When a lad of but eight years I was treated to the worst beating of my life. It was foully administered, and the spirit of revenge burned hot within me. It indirectly led me to the prize ring. Our farm was on one side of the Hunter River, near Maitland, New South Wales, where I was born on June 14, 1861. On the other side of the river lived the Campbells. They were Scotch, while we were Irish. We never got along as neighbours, and were constantly in trouble. One afternoon I went fishing with my two brothers, and when we reached our favourite hole we found the Campbell boys perched on the other side of the river angling for trout. We called back and forth to each other, and, as we were getting the most fish, we had the best laugh. Presently Father Campbell appeared on the scene. He walked down to one of the fords in the river, took off his boots and stocking, rolled up his trousers, and waded across.
"He's coming after us." said my brother Bill, and with a parting word, was off.
"He can't be," I called back. "We've done nothing wrong."
I failed to get very far in my race for home when a stockwhip curled around my body. Campbell laced me until I was unconscious. When I came to my body was stinging all over. My mother was bathing the great welts, and bitterly accusing Campbell. Two big miners were standing near by. They had heard about the whipping on their way back to the mines, and came in to investigate. When they saw my tortured body they hastened over to put some decorations on Campbell. As soon as I was better I went to my mother, and said,
"Mother, I'm going to get square with that man, if it lakes me a lifetime. I don't know how I'm going to do it or when, but he is going to pay dearly for it."
"He certainly deserved something, my boy," consoled my mother, "but remember you are too young to attempt anything yet."
Years passed by, but still that boyhood desire to revenge an injustice remained deep-rooted. I found myself at times coolly planning as to the best means of squaring the account. In wild moments I was prepared for desperate action, but eventually I decided to do the job with my own fists. That meant that I must wait until I attained a greater size and knew how to handle myself. A mining boom broke out in the country adjacent to our farm, and with my brother Bill and an old pal, Tom Spratt, I decided to seek my fortune in the creeks. I had just turned 16, and was quite a rangy lad, with little flesh on my big frame, but strong, and keen, nevertheless. Out in the open we had to find some amusement in our leisure hours, and we started grappling with one another. Later we resorted to slapping each other with the open hand. None of us had ever seen a boxer, and had read very little about that sport, but we soon made a set of rules and improvised boxing gloves. My mother had given us each a pillow before we left home. We cut those up to make two pairs of "gloves," and lashed them on our hands. We stripped to the waist, and agreed not to hit in the face. We used to scrap for hours at a stretch, and our bodies would be black and blue from the punches, but we enjoyed it immensely. I always had the best of the exchanges, and I began to take on my brother and Spratt in succession. We had some tough little battles out in the open spaces, and after a while we became quite an attraction for the rest of the miners. Some of them tried out with me, but I always survived, and it was not long before they advised me to take up boxing seriously. By this time I felt pretty sure of myself, and I could visualize myself administering one delightful beating to Campbell. That particular moment, however, did not appear opportune for such chastisement, I so I decided to take the advice of the miners and go in for boxing.
I went to Sydney, and got in touch with old Larry Foley, the father of boxing in Australia. He ran the famous White Horse Boxing Arena, and gained great fame for bringing on such fighters as Peter Jackson and myself as heavyweights, and scores of fine men in the other divisions.
"Will you teach me to box?" I asked Foley.
"Sure." said he, "what do you know?"
I told him of my limited experience, so he put me on the scales and took my weight. I weighed 172 lb., and stood 6 ft. 1/2 in. in my stockinged feet. I ran a hundred yards for him in 11 seconds, and as I was hard and solid, he agreed to take me on. For a year I went on with my lessons, but did not attend any bouts. Foley took a great interest in me, for although I was pretty green, he liked my wallop, and thought I had good possibilities. One evening, when I was leaving Foley's, I was a little homesick, wondering how the folks were. Then I smiled, and muttered, "Yes. Campbell, I am ready for you." I was still in my teens, but I decided to go home, see my folks, and teach Campbell a lesson. I had to go 200 miles by boat and train, and then ride, 35 miles on horseback before I reached home. I went on to Campbell's, and saw him in the field ploughing.
