Caunt, Benjamin (DNB00)

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CAUNT, BENJAMIN (1815–1861), champion pugilist, was born in the village of Hucknall-Torkard, Nottinghamshire, on 22 March 1815. His father, a tenant of Lord Byron, was engaged in some humble capacity at Newstead. The son, according to his own account, was a gamekeeper or a watcher, but other people said he was a navvy. His height was 6 feet 2½ inches, and his weight 14 stone 7 lbs. At an early age he aspired to pugilistic honours. On 21 July 1835 he was defeated by William Thompson, known as Bendigo. On 17 Aug. 1837 Caunt defeated William Butler in fourteen rounds for a stake of 20l. a side. The reputation of Bendigo having in the meantime much risen, another encounter between him and Caunt came off on 3 April 1838 on Skipwith Common, near Selby, when, after a fight of seventy-five rounds, lasting eighty minutes, a dispute arose, which was settled in favour of Caunt, who now took the title of champion. On 26 Oct. 1840 he beat John Leechman, known as Brassey, after 101 rounds, and was hailed ‘champion of England.’ In a fight with Nicholas Ward on 2 Feb. 1841 Caunt was disqualified for a foul blow. At a match with the same opponent at Long Marston, near Stratford-on-Avon, on 11 May, Ward gave in after the thirty-fifth round. Some time previously a subscription had been raised to purchase a ‘champion's belt.’ Caunt in September 1841 went to the United States, taking with him the belt. No fighting, however, took place in America. He exhibited himself in theatres, and returned to England on 10 March 1842. He brought back with him Charles Freeman, an American giant, 6 feet 10½ inches high, weighing 18 stone, and with him made a sparring tour throughout the United Kingdom. Freeman died of consumption in the Winchester hospital on 18 Oct. 1845, aged 28, when his weight had fallen to 10 stone. In 1843 Caunt became proprietor of the Coach and Horses public-house, St. Martin's Lane, London. He went into training in 1845, and, having reduced himself from 17 stone to 14 stone, met Bendigo near Sutfield Green, Oxfordshire, on 9 Sept. 1845, and, in the presence of upwards of ten thousand persons, contested for 200l. and the championship. The fight lasted over two hours, and in the ninety-third round the referee, George Osbaldiston, gave a decision (of doubtful correctness) in favour of Bendigo. On 15 Jan. 1851 a fire took place in the Coach and Horses, when two of the landlord's children were burnt to death. Great sympathy was felt with Caunt under this dreadful calamity, and a ballad upon it had a very extensive sale. On his last appearance in the ring he met Nathaniel Langham (the only man who ever beat the famous Tom Sayers) on 23 Sept. 1857, when, after an unsatisfactory fight of sixty rounds, the men shook hands and no decision was given. Caunt still kept the Coach and Horses, where the parlour was a general resort for aspirants for pugilistic honours and their patrons. He was also well known as a pigeon-shooter, and it was while taking part in a match early in 1860 that he caught cold, and died on 10 Sept. 1861. He was in his forty-seventh year. He was buried in Hucknall-Torkard churchyard on 14 Sept. From first to last he showed no improvement in his style of fighting; his positions were inartistic, and he lacked judgment, but was a manly upright boxer, and there never was a question of his pluck.

[Miles's Pugilistica, with portrait (1880), iii. 47–93; Fights for the Championship, by the Editor of Bell's Life (1860), pp. 135–42, 158–209; Fistiana (1868), pp. 21, 134; Modern Boxing, by Pendragon, i.e. Henry Sampson (1879), pp. 2–9.]

G. C. B.