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Who Was Big Tom?

The fact that Foley's extensive gymnasium was crowded on Saturday night with an audience who paid a guinea each to witness a glove encounter between Professor Jackson and J. T. Lees will show how great was the desire on the part of the public to witness the encounter. The assemblage may be said to have been of a mixed kind, nearly all the leading sporting men in Sydney being present including one sporting M. L. C. There were also present a prominent mining M. L. A., six ex-chairman of committees, and two or three ex-members of Parliament. those who paid their guinea certainly did not receive the worth of their money, for a tamer and more unskilful glove encounter was never witnessed. 

As a preliminary to the great event a spirited and clever display of boxing was given by Molloy and O'Brien. That was all the boxing that the onlookers were regaled with during the evening. The contest between Jackson and Lees was for L200 aside and a grand silver belt presented by Mr. Foley, the retired champion. A great deal of time was lost in arranging the preliminaries the choice of referees being the difficulty. Both sides agreed to the selection of Mr. Geo Seale, and that gentlemen, after some persuasion, accepted the position, Mr. J. Thompson being chosen timekeeper. 

As regards height and reach Jackson had a great advantage over Lees, and was nearly 2 st. heavier. The match was under Queensberry rules, the rounds being of three minutes duration with a minute's interval, a man when knocked down to be allowed 10 seconds to get up unaided, and failing to do so to lose the contest; no wrestling or hugging allowed. In the first round Lees very quickly lunged at Jackson's ribs - the supposed vulnerable part of the latter - Jackson however was on the alert, and he heavily countered Lees flush in the face, and repeated the operation before the expiry of the round, which, according to the rules occupied three minutes. In the second and succeeding rounds, Lees dodged, and would not face his opponent, who fairly chased him around the ring. This introduction of pedestrianism into the proceedings did not suit the taste of the audience who hooted Lees. It was the evident intention of the latter to wear out Jackson, but it was apparent to all that he was only exhausting himself. 

Round after round was repeated with hardly a blow being struck. In two consecutive rounds they did not make an effort to hit each other. the antics of the two combatants forcibly brought to mind the mimic glove encounter on the stage of the Academy of Music between Messrs Bent and Moynheme. During the one hour and fifty-seven minutes which the contest lasted the two men were several time quite exhausted, and Lees was knocked off his legs five or six times. Jackson was the better boxer all through, and it was only through his opponent's tactics that the affair was so prolonged and uninteresting. Whenever the men came within exchanging distance of each other, Jackson showed unmistakable superiority as a boxer. 

At the end of the 30th round Lees was beaten, but he stood up for two more rounds, and was eventually knocked out. Neither combatant received any punishment worth mentioning. Jackson's victory was well received, Mr. L. Foley promptly suppressing any remarks which would likely create a disturbance. There was a posse of police in the hall, but their services were not called into requisition

            - Sydney Morning Herald - Monday Sept. 27, 1886

 

When I first started taking an interest in family history, my Uncle Jack Lees told me some stories about big Tom and little Tom Lees.  Little Tom was his Uncle, Thomas Alfred Lees who migrated from Dudley in Worcestershire, England to Brooklyn, New York in 1888, the same year, his father and my grandfather, Alfred Edward Lees set sail for Australia aboard the SS Oroya at the age of 16 years and 10 months. 

Big Tom was a boxer and one time heavy weight champion of Australia (1885-1886) who also happened to be a relative.  My Uncle Jack would tell me stories that his father had passed down to him about various boxing matches against the likes of Paddy Slavin, Bill Farnan, the famous Peter Jackson and overseas exhibition matches in America, Canada and England but exactly how big Tom was related, no one seemed to know.  That knowledge had long since faded away.

Through the existence of this website, I have established a network of Lees cousins and it is through one of little Tom's descendents that I learnt of the family story which tells how little Tom had escorted my grandfather to the ship to farewell him on his voyage to Australia.  Apparently on the way back home to Dudley he came across his cousin big Tom who was travelling from England to America.  As the story goes, big Tom convinced little Tom to accompany him which he did on the spur of the moment even though he initially left behind a wife and two children.  Such must have been the persuasive powers of this family legend.

