“In life always brave, fighting like a lion…
In death like a lamb, tranquil in Zion”
Nottingham loves lions (    ) and they so loved William ‘Bendigo’ Thompson that his funeral in 1880 had a procession a mile long with thousands in attendance. He was buried in St Mary's Cemetery (now called the Rest Garden) and, a hundred years later, all gravestones except his were transferred to the back wall. Unfortunately his monument was carved in soft stone, and acid air from thousands of coal fires has not been kind to it across the last century.
William Thomson was born on 11 October 1811 in New Yard, Nottingham (now known as Trinity Walk, off Parliament Street) and grew up in poverty as the youngest of 21 children. Today, he is almost unknown in the town.
The (possibly apocryphal) story is that he was the youngest of triplets, and that the three of them were named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When Abednego was 15 his father died, and he & his mother found themselves in the workhouse. His situation was dire:– Nottingham's population soared to be 5 times greater than before; the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 led to mass unemployment; Nottingham's population was unable to expand out of the old town boundary and a national cholera epidemic in 1832 was acute in Nottingham and led to the establishment of St Mary's Cemetery (funded by the Quaker grocer Samuel Fox) in order to be able to handle the flood of dead bodies which was overwhelming the other graveyards.
Abednego was good with his fists and, in spite of the fact that prize-fighting was illegal, by 18 he was able to become the family bread-winner. He became astonishingly popular — one fight in a field in Leicestershire drew a crowd of 15,000 — and that popularity & success seems to have been based on these factors:–
- He was a southpaw
- He would bend ‘n’ duck ‘n’ weave whilst fighting
(this led to him acquiring the nickname ‘Bendy’)
(“bendy Abednego” appears to have led to “Bendigo”)
- He was fit, fast, strong & devoid of fear
- Like Muhammad Ali he was lippy, and both funny & insulting with it
- He never lost a fight
After winning 21 fights he retired aged 39.
The next years were bad for Bendigo. His mother died (in her 80s) and he went to pieces. The records show him to have been sent to The House of Correction for Drunk and Disorderly on 28 occasions. Getting him there must have been interesting for the constables. In the 1870s he began to take an interest in religion & discovered a vocation as a Methodist preacher. Thousands of people would attend his open-air sermons throughout the country.
He fell down the stairs at his home in Beeston and, after many weeks, died on 23 August 1880 aged 69 & was buried within his mother's grave. He had finally met the opponent that he could not defeat:– Time, ably abetted by her handmaiden, Death.
There is currently an effort to fundraise to have a bronze statue of Bendigo erected in the town centre. They would welcome your donations.