In July 1862, on the banks of the Waimakariri River, around 600 spectators gathered around local man, George Barton and London prize fighter, Harry Jones for Canterbury’s first organised boxing match. With Jones came the rules of London boxing – meaning bare fists with elbowing and kneeing allowed. The match lasted an hour and 10 minutes with £100 for the winner. Jones won.
It must have been quite a match as police were soon on site, storming the ring with their revolvers already cocked. As there were high ranking law officials amongst the crowd, there must have been a bit of guilty relief when the crowds drove the police back successfully. But this event was no way Canterbury’s first scuffle – for as early as 1851 brawls were breaking out right there on the streets of Lyttelton. One spectator recorded in his journal how odd it was to see a brutal street fight surrounded with the lovely feminine lace of bonnets and parasols.
By the late 1860’s, boxing matches were being set up all over the country. On 4th July 1902, at the Hereford Hotel in Christchurch, the New Zealand Boxing Council was founded. The sport proved so popular that by 1924, the Council had to admit that boxing was now beyond their control. In Wellington on 11th November 1924, the New Zealand Boxing Council was renamed the New Zealand Boxing Association and they are still housed in Wellington today.
New Zealand’s first Boxing Championship was hosted in Christchurch at the (Isaacs) Theatre Royal on 26th and 29th September 1902. Fellow boxing official and then current Mayor, Henry Francis Wigram addressed the crowd with the following, ‘I am glad that there was no need to say anything in support of the movement to progress the art of self defence…’
Attached is a photo of a boxing match taking part in Christchurch in 1910.