It became a quest of mine to try and find out more about big Tom and the following is how the pieces of the puzzle fit together so far.  The information has come from a number of sources, some substantiated, others not.  This quest continues to be a work in progress.

My great grandfather, Denis James Lees was born about 1816 in Montreal, the son of a soldier, Thomas Lees and Elizabeth O'Grady.  Denis was their second son.  Their eldest, named after his father was also born in Montreal about 4 years earlier.  Thomas junior enlisted into his father's regiment, the 8th King's Royal Irish Regiment of Hussars in 1825 at the age of 13.  His military career lasted until 1839 when he was discharged with pulmonic disease and threatened phthisis induced by exposure to cold and wet.  It is not clear what he did in the ensuing years but evidence showed that his pension was possibly being paid into the Bank of New South Wales in Australia.  Thomas turns up officially in Australia when he marries Hannorah O'Brien in Sydney in 1853. Their first child, Mary, is born in 1854 though there is no registration of her birth as it was before compulsory records.  In 1856 a son Denis is born in the Liverpool Plains district.  In 1858, the family is living in Tamworth, N.S.W. when Thomas J Lees is born.  Two more children follow, Margaret and William Joseph.

In March 1864 Thomas enlisted in Sydney into the 4th Waikato Regiment to fight in the Maori wars in New Zealand on the promise of free passage for his family and 50 acres of land for 3 years of service.  The family settled in Hamilton and three more children, Elizabeth, John and Amanda followed.

Information from pencilled notes by H C M Norris, a member of the Waikato Historical Society who published the book "1864 - 1874 Armed Settlers" in 1956 in which is detailed the early days of the military settlements in the Waikato and is held in the New Zealand Manuscripts collection at the Hamilton Public Library indicates that when young Thomas J was old enough, his father apprenticed him to a boot maker in Ngaruawahia for half a crown a week and his keep. Young Tom said long afterwards that he was kept all right, but in poverty. Apparently, he ran away from his master, got a job aboard the ship "Hero" and left her at Sydney. The information indicates that he eventually joined the Mounted Police (presumably in Victoria) and helped in the rounding up of the Kelly gang in 1880.

The book "Heroes of The Fancy" by Arnold Thomas states that Tom Lees the boxer was a former policeman.  His professional boxing career appears to have commenced in January 1884 when he fought Peter Jackson in Sydney.  Given that Thomas J Lees was in Australia at the time of the Kelly gang capture in 1880 and was also a policeman and given that Big Tom the boxer was a cousin of my grandfather and his brother Little Tom, it seems plausible that the two are one and the same.

Further research has established that Tom's full name was Thomas James Lees and he married Florence Matthew Haywood at Moor Street, Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia on October 25th, 1892.  The marriage certificate states that Florence was born in London (around 1867) and that both were living in Bourke Street, Melbourne at the time of their marriage.  Tom's profession was recorded as a publican at the time, just like his Uncle James who was living in Paddington, Sydney even though his professional boxing career had been quite active up until a year earlier when he had fought for the Australian Heavyweight championship against Joe Goddard.

Tom's boxing career seems to go into a lull around the time of his marriage until his fight in Canada six years later against Paddy Slavin.  A year further on in 1899 he turns up in Marylebone, London in a fight against Jack Scales and then no further record of his boxing career has surfaced so far.  At that time Tom simply seems to disappear.  No record of his return to Australia has been discovered nor is there any record of his death in NSW or Victoria.  A search of the 1901 UK census however does appear to have him living at 19 Harleyford Rd, Lambeth, London.  His profession is recorded as a professional athlete.  His wife is recorded as Ellen, 5 years older than Florence but also born in London.  No children are recorded living with them.  

