshire, in 1789, and educated at Trowell Moor school. While a mere stripling he obtained a local reputation as an expert boxer by defeating a man three stone heavier than himself. On 16 Oct. 1807 he enlisted as a private in the 2nd lifeguards, and soon attracted the notice of his officers by the strength he displayed in the regimental exercises. Discovering his boxing abilities they made arrangements for him to spar at the Fives Court in Little St. Martin Street, the principal London boxing hall. In consequence of his success there the officers took him to Jackson's Rooms, 13 Bond Street, a fashionable club and school of instruction, where amateurs were wont to meet and box professionals. Shaw was pitted against and defeated Captain Barclay, a gentleman noted for his punishing powers. Shaw became a frequenter of Jackson's Rooms, and his fame as a boxer soon spread abroad. As a swordsman he was equally expert, and was, in fact, skilled in the use of most modern weapons of offence and defence. He was now six feet and half an inch in height, and so magnificently developed that he sat as a model to Haydon the sculptor. One day, when near Portman Square, three hulking fellows taunted Shaw with being a stay-at-home soldier. He promptly knocked them down. They sprang to their feet and attacked him, but in a few minutes were compelled to seek safety in flight. In 1812 Shaw was persuaded to enter the prize ring, and on 12 July of that year defeated at Coombe-Warren a man named Burrows. Early in 1815 he issued a challenge to fight any man in England, and on 15 April, at Hounslow Heath, fought his second battle in the prize ring, defeating Edward Painter [q. v.] in twenty-eight minutes. He was now spoken of as the future champion, but before Tom Cribb [q. v.] had time to accept his challenge the 2nd lifeguards were ordered to the continent. Shaw's civilian admirers immediately offered to purchase his discharge, but he declined to entertain the idea. Early in the morning of 18 June, the day on which Waterloo was fought, Corporal Shaw was sent out in command of a foraging party, but hurried back with his men in time to take part in the first charge. A cuirassier rode straight at Shaw, who calmly parried the thrust, and with one terrific stroke, the first blow he had dealt in real warfare, cut through the Frenchman's helmet and skull down to the chin. Shaw then rode at an eagle-bearer, killed him, and seized the eagle. He relinquished it, however, while cutting his way through the foes who immediately surrounded him. Although wounded, he took part in several other charges, exhibiting on each occasion his strength and marvellous dexterity with the sword. In the last charge but one made by the 2nd lifeguards, Shaw became separated from his comrades, and was quickly surrounded by the enemy. He fought desperately and killed nine of his opponents before his sword broke. Scorning surrender, he tore the helmet from his head, and, using it as a cestus, dealt some terrific blows before he fell to the ground, picked off by a cuirassier, who sat a little distance away, coolly firing his carbine.

After the battle was won Shaw struggled on in the track of his victorious countrymen, and at night a wounded lifeguardsman, lying on a dungheap, saw Shaw crawling towards him. 'Ah, my dear fellow, I'm done for!' Shaw whispered feebly, and lay down beside him. At daybreak he was found there dead.

[Nottingham Review, 30 Dec. 1859; Elaine's Rural Sports; Egan's Boxiana; Miles's Pugilistica; Creasy's Decisive Battles; Knollys's Deeds of Daring.]

H. C. M.