Stanzas on the death of the noted Slack, Butcher and stage boxer

Devon Notes & Queries vol. I, pt. III, (1900), illus., p. 69


Harry Hems

Prepared by Michael Steer

A version of this poem appeared in 'Poet's Corner' of the Norfolk Chronicle for January 25th 1783. The Chronicle was printed in Norwich. Its article cites Chales (sic) JONES as the poet and refers to Braunton as Broughton. In the eighteenth century boxing, or pugilism, was winning a cherished place in everyday English culture. It became one of the most popular sports in Georgian England: it drew huge crowds, involved vast sums of money, and enjoyed fervent support. Pugilism consisted of bare-knuckle fighting with some wrestling moves (for example the "Buttock tips" in the poem . Until the middle of the 19th century, there were no weight divisions, limits on the numbers of rounds, or prescribed duration for a round. Boxers who went down were given 30 seconds to return to the centre of the ring, i.e. 'scratch' (hence the saying 'up to scratch'), or they would lose the fight. Fights were conducted in rural areas far from the reach of local authorities. The date of a fight would be fixed, but the location was not publicized until the day before, not giving the magistrates time to stop it. People travelled a long way and overcame considerable obstacles in order to watch a fight. Working men, members of the middle-class and gentlemen stood shoulder to shoulder around the prize ring. Matches began approximately at noon and lasted until dark or until one of the fighters gave in. Death in the ring or shortly after a fight was not unknown, but the great sums of money the winner received proved to be an enticing incentive for working-class men like SLACK the Braunton Butcher. This copy of the rare and much sought-after book was produced digitally from a copy held in the New York Public Library collection that can be downloaded from the Internet Archive.

Stanzas on the death of the late noted SLACK, butcher and stage-boxer. He was a native of Braunton, and died there AD 1761, at which time the following lines appeared:

To thy departed shade the Muse, O SLACK!
'Mid friends would blend a tributary sigh.
Not that I'd challenge Fate, or call thee back -
No--once at rest, I wish thee so to lie.

Oft has thy nervous arm, ere yet unbrac'd,
With terrors fraught, dealt round destructive knocks,
The Stage and Slaughter-house alike it grac'd,
And there a Bully dropp'd, and here an Ox!
No laurel wreath thy claim, nor martial song,
For battles fought by thee in Albion's cause!
Yet, as due trophies, let they tomb lie hung
With Dislocated Thumbs, and Broken Jaws!

Mourn not, Brauntonians, his extinguish'd lamp,
He meets the common fate assign'd to all;
For conq'ring heroes of a nobler stamp,
When Death the Buttock Tips, alike must fall.

Dread then, ye Bruisers, this alarming foe!
By SLACK's defeat some warning take at least!
Mighty must be the arm that, at a blow,
Could level Him, who levell'd man and beast.

These verses are by Christopher JONES, an uneducated journeyman Wool-comber, of Exeter, as he describes himself. They are contained in his "MISCELLANEOUS POETIC ATTEMPTS" printed for the Author by R. Trewman, nearly opposite St Martin's Lane, in the Fore Street, Exeter, 1782.