Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Laurence (Larry) Foley (1849–1917)

by W. M. Horton

This article was published:

Laurence (Larry) Foley (1849-1917), pugilist and contractor, was born on 12 December 1849 near Bathurst and baptized on 2 May 1852 at Penrith, son of Patrick Foley, schoolmaster, and his wife Mary, née Downs. At 14 he went to Wollongong as servant to Father D. O'Connell. Foley decided not to enter the priesthood and at 18 moved to Sydney and became a building labourer. He joined one of the larrikin gangs which roamed and fought each other in the inner suburbs of Sydney, and became a leader of the 'Green' or Catholic group. He took boxing lessons from Black Perry, a Negro pugilist. On 18 March 1871 Foley fought Sandy Ross, leader of the 'Orange' or Protestant group; the fight lasted seventy-one rounds before police intervened and Foley gained a moral victory. On 17 September 1873 he married Mary Anne Hayes in Ipswich, Queensland.

He abandoned street fighting when taken up by the well-to-do sportsmen of 'the Fancy' including George Hill. Foley became a building contractor but had various prizefights and exhibitions, all of which he won or drew, including in 1877 an exhibition with gloves with Jem Mace, ex-world champion. Foley was challenged by Abe Hicken to a bare-knuckle fight for the Australian championship. After abortive attempts to hold it in Victoria, a special train on 20 March 1879 brought 700 spectators from Melbourne to Echuca and they were then ferried into New South Wales. Foley won in sixteen rounds, and got £600. In Sydney the Evening News, 24 March, quoted a Ballarat report that 'Victoria has lost the honourable distinction of being the proud dwelling place of the Australian champion, the glory of Melbourne has departed away, and we in the wilderness are in tears'. Foley was acclaimed at each railway station while returning to Sydney where a benefit concert and subscription fund were organized for him.

About 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) high and weighing 140-149 lb (64-68 kg), Foley combined agility and science with punching power. He fought all comers irrespective of size. He became a publican in Sydney, eventually at the White Horse Hotel in George Street, where he also gave boxing lessons and for many years ran boxing programmes. He trained many prominent boxers at early stages of their careers. Apart from exhibitions, Foley had one further fight, with 'Professor' William Miller on 28 May 1883 for a £500 purse. Spectators broke up the fight in the fortieth round and it was declared a draw, but Foley conceded the fight. Later he was the official demolition contractor for New South Wales until he resigned in 1903. An associate of Edward O'Sullivan, he was considered for the position of parliamentary serjeant-at-arms and in 1903 contemplated running for the seat of Yass.

Foley died of heart disease on 12 July 1917, and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by a son and two daughters of his first marriage, and by three sons and two daughters of his second wife Mary, née Hoins, whom he had married at Randwick on 12 November 1887. He left an estate of £11,500.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Roberts, Captain of the Push (Melb, 1963)
  • Evening News (Sydney), Mar-Apr 1879
  • Australasian, 12 Apr, 17 May 1879
  • Bulletin, 10 June 1882
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 July 1917
  • Referee (Sydney), 18 July 1917
  • Westralian Worker, 20 July 1917.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. M. Horton, 'Foley, Laurence (Larry) (1849–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 December, 1849
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia


12 July, 1917 (aged 67)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.