Oliver, Tom (DNB00)

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OLIVER, TOM (1789–1864), pugilist, born at Breadlow in Buckinghamshire in June 1789, left his native place as a boy, and entered the service of Mr. Baker, a gardener, at Millbank, London. A visit to a prize-fight in 1811 fired his ambition to enter the ring. His first essay was with Kimber, a stonemason, at Tothill Fields in the same year. In a fight of an hour and forty minutes he was hailed the conqueror. He at once became known as the Chelsea gardener, an appellation which adhered to him throughout his career. After several minor fights, he on 15 May 1813 encountered George Cooper at Moulsey Hurst, Surrey, and, after thirteen rounds of a severely contested engagement lasting seventeen minutes, was declared the victor. On Tuesday, 17 May 1814, he met Ned Painter at Shepperton Range, Middlesex, for a purse of 50l., given by the pugilistic club, to be contended for in a 24 foot ring. In the second round Oliver received a blow which all but disabled him; but, coming up to time and adopting Tom Cribb's system of milling on the retreat, he won the battle in the eighth round. He now became the landlord of the Duke's Head, 31 Peter Street, Westminster, a house which 'the fancy' of the Westminster district made their headquarters. On 4 Oct. 1816 he met Jack Carter, 'the Lancashire hero,' at Gretna Green, for one hundred guineas a side. The spectators numbered about thirty thousand, and the Marquis of Queensberry and Captain Barclay acted as the umpires. In the thirty-second round, at the end of forty-six minutes, he was taken out of the ring in a state of stupor, and completely deprived of sight.

On 10 July 1818 Oliver encountered Bill Neat of Bristol at Gerrard's Cross, but the authorities interfered, and the ring was removed to Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, where Lord Yarmouth, Sir Henry Smith, and other celebrities were present. After one hour had elapsed, and twenty-eight rounds had been fought, Oliver was knocked senseless, and could not come up to time. However, on 28 May 1819 he completely defeated Hendrick the black. He next, on 21 July 1819, encountered Dan Donnelly, the champion of Ireland, at Crawley Hurst, Sussex, for one hundred guineas a side. Intense interest was manifested in this affair in both countries, and bets amounting to upwards of 100,000l. were made on the result. Oliver fought, with his accustomed bravery, but in the thirty-fourth round the victory fell to the Irishman. On 13 Jan. 1820 Oliver defeated Tom Shelton at Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire; but in a fight with his former opponent, Ned Painter, at North Walsham, Norfolk,on 17 July 1820, he lost the battle. He was then matched to fight Tom Spring on 20 Feb. 1821 at Hayes, Middlesex. Spring was too much for him; but he showed great forbearance in the fight, and allowed Oliver much latitude. In encounters with T. Hickman, the gas-lightman, on 12 June 1821, and with Bill Abbott on 6 Nov. 1821, Oliver's age told against him. He was now appointed to take charge of the ropes and stakes of the prize-ring, and he was a constant attendant at the ring-side as commissary. His last fight was with Ben Burn at Hampton, Middlesex, on 28 Jan. 1834, when he won the victory in twenty-five minutes. On 15 July 1846 he was sentenced at the Oxford assizes to three weeks' imprisonment for being present at a fight between Gill and Norley. During his latter years he was a fruiterer and greengrocer in Pimlico and Chelsea. He died in London in June 1864, leaving a son, Frederick Oliver, also a pugilist and a commissary of the ring, who died on 30 Jan. 1870.

[Fistiana, by the editor of Bell's Life (1868), pp. 92-3; Boxiana, 1818-24, ii. 95 &c, iii. 262, with portrait, iv. 138 &c.; Miles's Pugilistica, 1880, ii. 89-103, with portrait; Hannan's Guide to British Boxing, pt. ii. pp. 43-6; The Fancy, by an Operator, 1826, i. 609-16, with portrait.]

G. C. B.