There are several important points in connection with my bout with Peter Jackson. In the first place, it separated me from the world's championship. Had I not been matched with Jackson I would have met Sullivan, the ambition of my life. John L., however, would have nothing to do with me because I was matched with a negro. I have always felt that I, instead of Jim Corbett, would have succeeded to Sullivan's crown had we ever met in the ring. I was at the height of my form at that time, while John L. was little more than a whisper of the young cyclone that had thrashed men in the eighties. In the second place, the bout marked the official opening of the National Sporting Club of London. My fight with Jim Smith, in Belgium, sounded the "Last post" for bareknuckle fighting, and my meeting with Joe McAulliffe won freedom for the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Now I was to be one of the principals in the first big bout staged by the club, which was organized to foster boxing in England, and prevent the introduction of any rough elements which might work to the disparagement of the sport. The National Sporting Club has done more, in my opinion, to bring boxing to the forefront of world sports than any other organization I know of. Its membership has always comprised the best and highest types of sportsmen in the British Isles. They have insisted on clean boxing, and never hesitate to frown upon unsportsmanlike acts. In the third place, the bout introduced me to the "fixer." For the first time in my career I was approached by a book maker to throw the fight. He assured me of a great clean-up. In the fourth place, the fight furnished the greatest upset of my fighting career. I suffered the unique distinction of having a referee count me out while my head was still clear and my legs as useless as lumps of putty.
I did my training for the fight at Dover court, and after a stiff workout one afternoon, a visitor was announced. He proved to be one of the biggest "bookies" of that period. I will not mention his name as he is now dead. He requested a private interview, which I granted.
"Look here, Slavin," he began. "The betting is strongly in your favour for the fight. In most quarters you are quoted at 2 to 1, while in some circles the odds have gone as high as 4 to 1. You count on knocking out Jackson but I'm not so sure that you can. Jackson is a better boxer, so why not let the bout go the limit. That would surely give Jackson the decision on points, and there would be no disgrace for you."
"I know Jackson is a better boxer than I am, but I'm a far stronger hitter, and I intend to stop him," I replied. "Just to show you how confident I am I have bet £1,000 that I'll knock him out. There'll be no fixing around here."
"I'll give you £3,500 if you'll say that Jackson will win," he coaxed.
"It can't be done," I assured him.
The next day the bookie was back again and raised the price to £4,500. He hung around for some time, but I finally told him he had better leave. I had always fought on the level, and I intended to do so until my gloves were put away. I journeyed to London on the day of the fight, and Charlie Mitchell was among those who met me at the station. I had asked Charlie to second me in this important fight. I did not wish to take chances on inexperienced men in my corner. Mitchell was almost in tears.
"They've ruled me out as your second," he confided.
"What for?" I asked.
I learned that Charlie had committed one of his rash acts at the National Sporting Club. He had thrown a glass of wine in the face of George Piesse, one of my backers and one of the pillars of the club.
Mitchell, with all his faults, was the greatest second I ever knew. He was a keen observer, a capable adviser, and possessed of sound ring judgment. His advice between rounds was invaluable, and I never questioned his instructions
"They've ruled me; out, all right, buy a word from you will fix it," argued Mitchell. "If you insist that I be in your corner they will have to let me in."
"I don't want to fall out with Lord Lonsdale and Piesse," I told Charlie. "They've been good friends to me, and in the circumstances you'd better stay out. I know I ought to have you in my corner, but I don't want to make any fuss."
Mitchell was downcast. While he was anxious to be my second it was the fact that he could not see the fight that hurt him most. I cheered him up a bit by sending him to order supper for two at Romano's in the Strand. I thought it would be a nice place to dine after I had whipped Jackson. But Mitchell was destined to spend a very lonely night. I never went to Romano's for that supper. My brother Jack, Tommy Burrough, and Tommy Williams, lightweight champion of Australia, agreed to be my seconds in place of poor old Charlie. While in my dressing room I received a 65-year-old bottle of brandy direct from the cellar of Lord Lonsdale. His lordship always made it a practice of sending me a bottle of his particular ancient brand before each fight in which I was to appear. I took one-third of the bottle of brandy and mixed it with two-thirds of water. The mixture I took to my corner and, between rounds, rinsed out my mouth with it and had a small swallow. It livened me up in case the going was strenuous. The National Sporting Club presented a very gay scene that night. The members, each of whom was permitted to invite two friends, were in evening dress. About 800 white shirtfronts flashed out from their settings of black suits. Monocles and twin-glasses sparkled in the bright light. Dukes bowed to commoners and lords nodded to fight celebrities. Every man was finely groomed. I was told that the Prince of Wales, the late King Edward VII, was in attendance, but I did not recognize him. I had previously met the Prince at the Newmarket Jockey Club. I was playing billiards with Sir George Chetwynd when the Prince took a seat near our table. When we had finished Sir George introduced me to His Royal Highness.
