'Rural Sports: A Milling Match…' by Rowlandson – £3200 at Dominic Winter.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Held at Thisselton Gap in Rutland on September 28, the contest was a re-match between two celebrated bare knuckle boxers, the English champion Thomas Cribb and the African-American fighter Tom Molineaux, who was said to be a former slave.

Victory in a much longer earlier contest between the two men, one that lasted 35 rounds, had been awarded to Cribb, but the result had been disputed. This re-match, supposedly watched by around 15,000 spectators, some of whom must surely have had only distant glimpse of the blows exchanged, lasted ‘just’ 19 minutes.

This time Cribb broke Molineaux’s jaw in the ninth round and knocked him out in the 11th.

Rural sports series

Thomas Rowlandson recorded the fight as part of his celebrated Rural Sports series published by Thomas Tegg shortly afterwards in October 1811.

His etching includes both the two pugilists and their entourages. Cribb’s ‘second’ was John Gully and his bottle-holder Joe Ward, while Molineaux’s second was Bill ‘The Black Terror’ Richmond (also African-American by birth and once enslaved) and his bottleman, Bill Gibbon. Note also, in the lower foreground, two pickpockets, a man and a woman, are shown relieving spectators of their purses.

The Dominic Winter sale was held on May 12-13.