In the 1840s the biggest name in English boxing was Benjamin Caunt. Ben Caunt (pictured below) was one of the first English prize-fighters to seek international acclaim. In 1841 he traveled to the USA to look for rivals to fight for a world title but ended up bringing an American boxer home with him to manage instead. Caunt was so famous that some have suggested the bell within the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster was named after him, which seems unlikely.
By 1846 ‘Big Ben’ was running a pub in St Martin’s Lane with his wife, although he continued to box well into the 1850s.
John Gill was a baker who lived in Cumming Street, Pentonville. On Saturday 19 December 1846 he had been drinking in the Caunts’ pub and got up to leave. Mrs Caunt asked him to settle his bill of 5s and at this point the baker made some wrong choices.
First, while he acknowledged the debt, he argued that since her husband owed him 5 guineas it was a bit unfair of her to ask him to pay up in full when ‘Ben’ was already in his debt.
Such familiarity didn’t go down terribly well with Mrs Caunt. She came around from the other side of the bar and stood toe-to-toe with him.
‘Does Ben owe you anything?’ she asked, ‘Then I’ll pay you this way’, and punched him twice in the face.
Regaining his feet if not his composure, and finding his mouth full of blood, Gill staggered to the bar and launched a stream of abusive words at the landlady.
That was his second mistake.
Ben Caunt heard the foul language aimed at his wife and loomed into view, hauling the baker to his feet and throwing him out on to the street.
All of this of course landed Mrs Caunt in court before Hardwick at Marlborough Street. In her the dock Mrs Caunt didn’t deny the assault but said she had been provoked. She alleged that Gill had used bad language towards her before she had thrown any punches and was able to produce a witness to that effect.
The newspaper reporter for Lloyd’s Weekly clearly enjoyed the story and its associations with the English champion. Mrs Caunt had delivered a punch that ‘would have done no discredit to her husband’s powers’. The hapless baker was the butt of the story and that is how the magistrate saw it as well. So Gill’s third mistake was in not simply putting the whole episode down to experience and going home quietly. Mr Hardwicke told him that he had ‘provoked the assault, by using language that was almost certain to cause a breach of the peace’, and he dismissed the summons.
Gill was beaten again, this time by a justice system and a magistrate that favoured the ‘weaker’ sex (who was clearly not the weaker one on this occasion).
[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, December 27, 1846]