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Now, here’s a thing – God brings all sorts of people into his service. When I was a small child we had a pub near us called ‘The Bendigo’. It had a life-size statue of a Victorian pugilist on top of it. He, I was told, was ‘Bendigo’, and had been born nearby.

I remained intrigued with this shadowy figure and so, a while ago, decided to do some research, and was amazed by what I found.  William Abednego Thopmson (1811-1880) was born into poverty. Some say he had 6 brothers and sisters some say 20 and he may have been one of triplets (the others being naturally, Shadrach and Meshach – both seemed to have died in infancy). But they were poor, and young Abednego spent some time in the workhouse with his mother.

 ‘Bendigo’, began professional fighting in his late teens. This was not the gloved, controlled boxing we see today. No, it was bare-knuckle brawling, with fights that went on as long as it took – one Bendigo fight lasted 93 rounds! (actual knockouts were rare because bare knuckles limited the amount of head-punching).

He became champion of all-England in 1839 and defended that title 19 times before retiring and settling down to a quiet life. He did have one ‘come-back fight’ in 1850 which he won, largely by skulduggery (He was renowned as a rough and unfair fighter).

He became a champion fisherman and apparently saved a number of people from drowning in the river Trent. He was also part of a notorious group called ’The Lambs’ who rioted in the city centre and burnt down Nottingham Castle.

However, like many boxers, retirement led to decline, drunkenness and prison. During one prison stay he became interested in the chaplain’s sermons and was particularly struck by one about David and Goliath. He became so convicted in his faith that he took up preaching, standing at the front where he would take up a boxer’s stance, turn to his trophies and say, “See them belts? See them cups? I used to fight for those, but now I fight for Christ.”

Even though he struggled to read, Bendigo spent the next few years touring the country preaching to crowds of thousands, becoming more and more popular.

Apparently at one meeting his attempt to start with prayer was constantly interrupted by a rowdy crowd. His prayer became.. “Good Lord, Thou knowest that since I gave up my wicked ways I have devoted my life to Thy service, and have given Thee the whole of my time. But now, seeing what’s going on in this room, I’ll take with Thy kind permission just five minutes off for me’sen” – So saying he plunged into the crowd and dealt with the troublemakers. Shortly afterwards he prayed in a respectful silence.

There is a city of 100,000 population in Australia named after him and a subscription is being raised for a new statue in Nottingham, the one on the pub having fallen into disrepair.

Sadly, in old age, drink seems to have become a problem again, and he died after falling downstairs. His funeral procession was a mile long.  His memorial still remains with these words on it:

“In life always brave,
Fighting like a Lion;
In Death like a Lamb,
Tranquil in Zion”