The Champ who sold Fish and Chips - by Ron Jackson
Seaman Chetty was 14 years old when he
was told to take over his family’s fish and chip
shop in Durban but he became an outstanding
fighter and one of the most remarkable characters
in SA boxing.
Born in Durban on May 29, 1914, Chetty
eventually became a successful businessman
who turned the little shop into a thriving fish
market and also owned a bus company.
His uncle, Seaman Dorasamy, introduced
Chetty to boxing when he was 17 years old.
The boy was also named Seaman, reflecting
his uncle’s love of the sea.
Details of his early record are rather sketchy. It was reported but not substantiated that he beat four opponents in one night at the old St Paul’s Hall opposite the Durban Post Office and that matchmaker Billy Padrach then signed him up. His first recorded fight was in 1933 when he outpointed PM Pillay over four rounds in Durban.
Whether he became the best South African
boxer of Indian origin has been the subject of many a debate.
Others to be considered were Jack Moodley,
Bob Narandas, Kid Mayet, Young Craig, Rajah
Moodley, Peter Sam, Young Sadow, Harry
Appal, Percy Vengen, Jack Abrams, Bud Gengen,
Lutchna Veeran and Kid Abrahams.
Jack Moodley was highly regarded on the
strength of his performance against Arthur Douglas, but Dixon, Appal and Cupido were
also outstanding fighters.
However, many would argue that Seaman
was the best.
He won the SA flyweight and bantamweight
titles. In The Ring magazine of September
1938, he was ranked at number six in the
world. At the time, there were only eight divisions
and The Ring’s were the only recognised
rankings in the world.
Jackie Jurich was the world flyweight champion. Those who were ranked above Chetty were Small Montana, Little Dado, Tut Whalley, Tiny Bostock and Pierre Louis; all top-class fighters. Therefore, there is no question that Seaman was among the best in the world in his division during that time.
However, Benny Singh, who is regarded as
the father of Indian boxing in South Africa,
rated Seaman only at No 5 among the country’s
best Indian-origin boxers, together with
In his book My Baby and Me, published in
1950, Singh listed his selection as:
1. Young Sadow and Harry Appal.
2. Peter Sam and Bud Gengan.
3. Bob Narandas and Jack Moodley.
4. Percy Vengan and Lutchna Veerean.
Chetty, guided by Bill Latham, who trained the SA boxers at the 1938 Olympics in Sydney, went through nine fights undefeated before outpointing Young Pottier to win the SA “non- European” flyweight title in 1936.
He retained the title against Cecil Wolhuter
and then won the SA “non-European” bantamweight
title by beating Battling George on
points in Durban.
With few flyweight and bantamweight challengers
around, Chetty decided to try his luck
in Britain. In April 1938, after paying R58 for
his fare on the Balmoral Castle, he sailed for
With the help of Durban promoter Maurice
Smith and Louis Botes, who had campaigned
with some success in England, Chetty was introduced
to former world flyweight champion
Jimmy Wilde, who was considered by many to
be the greatest flyweight in the history of boxing.
Wilde became Chetty’s trainer and the
fighter lived with him and his family throughout
his campaign in Britain.
Wilde was already 46 years old but he
sparred with Chetty and taught him some of
his outstanding moves.
In his first fight in London, on May 6, 1938,
Seaman outpointed the highly regarded Dave
Kellar over ten rounds. Eight days later, he
beat world-ranked Pierce Ellis over 12 rounds
At the time, fellow-South African Alf James
was also campaigning in Britain. James, who
later became the SA lightweight and welterweight
champion, assisted Wilde in Chetty’s
However, after Chetty had gained a world
ranking, things began to fall apart.
In his next fight, in June that year, he was
beaten on points by Jim McStravick. He also
lost to Billy Tansey and Joe Curran. After losing
a close decision to world-rated Tiny Bostock in
September 1938, Chetty decided to return to Durban.
He made successful defences of his SA bantamweight
title against Freddie Smith, Battling
George and PM Pillay before returning to
However, his second campaign was interrupted by Hitler’s invasion of Poland when all boxing in the UK was suspended. Chetty managed to squeeze in a fight against Irishman Rinty Monaghan on November 8, 1939, but lost on points over ten rounds. It turned out to be Chetty’s last fight.
Monaghan went on to win the world flyweight
title on October 20, 1947 when he beat
Dado Marino on points in a clash for the vacant
Back in South Africa, Chetty discovered that his trainer, Bill Latham, had gone off to war with the navy, so Chetty decided to join the army. Eager to get into the action, he became the first soldier of Indian origin to use weapons and also the first to be promoted to secondclass warrant officer.
His duties took him to the Middle East and
East Africa. Sadly, while he was on active duty
his wife passed away. After four years, he returned
to Durban to get married for the second
After the war, Chetty opened up a gymnasium
and trained some well-known fighters
such as Kista Govender, Lucky Maharaj and SA
featherweight and lightweight champion Kid
He subsequently took out a promoter’s licence and featured SA welterweight and middleweight champion Joe Ngidi and national lightweight champion Gladstone “Homicide Hank” Mahlo on many of his bills.
Both these fighters later joined rival promoter
Benny Singh, but in November 1953
Chetty put on one of the biggest promotions when Jake Tuli defended his SA bantamweight title against Slumber David Gogotya at a soldout Hoy Park Stadium.
Seaman nearly became the first promoter to
stage a world championship fight in South
Africa with a black fighter as one of the contestants.
He had virtually tied up Japan’s world
flyweight champion Yoshio Shirai to defend his
title against Tuli, but the bout fell through because
of red tape.
Chetty also experienced legal problems when
he took Kid Sathamoney and Young Hussein to
box in Cape Town. They did not have permits
to be in the city but they were eventually allowed
to remain there after paying R20 each
in deposits and R2 each for permits. To avoid
disruption of the tournament, the promoter, Mr
Shaik, paid the deposits and the fees.
Chetty later withdrew from boxing when fighters of Indian origin started fading from the scene.
He concentrated on his bus service and fish market, which had expanded from the small fish and shop that he took over from his father. Chetty died on November 20, 1989 at the age 75.
I met him at one of the annual King Korn awards ceremonies when he received a trophy for his services to boxing and will always remember him as a true gentleman.