the museum network
Portraits & Portraiture
HomeView PortraitsThemes<empty>Timeline<empty>Children's Activities!
All PortraitsThe Bowes MuseumCompton VerneyThe Holburne Museum Waddesdon Manor The Wallace Collection

English School
Tom Sayers Prize Fighter

circa 1840

View Compton Verney Portraits

Sayers (1826–1865) was English Champion Boxer at the end of the 1850s. He was famous for his courage, strength, and sporting conduct. His last, and most celebrated bout against the American John C. Heenan was attended by thousands, among them Charles Dickens. It lasted 2 hours – 47 rounds.  The match took place in 1860 at Farnborough and was for the Champion’s Belt and £200.  Because of the fierce fighting, the crowd’s participation, and the referee’s incompetence that resulted in the breakdown of the rules, the match was declared a draw.  Sayers retired after this fight and was regarded as the undisputed and unconquered champion of England.

In the 18th century boxing was attended by Royalty, but by the nineteenth 19th its supporters were from ‘the lowest and least reputable class’ and it was banned in many counties. Tom Sayers revitalised the sport. 

Before starting his boxing career, Tom Sayers worked on the Brighton and Lewes railway, and then for the London & North Western Railway as a bricklayer.  Its thought this would have helped develop his hands, arms and shoulders.  He was well known for winning almost every match he fought.

Tom Sayers was a hugely important sporting figure. Ask your pupils for their sporting heroes and create a display of images and words about them.
Use the image as a starting point to inspire a piece of creative writing about Tom Sayers, a journal of diary from his point of view. Some pupils may want to write a newspaper report on his fight with John C. Heenan.
English School, Tom Sayers Prize Fighter, circa 1840
Materials and technique: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 73 x 57 cm
Compton Verney:  CVCSC:0072.F
Pose and Expression
View in Timeline
View Large/Printable Image