'The Black Diamond' (1781-1848)
Defeated only once [see below], the prize-ring feats of Cribb arguably carried greater resonance for national esteem than weighty political and military affairs of the period.
The Battle between Cribb and Molineaux
Spectator fervour had been demonstrated when English champion Tom Cribb’s crown was threatened by an American challenger, Tom Molineaux. The two fightstook place on 18 December, 1810 (Copthorn, Sussex) and 28 September, 1811 (Thistleton Gap, nr. Grantham):
'The Fancy were not to be deterred from witnessing the mill; and […] waded through a clayey road nearly knee-deep for five miles, with alacrity and cheerfulness, as if it had been as smooth as a bowling-green’ (Boxiana I).
In 1813, Cribb was landlord of King’s Arms, Duke St, St. James’s. He had become champion of England in October 1808, defeating Bob Gregson.
Byron was accustomed to sparring with former champion 'Gentleman' John Jackson, and his interest in the world of the Fancy is evident in his journal entry of 23 November 1813:
‘Jackson has been here: the boxing world much as usual […] I shall dine at Crib’s to-morrow. I like energy – even animal energy’.
During his ‘audience’ with Cribb (it is debateable which of them would be considered more famous), the drink flows freely, and his record of 25 November is almost unstinting in appreciation of Cribb’s stature: 'Just returned from dinner with Jackson (the Emperor of Pugilism) and another of the select, at Crib’s the champion’s. I drank more than I like, and have brought away some three bottles of very fair claret [...] We had Tom up after dinner; - very facetious, though somewhat prolix […] Tom has been a sailor – a coal-heaver – and some other genteel profession […] and is now only three-and-thirty. A great man!'
George Nicholls (1775-1832)Boxiana III. Copyright British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.
Nicholls was the only fighter to defeat Tom Cribb (20 July 1805). This is a rare occasion where George Sharples drew his pugilistic subject in working garb. Nicholls, a butcher, appears to have been wearing a form of protective smock.
Egan was aware that some ‘friends of the CHAMPION’ had encouraged the myth that Cribb enjoyed an unbeaten career by ‘withholding the name’ of his vanquisher, but he is determined that his publication will not perpetuate injustice:
‘For want of a BOXIANA, to record their valorous deeds, Heroes and Tyros of the fist have […] been suffered to “steal ingloriously to the grave”, and their qualifications buried with them’ (Boxiana I).
Egan faithfully recounts crucial moments from this contest:
‘The coolness and good temper of NICHOLLS appeared so predominant throughout […] that not only his fortitude was preserved, but added vigour to his judgement […] CRIBB became rather puzzled and perplexed from his tactics being thus foiled’.