At this stage, I do not believe that Ellen and Florence are the same.  However, there is a marriage between a Thomas J Lees and Mary E Martin in Sydney early 1897.  They had a son, Leslie C Lees born later that year and a stillborn infant in 1899.  If Mary E is actually Ellen then that leaves us asking what happened to Leslie as well as Tom's first wife, Florence.  Thomas J and Mary E had a 3rd child, Eva G M Lees in 1903 at St Leonards, Sydney so if this is the same person then he must have retuned from London between 1901 and 1903.

So who was Big Tom? He continues to remain elusive in discovering what happened to him and the evidence of another wife just adds a whole new line of investigation but one thing is now certain.  He was my grandfather's 1st cousin.

 

Tom Lees Boxing Record

Fights involving Thomas Lees:  

YEAR

DATE

OPPONENT

LOCATION

RESULT

REF.

1884

Jan 28

George Seale

Academy of Music, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

L PTS  6

2

 

Jan 28

Peter Jackson

Academy of Music, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   6

1, 2, 3

 

Jan 31

Peter Jackson

- Jackson won a Silver Cup

Academy of Music, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

L PTS  4

1, 2, 3

 

Feb 2

Peter Jackson

Academy of Music, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND  4

1, 2, 3

 

Apr 26

S. Cribbe

Orange, N.S.W., Australia

W KO   6

2

 

Sep 13

? Key

Victoria Hall, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

NC ND  3

2

 

Nov 23

? O’Brien

Lyceum Hall, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

W KO   2

2

1885

Feb 2

Dick Atkinson

Melbourne, VIC, Australia

W KO  11

2

 

Feb 7

Bill Farnan

- Stopped when Police intervened.

Victoria Hall, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

D PTS 3

2, 3

 

May 19

Bill Farnan

- Australian Heavyweight Title 

Lyceum Hall, Heidelberg, VIC, Australia

W KO  12

2, 3  

The Sportsman, Apr 28, 1886, p6

 

Jul 13

Peter Newton

Lyceum Hall, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

NC ND  3

2

1886

Mar 18

Peter Newton

Lyceum Hall, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

NC ND  4

2

Apr 19

Bill Farnan

- Australian Heavyweight Title

- Stopped when Police intervened.

Williamstown Racecourse, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

D PTS 19

2, 3  

The Sportsman, Apr 28, 1886, p6

 

Apr 20

Bill Farnan

- Australian Heavyweight Title

- Lees and Farnan were matched against each other again after their fight the day before had been stopped by the Police.

Essendon, VIC, Australia

W KO   4

2, 3  

The Sportsman, Apr 28, 1886, p6

 

Jul 10

Peter Newton

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2, 3

 

Jul 12

Pablo Frank

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2, 3

 

Jul 14

Larry Foley

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2, 3

 

Jul 17

Jack Malloy

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

W KO   2

2

 

Jul 31

Peter Newton

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2

 

Aug 07

Peter Newton

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2

 

Aug 14

George Seale

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2

 

Aug 21

Maori Jack

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

W KO   2

2

 

Aug 25

Bob Fitzsimmons

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2

 

Aug 28

Mick Dooley

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

W PTS   4

2

 

Sep 04

? Snow

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

W PTS   4

2

 

Sep 11

Big Jack

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

W PTS   4

2

 

Sep 18

Peter Newton

Foley’s Hall, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

NC ND   4

2

 

Sep 25

Peter Jackson

- Australian Heavyweight Title 

Foley’s White Horse Arena , Sydney, N.S.W., Australia

L KO  30

1, 2, 3, 5

Sydney Morning Herald - Sept. 27, 1886

News of the World 14 Nov, 1886, p8

The Washington Herald 21 Dec 1908

The Salt Lake Herald 24 Mar 1907

1887

Jul 01

Will Perkins

(Date uncertain)

London, England

W  KO  6

2

 

Aug 30

Bill (Chesterfield) Goode

Lambeth, London, England

L PTS   15

2

 

Oct 15  

Bill (Chesterfield) Goode

- Ring Broken

Brewer St., London, England

D PTS   5

2, Unknown

1888

Sep 26

Tom Goode

Boston, MA, U.S.A.

