Cribb, Tom (DNB00)

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CRIBB, TOM (1781–1848), champion pugilist, was born at Hanham in the parish of Bitton, Gloucestershire, on 8 July 1781, and coming to London at the age of thirteen followed the trade of a bellhanger, then became a porter at the public wharves, and was afterwards a sailor. From the fact of his having worked as a coal porter he became known as the 'Black Diamond,' and under this appellation he fought his first public battle against George Maddox at Wood Green on 7 Jan. 1805, when after seventy-six rounds he was proclaimed the victor, and received much praise for his coolness and temper under very unfair treatment. On 20 July he was matched with George Nicholls, when he experienced his first and last defeat. The system of milling on the retreat which Cribb had hitherto practised with so much success in this instance failed, and at the conclusion of the fifty-second round he was so much exhausted that he was unable to fight any longer. In 1807 he was introduced to Captain Robert Barclay Allardice [q.v.], better known as Captain Barclay, who, quickly perceiving his natural good qualities, took him in hand, trained him under his own eye, and backed him for two hundred guineas against the famous Jem Belcher. In the contest on 8 April the fighting was so severe that both men were completely exhausted; but in the forty-first round Cribb was proclaimed the victor. His next engagement was with ton on 10 May 1808, when he easily disposed of his adversary. The Marquis of Tweeddale now backed Bob Gregson to fight Cribb, who was backed by Mr. Paul Methuen; this battle came off on 25 Oct., but in the twenty-third round Gregson, being severely hurt, was unable to come up to time, and his opponent became the champion. Jem Belcher, still smarting under his defeat, next challenged Cribb for another trial, the stakes being a belt and two hundred guineas. The contest took place at Epsom 1 Feb. 1809, when, much to the astonishment of his friends, the ex-champion was beaten, and had to resign the belt to his adversary. Cribb now seemed to have reached the highest pinnacle of fame as a pugilist, when a rival arose from an unexpected quarter. Tom Molineaux, an athletic American black, challenged the champion, and as the honour of England was supposed to be at stake a most lively interest was taken in the matter; however, on 18 Dec. 1810 Cribb in thirty-three rounds demolished the American, but Molineaux, not at all satisfied, sent another challenge, and a second meeting was arranged for 28 Sept. 1811 at Thistleton Gap, Leicestershire. This match was witnessed by upwards of twenty thousand persons, one-fourth of whom belonged to the upper classes. The fight much disappointed the spectators, as in the ninth round Molineaux's jaw was fractured, and in the eleventh he was unable to stand, and the contest lasted only twenty minutes. On the champion's arrival in London on 30 Sept. he was received with a public ovation, and Holborn was rendered almost impassable by the assembled crowds. He gained 400l. by this fight, and his patron, Captain Barclay, took up 10,000l. At a dinner on 2 Dec. 1811 Cribb was the recipient of a silver cup of eighty guineas value, subscribed for by his friends. After an unsuccessful venture as a coal merchant at Hungerford Wharf, London, he underwent the usual metamorphosis from a pugilist to a publican, and took the Golden Lion in Southwark; but finding this position too far eastward for his aristocratic patrons he removed to the King's Arms at the corner of Duke Street and King Street, St. James's, and subsequently, in 1828, to the Union Arms, 26 Panton Street, Haymarket. Henceforth his life was of a peaceful character, except that 15 June 1814 he sparred at Lord Lowther's house in Pall Mall before the emperor of Russia, and again two days afterwards before the king of Prussia. On 24 Jan. 1821 it was decided that Cribb, having held the championship for nearly ten years without receiving a challenge, ought not to be expected to fight any more, and was to be permitted to hold the title of champion for the remainder of his life. On the day of the coronation of George IV Cribb, dressed as a page, was among the prize-fighters engaged to guard the entrance to Westminster Hall. His declining years were disturbed by domestic troubles and severe pecuniary losses, and in 1839 he was obliged to give up the Union Arms to his creditors. He died in the house of his son, a baker in the High Street, Woolwich, on 11 May 1848, aged 67, and was buried in Woolwich churchyard, where, in 1851, a monument representing a lion grieving over the ashes of a hero was erected to his memory. As a professor of his art he was matchless, and in his observance of fair play he was never excelled; he bore a character of unimpeachable integrity and unquestionable humanity.

[Miles's Pugilistica, i. 242–77 (with portrait); Egan's Boxiana, i. 386–423 (with two portraits); Thom's Pedestrianism, 1813, pp. 244–8; Tom Cribb's Memorial to Congress, by One of the Fancy (1819), three editions, a work written by Thomas Moore, the poet.]

G. C. B.