Two Boxers

Artist unkown

About 1815


Both: 22 x 11.5 cm

On 18 December 1810 thousands of people gathered around an impromptu boxing ring on Copthall Common near East Grinstead, Sussex, to watch one of the most brutal and bloody bare-knuckle fights ever held: between 29-year-old former Bristol docker and British heavyweight champion Tom Cribb and 26-year-old Tom Molineaux, a freed slave from America and the first black man ever to fight for the British heavyweight boxing title.  Bill Richmond, Molineaux’s manager, had suffered a humiliating defeat in a fight with Cribb in 1805 and wanted vengeance.  He saw his chance by training and encouraging Molineaux to challenge Cribb.  Foul play and the crowd’s bigotry during the match conspired against Molineaux, cheating him of victory.

Molineaux subsequently became a celebrity, though, as the man who had dared to challenge Cribb. Drinking heavily and enjoying food and the attention of women, Molineaux was not fit enough for the re-match in Leicestershire on 28 September 1811, which was easily won by Cribb in just 19 minutes. Cribb continued to enjoy his success and died aged 66 in 1848. Molineaux died of liver failure in 1818, alone and forgotten, at just 34 years of age.