18th Century Female Bruisers

We have previously written about women fighting whether it be ‘Lady Barrymore, the Boxing Baroness’, ‘The Petticoat Duellists’ or the 18th Century boxing match for the hand of a farm lad. We know that pugilism was not totally a male domain and that women fought for money including the likes of Hannah Hyfield and Elizabeth Wilkinson.

Star (London, England), Thursday, January 2, 1800

Today, however, we’re going to take a closer look at a superb painting by John Collet which depicts two female bruisers. It is difficult to tell whether these two women were a couple of the regular fighters who appear to have existed. The picture is incredibly detailed and Collet gives us some clues.

Collet, John; The Female Bruisers; Museum of London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-female-bruisers-50752
Collet, John; The Female Bruisers; Museum of London

At the window above the poster are two lovers – or could it be a nod to the building actually being a brothel?

Female Bruisers - lovers at the windowLooking at the woman on the left she appears to be quite well dressed with a pocket watch on a chatelaine hanging down from her waist and a bracelet on her wrist. Her bonnet and cloak on the floor and the three children to her left closely examining her fur muff. At the bottom left-hand corner, we can see the start of a cock-fight. The man just behind her is having his pock picked – so perhaps indicative of the type of neighbourhood she’s in. The butcher has come out of his shop which is in the background; is he offering her some smelling salts or similar?

Female Bruisers - central scene

If we look to the top of the picture we can just about make the wording of a poster advertising a play The Rival Queens which was being performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1771.

The Rvial Queens

The Rival Queens - Public Advertiser, Saturday, March 30, 1771
Public Advertiser, Saturday, March 30, 1771

On the right of the picture, we can see that the other woman appears far less well dressed, as you can tell she isn’t wearing stays, and the man who appears to be trying to help her up from the ground has his hand rather too close to a place it probably shouldn’t have been!

Female Bruisers

We also took a quick look in the newspapers of the day for any other examples and found a couple more to share with you.
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Friday, December 27, 1765

Yesterday afternoon a severe battle was fought in the ruins of St. Giles, for five guineas a side, between two noted female bruisers, the one from Brick-Lane, Spital-fields, and the other of Buckrage Street; when the championess of Buckrage Street after a contest of 25 minutes came off victorious, with loud huzzas from at least 3000 spectators.

London Evening Post, September 3, 1767

Wednesday a bloody bruising match was fought in the ruins of St. Giles, between two noted bruisers, the one from Newtoner’s Lane, the other from Brown’s Gardens, when the former, after a contest of 20 minutes was crown’d with victory, amidst the plaudits of a vast crowd of spectators.

UPDATE

Since writing this blog we have found an interesting one in the Weekly Journal, Oct 1, 1726, that we had to share with you as it provides us with a snippet of information at the end, almost as an afterthought about their wearing apparel

They fight in close jackets, short petticoats coming just below the knee, Holland drawers, white stockings and pumps.

Weekly Journal or British Gazetteer), Saturday, October 1, 1726

18th Century boxing match for the hand of a farm lad

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Tuesday 16th February 1790.

FEMALE BRUISING

Two of the fair sex last week actually fought a pitched battle at Waddington in Lincolnshire attended by their seconds. When it is considered that the object of their contention was a husband, it will not be wondered that the battle was long and violent, lasting not less than half an hour.  Two days after the heroine triumphantly led her happy man to the altar! – So that this may probably not be the last battle on the occasion.

Well, what a wonderful snippet of history!  But, remembering the distress we caused to some of our readers when we debunked the tale of the Petticoat Duellists, we approached our research into this story with caution.

Blog - Waddington boxing 1

Fortunately it seems that the two Lincolnshire feminine bruisers did exist and that the fight did take place; it was confirmed in several other newspapers which gave more details.

Mary Farmery and Susanna Locker were both servants and it was Mary who challenged her rival to the fight with the prize being the young man they both claimed the affections of.  The boxing match was conducted according to form and for some time the outcome seemed uncertain with both women delivering blows which felled their opponent.  But Mary Farmery must have been certain of her pugilistic abilities when she suggested the boxing match for she was named the victor.

The Female Bruisers by John Collet, 1768; (c) Museum of London
The Female Bruisers by John Collet, 1768; (c) Museum of London

The object of their affections was a young man who was servant to a farmer in the neighbourhood, and all the newspaper accounts agree that he ‘actually had the temerity to go to church with the victor.’ Sadly, it seems possible that there was no happy ending after all for the victorious Mary Farmery, for no marriage took place in the parish church at Waddington and we have, as yet, found no record of it ever taking place at all.

We don’t want to disappoint you this time so perhaps we’ll just picture Mary sweeping her beau off his feet and disappearing off into the sunset with him?

Blog - Waddington boxing

N.B. A Mary Farmery was baptized in Navenby, just a few miles away from Waddington, in June 1771, and a Susanna Locker married a man by the name of Richard Harmstone in Caythorpe, again not too far away, in June 1795.  Perhaps Susanna was luckier than Mary in finally getting up the aisle?

 

Sources used not mentioned above:

Derby Mercury, 28th January 1790

Stamford Mercury, 29th January 1790

Norfolk Chronicle, 6th February 1790