W  TKO 2

The Chicago Daily Tribune 30 Sep, 1888, p14

Denny Kelleher

Boston, MA, U.S.A.

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier Nov 27, 1899

Oct

Jimmy Carroll

- Lees did not fight having ‘run away’ to Boston some days earlier

Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A.

 

4 - Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1st  Oct 1888

 

Dec 3

Jack Fallon

- At the time, Lees was 5’ 10.5”, 158 lbs and 28 years old

Possible bare knuckle bout. Lees would not continue for an "additional" round and ref declared Fallon the winner. EXH?

Palace Rink, Grand St, Brooklyn?, NY, U.S.A.

L TKO   10

2, 4 - Brooklyn Daily Eagle 4th Dec 1888 (front page)  

Los Angeles Times Dec 5, 1888, p4

1889

Jan 03

Jack Fallon

- At the time, Lees was 5’ 10.5”, 158 lbs and 28 years old

New York, NY, U.S.A.

L KO   8

2

 

May 22

Joe McAuliffe

Golden Gate Athletic Club, San Francisco, U.S.A.

L KO   8

2, 3,

4 - Brooklyn Daily Eagle 4th Apr 1889

The Washington Post 28th May, 1889 Apr 5, 1889, p3

Los Angeles Times May 23, 1889 P1

The Chicago Daily Tribune Apr 5, 1889, p3 and May 23, 1889, p7

 

Jun 15

Peter Jackson

-Some sources report Jun 20

Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.

Exh NC ND 4

1, 2, 3

 

Jul 23

Peter Jackson

- This bout was scheduled but not held; Police intervened

Cincinnati, OH, U.S.A.

 

1, 3

 

Jul 27

Peter Jackson

Erie, PA, U.S.A.

Exh NC ND 4

1, 2, 3

 

Jul 30

Jackson got into a street fight with Tom Lees at Buffalo, NY.  Lees was angry about money Jackson owed him for training and sparring

 

 

1

Los Angeles Times Jul 31, 1889, p1

Decatur Daily Despatch August 1, 1889

 

Sep 24

Jackson reportedly got into a street fight with Tom Lees at London, Eng. It is questionable that this occurred since no English papers reported it.

 

 

1

1890

Jul 19

Harry Walker

Charters Towers, QLD, Australia

W KO  6

2

1891

May 26

Joe Goddard

Charters Towers, QLD, Australia

L TKO  9

2, The Charters Towers Times 27th May 1891

1891

Sep 21

Joe Goddard

- Australian Heavyweight Title 

Crystal Palace, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

D PTS  8

2, 3

1894

Oct 04

Herb McKell (bare knuckle)

Theatre Royal, Coolgardie, WA, Australia

L KO 6

 2

1898

May 28

Frank Patrick (Paddy) Slavin

Dawson City, Yukon, Canada

L PTS 20

 2, 3

1899

Nov 14

Jack Scales

Bob Habbijam, Marylebone, London, England

L KO 2

 2  

The Chicago Daily Tribune, 11 Feb 1900, p17

Bangor Daily Whig and Courier Nov 27, 1899

1902

Reference to Tom Lees having bluffed Dick O'Brien out of the heavyweight class

England

 The Salt Lake Herald 24 Mar 1902 P7 Col A

1902

Reference to Sailor Bill Evarts having defeated Tom Lees in 8 rounds

England

 The Salt Lake Herald 24 Mar 1902 P7 Col A

1909

Nov

Tommy Burns

Australia

The Washington Times, 29 Nov, 1909, Page 8 Col E

1 http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/jackson.htm

2 http://www.boxrec.com/boxer_display.php?boxer_id=039896

3 http://www.bkbworld.com/ (site no longer appears to be active)

4 http://eagle.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/Archive/skins/BE/navigator.asp?BP=OK

5 News of the World 28/11/1886 page 8 Sporting notes and predictions http://www.uk.olivesoftware.com/

 

Last Updated - 27 August, 2009