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Jackson, Peter (1861–1901)

by Richard Broome

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

Peter Jackson (1861-1901), boxer, was born on 3 July 1861 at Christiansted, St Croix, Virgin Island, West Indies, son of Peter Jackson, warehouseman, and his wife, and grandson of Jackson's freed slave Peter. He was well educated to primary level before going to sea. Landing in Sydney about 1880, he worked on the waterfront and in hotels before drifting into boxing in 1882 under the tuition of Larry Foley.

Between 1883 and 1886 Jackson fought seven times, once with bare knuckles, only losing to the Australian champion Bill Farnham in 1884. After two years as an instructor at Foley's, he easily won the Australian heavyweight championship from Tom Lees in thirty rounds on 25 September 1886. Jackson's magnificently trained and proportioned physique, 6 ft 1½ ins (187 cm) tall and weighing 190 lbs (86 kg), gave him a rare combination of speed and strength. An intelligent boxer rather than a slugger, he possessed a marvellous feint, strong jabs and a masterly left-right combination. On 18 April 1888 he left for the United States of America and Britain.

Jackson fought twenty-eight of the best men of England and America between 1888 and 1892, losing to none. The nearest he came to defeat was an eight-round draw in Melbourne on 21 October 1890 against Joe Goddard—he was undertrained and on a lightning visit to his adopted country, where he was fêted and accepted as an Australian. His most memorable fights were the 61-round, four-hour draw with James J. Corbett on 21 May 1891 at San Francisco and the hectic ten-round victory over fellow Australian Frank Slavin on 30 May 1892 in London. Jackson was one of the finest boxers never to fight for a world championship: John Sullivan refused to defend his title against a black and Corbett avoided Jackson once he gained the heavyweight crown in 1892.

Termed the 'darkey' or worse early on, Jackson became known as 'Peter the Great' or 'The Black Prince'. He was always deemed a 'gentleman' and a 'real whiteman'. His great sportsmanship and modesty reflected his nature, and also was a role forced on him by the exigencies of a black fighter in a white world. His deference, good looks, fine speaking manner and skill made him universally popular: he was one of the few boxers, black or white, allowed to move freely in the National Sporting Club rooms in London.

After 1892 Jackson was unable to obtain fights. Past his prime, he was debilitated by fast living and probably even then tubercular. He taught boxing, worked as a publican, toured as an actor in Uncle Tom's Cabin and boxed exhibitions. In March 1898 he was sacrificed to Jim Jeffries, who flattened him in three rounds, and next year suffered the third of his losses in thirty-seven fights at the hands of a fourth-rater at Vancouver. Money was raised to send him to Australia, where he toured with Fitzgerald's circus but he was too ill to box. After several benefits he was sent to Queensland where he died of tuberculosis at Roma on 13 July 1901. He was buried with Anglican rites and pomp in Toowong cemetery. A magnificent tomb was later erected by subscription with the words, 'This was a man'.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Fleischer, The 1965 Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopedia (NY, 1965)
  • T. Langley, The Life of Peter Jackson (Leicester, UK, 1974)
  • Sportsman, 27 Aug, 10 Sept 1890, 16 July 1901
  • Brisbane Courier, 15 July 1901
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 20 July 1901.

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Jackson, Peter (1861–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jackson-peter-6814/text11791, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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