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TALES OF THE TURF., Observer, Volume 7, Issue 347, 1 August 1885
TALES OF THE TURF.
(Written for Observer and Free Lance.) By Red Rover. Butcher, prize-fighter, publican, hellkeeper, bookmaker, owner of racehorses, member of Parliament, and fine old country gentleman. All these heterogeneous elements were combined in the person of John Grully, winner of two Derby s and a St. Leger, and sometime Radical M.P. for Pontefract, and whom it is only fair to describe as one of the most remarkable men the sporting world has ever seen. A brief sketch of his extraordinary career cannot fail, therefore, to be interesting to all who are attracted by the success of men who have risen from the humblest circumstances to positions of affluence and honour. John Gully was born at Bristol, that ' Nursery of British Boxers,' from which came the mighty Cribb, the two accomplished Belchers, the chivalrous Henry Pearce (' The Game Chicken ')— men who earned respect as well as admiration by their courage, hardihood, and honesty. A grand race of athletes immeasurably """superior to the gladiators of Rome or the bull-fighters of Spain. I speak of the English pugilism of the first portion of this century, before the gold of Jews and blacklegs had corrupted fts honour, when men of chivalry^ and character were not ashamed to patronise it, and men of genius, like Byron, Tom Moore, and Hazlett thought it no degradation to singits praises and fraternise with its heroes. Among this fine old race of ' bruisers,' John Gully °held a high, and honorable position, though not the highest. His introduction to the "roped arena' came about in a very singular manner. At the age of two-and-twenty he left Bristol and went to London, and had not been long in that ' village ' before he was in the Fleet Prison for debt. How long he might have languished there it is impossible to say, had it not happened that the kind-hearted pugilist, Henry Pearce, heard that a fellow- townsman was in trouble, and resolved to visit and assist him to the utmost of his power. This Pearce was a noble fellow, he, single-handed, rescued a woman from the hands of six brutal ruffians, and finally lost his life, like another famous boxer, Isaac Perrins, through his exertions in carrying women and children in his herculean arms from a buildino- in flames. Fearce found Gully to be a man after his own heart, brave, courteous, sturdy, intelligent, and racked his brains to hit upon some device to extricate him from his incarceration. At last a brilliant idea struck the 'Game Chicken.' He brought a set of boxing gloves with him and got Gully to try a bout with him. The latter proved himself such an adept that Pearce at once suggested to him a means of getting out of his difficulties, which startled the young countryman' considerably. 'I can get some friends of mine to back you against me for a good round sum. You will lose the battle, and get a good thrashing ; but, in the first place, your backers will at once fetch you out of this
place to put you in training, and you will be sure to gain the esteem of many useful acquaintances. This is a specimen of thespirit which animated the boxers of that time. They looked upon it as an act of truefriendship when a man consented to fight his dearest « pal.' Gully finally accepted theoffer, and a match was made between the twa men for 1000 guineas, 'The Chicken,' or his backers for him, staking £600 against Gully's £400. On the Bth of October, 1805, just outside the pretty little village of Hailsham, in Sussex, that memorable battle was fought,, and all the sporting world of London, from the peer to the pork butcher, crowded to* witness the exciting event. It was a despej^tefight. Fifty-nine sanguinary rounds were' fought in seventy minutes, and Gully, frightfully bruised, was forced to acknowledge that his opponent was the better man, and resign to him the stakes. Nevertheless, though defeated, John was not disgraced; on the contrary, it was thought a marvellous thingthat he, a novice, should have stood up for so long against the finest boxer in England. It was two years after his battle with ' The Game Chicken ' before Gully was called upon to defend his title to the chanrpionship, and then it was Bob Gregson, poet laureate of the ring, who challenged him to fistic combat. The challenger was, from Lancashire, a man standing 6ft 2in in height, and of prodigious strength. The fight, which had been most anxiously looked forward to, took place on # the 14th of October, 1807, in a valley called' the Six-mile Bottom, between Cambridge and Newmarket; and for miles around this part of the country was thronged with horse, and foot, and carriage folks, eager to witness the battle. It was a battle of giants, for Gully was Gf t in height, and of very powerful frame, though not such a Titan as his opponent. The betting was something terriffic. The fortunes of war fluctuated, and victory hungin the balance until, in the thirty-sixth round, Gully summoned up all his remaining strength and knocked his antagonist senseless. But it was so near a thing that Gregson's backersmade bold to match their man against Gully again, and once more the two pugilists met and fought out the question of supremacy in Sir J. Sebright'spark, Herefordshire, on the morning: |of May the Bth, 1808. So vast were thei crowds that assembled to witness the contest that the D unstable Volunteers were called out and placed under arms, and thecountry folks thought that ' Boney ' and theFrench had landed at last ! For forty-eight minutes Gregson made gallant attempts to turn the tables on his quondam conquerer ; but it was useless. Gully proved, beyond I doubt, that he was the better man, and de- ' lighted lovers of the noble art by the coolness, the judgment, and the science "which, he disjjlayed; whilst the severity of his hitting was something frightful to behold. "With that decisive victory John Gully's career as a pugilist ended. He retired front the ring and took a public-house in London,, where at the age of twenty-five we find him enthroned as hero, landlord, and, above all,, shrewd, observant man of the world* Apropos of . Gully's great fights with Gregson, before I leave the subject I may give an amusing anecdote, which proves how deep was the interest taken in combats, even by the highest personages in the State. Tom Moore, the poet, writing to a friend on "Wednesday, November 4th, 1811, says : — ' I suppose you hava heard that during the "Talent's Administration" (i.e.,. the famous " Government of all the Talents "), Windham received an express from Lord Grey, which made a great sensation in every town it passed through, but which turned out,, upon opening the gilt dispatch box, to be theannouncement of a battle between Gully and Gregson, sent by the Foreign Secretary to the War Secretary upon public service. 1 But John Gully had talents which required a wider sphere than that of tavern-keeping for their development. He saw that there was a fortune to be made by judicious betting, andi accordingly he became a professional betting man. His success was extraordinary, and within three or four years of his taking up his career he had racehorses of his own, Cordenio being the first that ever ran in his name. He worked on gradually as a layer of odds — at one period residing at Newmarket with such tackle as Brutus, Truth, Rigmarole, Forfeit, Cock Robin, and others. The turf then was in a very different condition to what, it is at the present day, for, although not a quarter of the number of horses were kept in training, still the betting on them was far heavier ; and as bookmakers were scanty in proportion, so the profits they made out. of the large wagers of such notorious speculators as the Duke of Queensberry, Lord Foley, Lord Abingdon, Colonel Hellish, and others of that kidney, must have been remunerative in no ordinary degree. Men of such distinguished mark as these were not likely to let so promising a beginner as Gully go unnoticed. The best commissions were given to him, and he executed them so well that in 1827 he could afford to giveLord Jersey 4,000 guineas for the ever famous Marmeluke, the winner of the Derby of that year. The purchase was made on the first day of the Ascot Meeting, with the condition that the bargain should not be made known for four-and-twenty hours, in order that Gully might get £10,000 to £1,000 about him for the St. Leger, which he obtained. At the same time he laid Mr Crockford £10,000 that Mameluke beat ten differenthorses, and £.10,000 that he beat nine, and,, by a rare stroke of ill luck for Gully, Matilda, the winner of the St. Leger, was in: both lots. (To be continued.)
TALES OF THE TURF., Observer, Volume 7, Issue 347, 1 August 1885
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