New Zealand’s first prize fight?

8 July 1862

Cartoon showing a bare-knuckle boxing bout, 1889 (PapersPast)

The boxing bout was fought in an improvised ring on the banks of the Waimakariri River near Kaiapoi after police were ejected from the scene. London prizefighter Harry Jones defeated ‘navvie’ George Barton over 30 bloody bare-knuckle rounds for a purse of £100 (worth more than $11,000 today).

The pugilists were subsequently charged with making an affray and assault, and the officials and handlers with aiding and abetting. The case had farcical elements – the 500 spectators had allegedly included one of the magistrates who committed Jones and Barton for trial, as well as Christchurch’s Crown Prosecutor, who mysteriously stepped aside on this occasion.

After the bit players were discharged, each boxer had his day in court. The jury acquitted them of the affray charges but found them guilty of assault, for which both served a month in gaol.

Jones enlivened proceedings by claiming that a magistrate had put up part of the purse, and that Police Sub-Inspector Revell had enjoyed a dram or three at ringside while watching the fight he had failed to stop.   

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