> Folk Music > Songs > Bendigo, Champion of England

Bendigo, Champion of England

[ Roud V7648 ; Bodleian Roud V7648 ; Mudcat 172923 ; trad.]

Dave and Toni Arthur sang Bendigo, Champion of England in 1967 on their Transatlantic album Morning Stands on Tiptoe. They noted:

Bendigo, real name William Thompson, was born in 1812. This song tells of his third fight with Ben Caunt, also a Nottingham man. The fight was witnessed by 10,000 spectators at Sutfield Green in Oxfordshire. They fought for a £200 purse and the Champions belt. There was a large gang armed with clubs, yelling for Bendigo, known as the ‘Nottingham Lambs’, and all through the fight, which lasted for 93 rounds and nearly two hours, they aimed blows at Caunt, and tried to cut the ropes whenever Bendigo was forced against them. The fight finished by Caunt being unfairly disqualified and Bendigo became Champion of England. The original version appeared in [John] Ashton’s Modern Street Ballads [London: Chatto & Windus, 1888, p. 67].

Paul and Liz Davenport sang Bendigo, Champion of England in 2011 on their Hallamshire Traditions album Spring Tide Rising. They noted:

William Abednego Thompson was born in Nottingham. He was an iron turner by trade, but a prize-fighter by inclination. Thompson, a slightly built man, was nicknamed, ‘Bendigo’ due to his ducking and weaving style of fighting. The fight described in this song actually took place exactly as described with Thompson being declared the winner after a foul by his opponent, ‘Big Ben’ Caunt, another Nottingham man. The winner has a town named after him in Australia whilst his opponent is said to have given his name to the bell in the clocktower of the Houses of Parliament. This version is another learned over the years and has no single source. The tune is used for several broadside ballads.

Martin and Eliza Carthy sang Bendigo, Champion of England live on 2 September 2017 in Newbury. According to the Mudcat Café posting Lyr Req: “Gaunt and Bendigo” (Mike Waterson), Mike Waterson used to sing this in the 1980s but I don’t know of a recording of this song by any of them.

Harp and a Monkey sang Bendigo on their 2019 album The Victorians. They noted:

The life of William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson (1811-1880) is made for cinema; the last of 21 children born into a family living in the slums of Nottingham, he spent periods in the workhouse before becoming a prize-fighting bare-knuckle boxer. One fight lasted 92 rounds! William got the nickname ‘Bendy’ because of his contortions in the ring, and would attract crowds of 10,000-plus. He ultimately became known as ‘Bendigo’ as a merging of the nickname ‘Bendy’ and his actual middle name of ‘Abednego’. After becoming the ‘Champion Prize Fighter of All England’, injury forced him to retire—so he became an angler and won several All England Fishing Awards. At the age of 59, while fighting alcoholism, he dived into the Trent to save three people from drowning. In later years he found religion and (despite being illiterate) became a Methodist preacher, drawing on his ‘old ways’ if the need came to restore order. His fanbase included the author Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote a poem called Bendigo’s Sermon, which provided the inspiration for this song. The tune is a rework of that trad. favourite To The Beggin’ I Will Go.


Bendigo, Champion of England in John Ashton: Modern Street Ballads

Ye ranting lads, and sporting blades, come listen to my song,
I’m sure that it will please you well, and will not keep you long.
Concerning the great milling match that lately has been fought,
Between great Caunt and Bendigo, two lads of the right sort.

Chorus (after each verse):
So we’ll drink success to Bendigo, who showed such gallant play,
For by his skill, he won the mill, and bore the prize away.

On the ninth day of September, eighteen hundred, forty five,
To Witchwood for to see the fight, the sporting coves did drive,
While some did laugh, and some did chaff, and of their man did vaunt,
Some bet their ten on Bendigo, and some on giant Caunt.

And when the ground was ready, both those champions quickly peeled,
Two braver men on England’s ground did never take the field,
The fancy swore they were top mark,—an honour to the ring,
Two stouter hearts had never met, since Langan and Tom Spring.

Both men shook hands, and the prize belt, it straightway was brought in,
“There let it hang,” says Bendigo, “till the best man does win.”
“That won’t be little Bendigo,” then Caunt he did reply,
“For I’ll belt your hide till you’re satisfied, then at him he did fly.”

“Is that the way?” says Bendigo, “Here, take it back again.”
He made a job of poor Caunt’s nob, and hammered it amain.
This furious work soon drew the cork of Caunt’s poor claret bottle,
While Caunt returned the compliment, made Bendi’s ribs to rattle.

Twenty four rounds these heroes fought, none could tell which was the best,
But Bendigo in the next round, struck Caunt on the left breast.
Which made him stagger round the ring, and fall upon the ground,
Says Bendigo, “I’ll have the belt, and the four hundred pound.”

But Caunt did boldly come again, and showed some gallant play,
Yet Bendigo would strike a blow, and quickly get away.
Until in round the eighty fourth, he gave some ugly blows,
Which left his mark on the staring part, and fairly spoilt Caunt’s nose.

Eighty eight rounds were fought, when Caunt he could not rise,
And all declared the Bendy cock had fairly won the prize.
The Tipton Slasher now may come, but soon he’ll get to know,
That he was not quite big enough to wollop Bendigo.