Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Griffiths, Albert (1871–1927)

by Richard Broome

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Albert Griffiths (1871-1927), boxer, was probably born on 23 July 1871 at sea, son of Charles Griffiths, London-born seaman and wharf labourer, and his first wife. The family arrived in Victoria and moved to Sydney in the mid-1870s. Albert, after the death of his mother, was brought up by the Allner and Horner families at Millers Point and went briefly to St Patrick's school. A street-fighting newsboy in the Rocks area, he worked for a tailor, the Sydney Morning Herald and a racehorse trainer, before progressing to professional boxing. About 1886 he went to Larry Foley for tuition and guidance.

Known as 'Griffo' he won the Australian featherweight title on 27 December 1889 from Nipper Peakes. He and the Australian boxing cognoscenti claimed with good reason that he won the world title from Billy Murphy in September 1890, but this was unacknowledged elsewhere. Fighting in the days when boxing was still less than respectable, he dominated his opponents with fast footwork, masterly evasion, quick leads and lightning combinations. Despite being a 5 ft 4 ins (163 cm), 120 lb (54 kg) featherweight, he defeated men up to 6 ft (183 cm) and 160 lbs (72 kg). Joe Pluto was the only Australian featherweight whom 'Griffo' failed to defeat; they drew five times in Melbourne.

Increasingly, 'Griffo' neglected his training for 'grog' and the good life, but still remained undefeated in at least 79 bouts. However, he was only saved from certain defeat by the Negro Jerry Marshall in December 1892, when his supporters from the Rocks invaded the ring and intimidated Marshall and the referee. A crowd of 4000 witnessed the return match at Darlinghurst. Again the ring was invaded and an unnerved Marshall lost the fight on a foul—a low blow perhaps deliberately thrown.

After an official ban on boxing contests, 'Griffo' left for the United States of America on 15 May 1893 in the Alameda. Once there, he slipped further into hopeless alcoholism, exacerbated by poor and irresponsible management. He was always unfit, often fought while intoxicated, and even drank during fights. Jack McAuliffe was given an unpopular decision over 'Griffo' in their world lightweight title fight in 1894 and 'Griffo' drew three times in title fights against the featherweight champion George Dixon. He outlived all in reputation as 'the cleverest boxer of all time', yet, penniless and always in strife, he had numerous encounters with the police for drunkenness and resisting arrest. In April 1896 he narrowly avoided a manslaughter charge when an opponent died and in August he was gaoled in New York for a year, charged with assaulting a 12-year-old boy while drunk. In 1898 the 26-year-old 'Griffo' was admitted to an inebriates' home.

Thereafter he had few fights and survived by performing stunts. Later he relied on free meals and board from former admirers, although at times he was forced to beg, for which offence he was arrested in 1912. In the 1920s a grey-haired, overweight, but sober and content 'Griffo', sat each night on the steps of the Rialto Theatre on Broadway and watched the passing parade. He died at 466 West Forty-third Street, New York, on 7 December 1927 of apoplexy and was buried in Woodlawn cemetery with Baptist forms; his coffin was carried by boxing greats.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Roberts, Captain of the Push (Melb, 1963)
  • P. Corris, Lords of the Ring (Syd, 1980)
  • Sporting Standard, 9 Sept 1890, 17 Mar 1891, 27 Dec 1892, 7 Mar 1893
  • New York Times, 14 Aug 1896, 8-12 Dec 1927
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Dec 1927
  • Referee, 14 Dec 1927
  • Sporting Globe, 14 Dec 1927
  • private information.

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Griffiths, Albert (1871–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/griffiths-albert-6487/text11121, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Birth

23 July 1871
at sea

Death

7 December 1927
New York, New York, United States of America

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation