Book Preview by Ron Jackson
Problems followed Pedlar Palmer
Three years after Pedlar Palmer had won
two South African titles, he was back in
England, facing serious problems.
“I have been in trouble all my life ... I am
in trouble now,” Palmer said after he had
been sentenced to five years in prison for
the manslaughter of Robert Choat.
He died in 1949, but the fascinating story
of his life, and his career as a boxer, may
never have been told had Jason McKay not
attended his grandmother’s funeral in September
Her relatives gathered at Jason’s uncle
Jimmy’s house in Plaistow to attend the
customary East End wake. There were many mourners, but it was no sombre affair. It was a noisy send-off, the voices well lubricated.
During the wake, Jason – who was then
16 years old – heard his father’s eldest
brother, Joe, say, “Pedlar Palmer, the boxer, killed a bloke on a train. He was related to us.”
A while later Jason was having an afterwork
drink with a colleague. He mentioned
that he was related to Pedlar Palmer. Unable to answer any of the questions
about the man, he got in touch with a boxing historian, Harold Alderman, who reeled off details of Palmer’s career.
This led to the writing of an outstanding,
detailed book, Box o’ Tricks – The Pedlar
Palmer Story. Published by Jason McKay in 2009, the paperback has 606 pages.
McKay did extensive research to tell the story of extreme poverty in the East End of London at the time, and of the rise and fall of Thomas “Pedlar” Palmer.
Palmer was born in Canning Town, London,
on November 19, 1876. He fought
from 1891 to 1919, participating in 81 fights and winning the world bantamweight
title in 1895.
In 1904, long after Pedlar had lost his
world title to Terry McGovern in September
1899 – he was sensationally knocked out in 2 minutes and 32 seconds of the first
round – he went to South Africa.
On May 26 that year, at the old Wanderers
Club in Johannesburg, Palmer stopped
Dan Hyman in the ninth round and promptly claimed the SA bantamweight title.
His next fight was at the Camps Bay
Pavilion in Cape Town on July 11. He drew
over 20 rounds with the SA featherweight champion, WJ (Watty) Austin. In a return match at the same venue on August 9, Palmer won on points over 20 rounds and claimed the SA featherweight title.
Those days it was common practice for
fighters from abroad to arrive in South Africa,
defeat the local champion and claim
the title. When they returned home, the
titles became vacant.
At the peak of his career, Pedlar was
held in high esteem by the management
and members of the National Sporting Club in Covent Garden.
On September 27, 1897 he was presented
with a personalised gold belt, with
diamonds, rubies and emeralds, hand crafted and paid for by public subscription.
According to some reports, it cost 1 000 guineas.
Pedlar died in London on February 13,
1949. About 45 years after he was buried
on the South Downs near Brighton the belt was discovered in a safety deposit box in the Castle Square Branch of the National Westminster Bank in Brighton.
It was thought to be worth 50 000 pounds but after its origins had been traced, it was discovered that the “diamonds” were fake and the belt was made of poor gold. It was worth only about 5 000 pounds.
Only then did it come to light that in
1899, while the belt was displayed at the
Seabright Music Hall in Hackney, it was stolen. It was later returned to Pedlar;
probably after the original diamonds had been replaced by fake stones.
This book is a must-read for fight fans, and particularly for boxing historians, because the author found and related extensive details of Palmer, and of events and people surrounding him.
Copies of The Fighters for sale
Written by Chris Greyvenstein and published by Don Nelson in 1981
The Fighters (hardcover, 448 pages) is the only book published that
covers the early history of South Africa boxing.
Greyvenstein tells the dramatic story of professional boxing in South
Africa from the days of James Robertson Couper who is known as
the father of South Africa boxing and Barney Malone, who was an
invalide for nearly a year after winning a bareknuckle fight against Jan
Silberbauer in the 212th round.
The Fighters relates the tale of South African boxing up to the days
of Charlie Weir and Peter Mathebula and is the first comprehensive
book on South African boxing which includes champions like Jim Holloway,
Arthur Douglas, Fred Storbeck, Johnny Squires, Willie Smith,
Laurie Stevens, Don McCorkindale, Johnny Ralph and the fighting
Others included in the book are Jake Tuli, Willie Ludick Pierre Fourie,
Arnold Taylor, Tap Tap Makhatini, Pangaman Sekgapane, Gerrie Coetzee,
Kallie Knoetze, and many others.
Copies of the book in mint condition with the dust cover, which has
now become a collector’s piece, are available from Ron Jackson at -
e mail: email@example.com