"Hey, Campbell, come here," I called as I dismounted.
He stepped across the furrows and rested on the fence.
"Sumthin' you're wantin'?" says he.
"Do you know me?" I asked.
"Your face seems familiar," he replied, looking puzzled.
"I guess it does," I went on. "I'm Frank Slavin; you remember, you horse whipped me when I was a kid. Well, I've just come back to even that score." You're as big as me, and perhaps stronger, but I've always swore that I would try some day to leave you like you left me."
He backed off a bit as I leaped the fence. We had a furious scrap. He tried like a bull to get hold of me and throw me. I was too quick for him and smashed him in the body. I was still too fond of playing for the body and did not pay enough attention to the head, but this was due to our rules at the mines, where I had not been able to completely forfeit. In later years, however, I was cured of the habit.
"Had enough?" I asked Campbell as he lay on the ground breathing hard.
"Yuh, um," was all he could say.
I left him there and rode away. I had avenged with my own fists the wrong done me in my youth and I felt somewhat elated. At the same time I could not keep down a sneaking feeling of gratitude for Campbell. He had turned my thoughts to fighting and the golden fingers of the prize ring were beckoning me very strongly just then. I returned to Sydney, and at once went back under the wing of Foley. In 1882, when I was just 21 years of age, I won my first important match and was crowned the amateur heavyweight champion of Sydney. The amateur game quieted down for a period, and another mining boom broke out in North Queensland. I proceeded there, making my headquarters at Charters Towers. One evening a bunch of us were in a barroom. It was about the only place one could go. I was chatting with several friends when in walked Martin Powers, the heavyweight champion of North Queensland. Someone pointed me out to Powers. He came over to my table and said:
"So you're the new champion of Sydney. They never had any one there that could fight."
I made no reply, but he was bent on picking a quarrel. The miners would have liked us to have squared away there and given them a free evening's entertainment.
"I'm not fighting here," I told him. "But I'll post fifty pounds to meet you in the morning."
Powers did not want to talk money but we finally decided to fight at 5 o'clock in the morning. The police got wind of the affair and we had to postpone it for a day. On the second morning we went out to the hills, pitched a ring, and I put Powers away in nine rounds. It was my first professional fight, and I was quite proud of the way I had handled myself. The fight won me many friends, but those who had lost money on the knockout were anxious to win it back and sent for Jim Burke, who was the champion of Queensland.
"He'll knock your scalp off inside a round." they told me.
Burke came north and we agreed to fight for two hundred pounds a side. Burke was a fine-looking man, but did not appear the type for the prize ring. He was my own height, but considerably heavier and wore a moustache that was all the rage with the ladies. We met on Boxing Day at the race track at Charters Towers. It was lovely and warm and the ring was pitched on the turf. We both wore spiked shoes in order to keep on our feet. The stands were crowded as we went to our corners. Burke was favoured to win. He was a picture as he stood up to receive the cheers of the spectators. He was a beautifully-made man with Roman features and his black hair and moustache were artistically trimmed. Very few people fancied my chances against this Apollo. I was cautious in the first round, but when I found that Burke had little in his punches, I went after him. In the fourth round I penetrated his defence, and, with a crashing right to the chin, sent the champion of Queensland to the turf for the full count. This victory installed me as a firm favourite with the fans of Charters Towers, but they could find no further fights for me. My appetite for fighting had been thoroughly primed, and I decided to take on every match possible. I returned to Sydney and reported my success to Foley. He was greatly pleased, and immediately booked me as an instructor at his club. Foley finally became so convinced of my ability that he issued a challenge to any man in Australia and particularly mentioned Peter Jackson. He trained me carefully, and every Saturday night staged a boxing show at which I appeared, guaranteeing to knock out any man in four rounds. I put dozens of men away within the prescribed period, but was unable to secure a match with Jackson.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 15, 1926.