Spoiling For a Fight


Immediately after the Rumble and Gambier bribery case had been completed (see 'The Chieftain' pp. 117-119), George Clarke was placed on enquiries, prompted by the Home Office, into illegal betting, investigations that he would usually lead during the remainder of his career at Scotland Yard. While horse-racing was the dominant sport on which bets were placed, other sporting activities, including bare-knuckle boxing had their criminal fringe. Both were popular with the working-man who liked not only to witness sporting events, but also to speculate on the outcome.

On Saturday 29 August 1868, Clarke  received a telegram from his fellow-Inspector, Richard Tanner.  Tanner had been in pursuit of the likely participants in a bare-knuckle prize-fight under London Prize Ring rules, having received a tip-off from a colleague in the Metropolitan Police.  The fight was billed as ‘The Championship’, and was seen in the press as an encounter that “many enthusiasts hoped would revive the fallen fortunes of the ring”. Though enjoyed by sporting-men from diverse backgrounds, by the mid-nineteenth century the courts had come to regard prize-fighting as an illegal and seedy pursuit, and the police had the responsibility to prevent such fights. In this case, the expected participants were Joe Goss and Harry Allen. Goss, described as “quick, crafty and durable” had won the middleweight championship of England in 1862 and the heavyweight title in 1866; Allen was a publican in Manchester.1 As a consequence of his vocation, Goss had an extensive prison record, starting with a conviction in Oxford in January 1860 for ‘riot and assault’ (seven days imprisonment), and his most recent, fifth offence, in January 1867 in Derbyshire (one month’s imprisonment).2  Clearly, bare-knuckle boxing must have been sufficiently rewarding for Goss to take the courts’ regular punishments and still return to fight again. 

Tanner’s telegram to Clarke asked for assistance; he had travelled to Manchester to arrest Harry Allen, only to find that Allen had already left Manchester on the 4 p.m. train to London. Alerted in sufficient time, Clarke managed to intercept the London-bound train and arrested Allen at Willesden Station. Allen appeared at Bow Street Police Court on 1 September, the same day, as Goss was also arrested. Both men were bailed (each providing £500 surety and £500 in their own recognizances) and, much to the chagrin of the sporting press and, no doubt to the expectant spectators, the fight never took place. “What was anticipated to be a capital mill was put a stop to” was the comment in The Era.3 Not for the first or last time, the Scotland Yard detectives were not popular for spoiling the working-man’s ‘innocent’ pleasure in watching a bare-knuckle fight, and his (illegal) opportunity to win a bob or two on the outcome. Goss, at least, was not discouraged by events and quickly resumed his career, winning the Heavyweight Championship of America in Boone County, Kentucky in 1876 and then continuing to fight for at least a further six years.4

Notes: 1. Pall Mall Gazette 31 August 1868; Liverpool Mercury 1 September 1868. 2. The National Archives TNA:PRO HO27 England and Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892. 3. The Era 6 September 1868. 4. http://cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/goss-j.htm

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