Round 8 - Men O' War

Egan was eager to emphasise the martial aspects of contests, implying that most pugilists, regardless of previous education or profession, were capable of deploying military-style tactics in their efforts to outmanoeuvre their opponent. Boxiana I was a departure from the staid reports of Pancratia (1812), fighters being portrayed as individuals with background information. They were also alluded to in elevated terms befitting classical heroes, or in explicitly favourable comparisons, imbuing the action with a sense of the gladiatorial amphitheatre. Analogies would be made between pugilists and contemporary military leaders, thus augmenting the heroic image of the sport and its participants.

It is not only Egan who constantly cited the military benefits to be derived from men undertaking pugilistic training, or sparring. Once honed, it is envisaged that the places where this ‘manly’ science will prove vital are the battlefields of Europe.

A Fancy contributor, Tom Reynolds, claimed that the influence of prizefighting extended beyond the inculcation of martial hardiness: ‘exhibitions of this kind have their good effects, which can be traced to us as a nation, and, independent of fighting, influence other actions’ (Book of Sports). Egan does not curtail his recommendation to pugilism alone, and includes ‘all those manly amusements, both in the environs of the Metropolis, and in the country, which strengthen the sinews, summon up the generous blood, and characterise the English-man above the inhabitants of every other nation’.


Boxiana-style descriptions deployed figures that injected an element of audience recognition. A prime example of the ring transformed into an imaginary field of battle occurs in Egan’s account of Randall v Belasco (1817), as he describes the manoeuvrings: ‘[NAPOLEON] never looked upon the advantages of a move with greater interest – nor did the competent WELLINGTON ever attempt to frustrate any grand design, with more zeal, judgement, and anxiety [...] It was a complete system of tactics’ (Boxiana II). Martial references are a consistent feature amidst the various fight commentaries, such as the opening of the Shelton v Burns contest (16 March 1819): ‘Burns bored in upon Shelton with all the confidence and weight of a man of war running down a brig’ (Boxiana III). And, describing Glossop v Manning (1824): ‘It was broadside for broadside’.


One of the soldiers killed at Waterloo, John Shaw (1789-1815), had been an acclaimed member of the pugilistic ranks. Whilst Egan’s tribute does not attempt to yoke Shaw’s pugilistic and battlefield exploits together, there is a sense of contesting for both military and sporting laurels: ‘On April 18, 1815 […] he entered the lists with that brave hero of the fist Ned Painter. Victory again crowned his efforts’; ‘After having performed his duty towards his country in a giant-like manner […] he fell on the 18th of June’. The proximity of the two dates adds an extra poignancy. The veneration of Shaw’s bravery was not confined to Fancy circles, and Walter Scott, writing to the Duke of Buccleuch, accorded Shaw the status of national, as well as sporting, champion:

'The cuirassiers, despite their arms of proof, were quite inferior to our heavy dragoons [...] Officers and soldiers all fought hand to hand without distinction; and many of the former owed their life to the dexterity at their weapon, and personal strength of body. Shaw, the milling Life-Guardsman […] among the Champions of the Fancy, maintained the honour of the fist'.


In addition to spotlighting their physical strength and bravery, Scott indicates the mixed-class composition of the British troops, underscoring notions of a heterogeneous united body pursuing an honourable goal.

From the opening pages of Boxiana I, Egan highlighted the transferable nature of sporting attributes: 'The cause, Sir, ought not to be lost sight of in the effect – and the alacrity of the TAR in serving his gun, and the daring intrepidity of the BRITISH SOLDIER in mounting the breach – in producing those brilliant victories which have reflected so much glory on the English Nation'.


One of the more obvious sports that played its part in developing practical skills was sailing, Egan attending many regattas. He records (1832) that ‘numerous Yacht Clubs have been formed’, and hints at the significance of discovering ‘some excellent sailors […] who would do credit to vessels of a much larger size’ (Book of Sports). And, the seventh verse of the Thames Yacht Club (T.Y.C.) song  highlights the members’ gallantry and willingness to mobilise in times of conflict:

Should e’er Old England’s fabled foe, the Dragon, reappear,

To spit fire at our gallant fleet, we’ve nothing still to fear;

For harmless would be all his rage, his reign a transient hour,

For England’s Champion, brave St. George, would re-display his power:

For the T.Y.C shall foremost be

Where courage is the rub;

And bravery the watch-word be

Of this – the Thames Yacht Club.



The Battle of the Nile (August 1798)


Scene at Aboukir Bay(mouth of the Nile), where Nelson’s fleet routed the French.



Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).