Ward, James (1800-1885) (DNB00)

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WARD, JAMES (1800–1885), pugilist and artist, eldest son of Nicholas Ward, a butcher, was born near Ratcliffe Highway, London, on 26 Dec. 1800; the inscription on his tombstone states in error that he was born on 14 Dec. At the age of twelve he became a rigger in the East India docks, and soon after was employed as cabin-boy in a collier trading to Sunderland. At an early period he commenced taking great interest in pugilistic encounters, and in 1817 gained various victories over some of his companions. His first noticeable fight was at the Red Lion, Whitechapel, in 1821, when he encountered and conquered Rasher. As he was at this time a coal-whipper, and when stripped rather dark in appearance, he became known as ‘the Black Diamond.’ His first introduction to the Fives Court, St. Martin's Lane, took place on 22 Jan. 1822, when in sparring matches with Davies and Spencer he showed that the old system of defence was too slow and methodical to insure safety against his quick sight and rapid action. His first appearance in the field was at Moulsey Hurst, Surrey, on 12 June 1822, when in fifteen minutes he beat Dick Acton, and on 10 Sept. following he beat Burke of Woolwich. On 22 Oct. he met Bill Abbot, the conqueror of Tom Oliver [q. v.], at Moulsey Hurst, when, to please his patron, he allowed Abbot to be declared the victor; but, on confessing his fault, all bets were declared off. On 4 Feb. 1823, at Wimbledon Common, he in twenty rounds, occupying nineteen minutes, completely defeated Ned Baldwin, known as ‘Whiteheaded Bob.’ While endeavouring to retrieve his character he went into the provinces on a sparring tour, in company with Maurice Delay and George Weston, and at Lansdown, on 2 July, beat Rickens, the champion of Bath. Returning to London, he was matched to fight Joseph Hudson for 100l. a side at Moulsey Hurst on 11 Nov. 1823, but in thirty-five minutes he was obliged to strike his colours to his opponent. On 21 June 1824, at Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, without himself receiving a scratch, he, in a fifty minutes' fight, completely conquered a skilful boxer, Philip Sampson, ‘the Birmingham youth.’ He again met Sampson at Perry Lodge, four miles from Stony Stratford, on 28 Dec. 1824, when, although heavy rain fell, there were five thousand spectators on the ground. The luck was still against Sampson, who from the first never had much chance of a victory.

Ward was now at the height of his fame, and on 20 Feb. 1825 he challenged Tom Cannon for 500l. The encounter took place near Warwick on 19 July, in very hot weather, in the presence of twelve thousand persons, including an unusual number of the upper classes, and a large amount of money was laid on the result. In the tenth round Cannon fell insensible. Ward was proclaimed the winner, and on 22 July, at the Fives Court, was presented with a belt as the ‘British Champion.’ For some time after this event no one was willing to stand up against the champion, but at last, on 2 Jan. 1827, at Royston Heath, Cambridgeshire, he met Peter Crawley, when in twenty-six minutes, occupying eleven rounds, Ward was badly beaten. The next encounter was with Jack Carter, on 27 May 1828, at Shepperton Range, Middlesex, in the presence of a large muster of pugilists, when at the close of the seventieth round Carter was so much punished that the timekeepers led him away.

On 10 March 1829 Ward was matched to fight Simon Byrne at Leicester; but at the very last moment, when some fifteen thousand persons had assembled, Ward refused to encounter Byrne. Very strong remarks were made on his conduct, his backers left him, his friends forsook him, the Fair Play Club expunged his name from their list, and all the supporters of the ring turned their backs on him.

For three years Ward rested. Then, on 12 July 1831, he met Simon Byrne for 200l. a side, at Willeycott, near Stratford-on-Avon, in wet weather, but in the presence of an immense crowd. The fight lasted one hour and seventeen minutes, and, with the defeat of Byrne, ended Ward's last battle for the championship of England. On the following Thursday he was presented with a second champion's belt by Tom Spring at the Tennis Court, Windmill Street, London. Ward now offered to fight any man in the world for 500l. a side, but the challenge was not accepted, and on 25 June 1832 he wrote to the editor of ‘Bell's Life in London’ stating that he was retiring from the ring, and would hand over the champion's belt to the first man who proved himself worthy of it.

He subsequently carried on business as a tavern-keeper, first at the Star Hotel in 1832, and then at the York Hotel, Williamson Square, Liverpool. In 1853 he removed to London, and became in succession host of the Rose, 96 Jermyn Street, 1854; of the Three Tuns, 429 Oxford Street, 1855; of the King's Arms, Whitechapel, 1858–60; of the George in Ratcliffe Highway, and lastly of the Sir John Falstaff, Brydges Street (now known as Catherine Street).

Soon after settling in Liverpool in 1832, he became not only a connoisseur and purchaser of pictures, but also an artist in oils, producing numerous landscapes and other pieces of unquestionable merit. In 1846, 1849, and 1850 he was an exhibitor at the Liverpool exhibitions, and his pictures were much praised by the daily press. Perhaps his best known work is ‘The Sayers and Heenan Fight,’ a very large picture, containing 270 portraits, shown in 1860. The inhabitants of Liverpool were so proud of the success of a new artist in the town that they presented him with a service of plate and entertained him at a public dinner. Stacey Marks, who saw several of Ward's pictures, gave a very favourable account of them.

As a musician he was also talented, being a performer on the violin, flute, flageolet, piano, and guitar, and he was an expert pigeon-shooter and quoit-player.

After several failures in business, by the assistance and votes of his friends he retired to the Licensed Victuallers' Asylum in the Old Kent Road, London, where he died on 2 April 1884; he was buried in Nunhead cemetery on 8 April. On 8 Sept. 1831 he married Eliza, daughter of George Cooper, hotel-keeper, Edinburgh; the issue of this marriage was one daughter, Eleanor, born in Liverpool on 1 Sept. 1832. She was educated by Sir Julius Benedict, and became well known as an accomplished pianoforte performer.

[The Fancy, 1826, ii. 581–5, with portrait; Mingaud's Life of James Ward, 1853; Miles's Pugilistica, 1880, ii. 199–232, with portrait; Fights for the Championship, by the Editor of Bell's Life, 1860, pp. 83–8, 93–122; Egan's Boxiana, 1824, iv. 602–25; Fistiana, by the Editor of Bell's Life, 1868, p. 126; Illustrated Sporting News, 1863, i. 409, 452, with portrait; Daily Telegraph, 11 Nov. 1881; Morning Advertiser, 4 April 1884; Baily's Mag. May 1884 pp. 230–7, March 1880 pp. 140–2; Marks's Pen and Pencil Sketches, 1894, ii. 58–67.]

G. C. B.