"You're not only a good boxer, but a good billiards, player," the Prince said.
"I ought to be," I admitted. "It's cost me enough, and I like the game."
"One would never think to look at you that you were a boxer," continued the Prince, by way of a compliment, I guess.
"I pride myself on being an all-round athlete," I replied. "I've played in the Australian Cricket Team, can pull a good car, and can run the hundred in 11 seconds, as well as handle my fists."
My supporters made a determined effort to have me formally received by the Prince of Wales. The honour had been extended to John L. Sullivan on his visit to England several years before. It was felt that I, being a colonial, should be similarly treated. The papers, however, made a big fuss over the matter. Some of them thought it was lowering the status of royalty to have it entertaining prize fighters. As a result I never went a calling on the Prince.
The referee for the fight was Jack Angles, a fine sportsman of his day. In keeping with the rest of the fashionable crowd he was in evening dress. He sat outside the ring beside the timekeeper. In those days the referee did not appear in the ring. Third men were not needed inside the ropes, because there was little clinching and no in-fighting. The moment one fighter's arm was locked, the referee called "Break." If the offending fighter did not let go on the second call he was disqualified immediately. Jack Fleming was the master of ceremonies. It was marvelous the way the crowd could be controlled. If the noise became too loud Jack just raised his hand and there was absolute silence. A crowd of that type of men is easy to control. They are not like the rabid fans who attend fights to-day and roar like angry mountain lions when things do not please them, even going to the extent of intimidating the referee. The fight was one of the most furious seen in London. I was the aggressor, through the fact that my punch was my greatest asset. Jackson, very shifty and skillful, only led when he saw a real opening, but on the defensive he gave one of the most wonderful displays the National Sporting Club members ever saw. Jackson was not a very heavy hitter, but kept piling up points with his long left. He made a target out of my forehead, hitting it repeatedly. The next day my head was so swollen I could not get my hat on. In the second round I nearly had Jackson out when I penetrated his defence with a hard right-hand punch. Jackson was strong in the third, and did not give ground. His stinging left found my head several times. I made a desperate effort for a knockout in the fourth, as I had a bet of £500 that I would turn the trick in that round. But Peter was crafty, and was never set. We fought bitterly through the fifth and sixth rounds, and in the seventh my legs became wobbly. My head was clear, and I had no trouble keeping my hands up, but my legs bent like reeds.
"That's funny," I said to the boys in my corner at the end of the round. "Rub my legs. I don't know what's the matter with them. I never had trouble with my legs before."
I took my regular draught from the bottle and went into the eighth round feeling stronger. I held my own, but towards the end of the round my legs again began to crumple. Jackson was on the offensive and crowding me, but he could not maintain the pace, and in the ninth he had almost as hard a job keeping his hands and feet going as I did. My hard body punches in the early rounds were taking their toll.
The tenth round found my legs absolutely useless. I wavered to the centre of the ring, and then over to one corner, where I fell. I grabbed the ropes and tried to pull myself up with my arms, but my legs refused to bear any weight. I heard the referee's methodical count, but could not get up. My head was clear and my arms were strong. When he said the fatal "ten" I let go with my hands and sat on the canvas. My seconds took me to my corner, and then hustled me to my dressing room. I was nearly frantic over the ending.
"Give; me a drink of brandy," I ordered hotly.
I took a swig.
"That's not brandy, that's the mixture," I shouted. "Give me the other bottle."
The second bottle was nearly empty. No wonder my legs gave way. Instead of using the mixture between rounds, I had been taking Lord Lonsdale's 65-year old brandy straight! The club doctor came to my room to find out the cause of my peculiar collapse. He laughed over the way the bottles had been mixed, but it was no laughing matter for me. In the heat and excitement of battle the brandy had gone to my legs instead of my head.
"That's what you get for not having me in your corner," consoled Charlie Mitchell the next day. There was plenty of truth in the remark. I issued a challenge to Jackson for a return bout
"You know what beat me, Peter," I said to him.
"Well, you shouldn't take liquor when fightin'," Peter came back.
"I only took it as a livener," I added.
Parson Davies, Jackson's manager, however, would not hear of a return match.
"We came over here to fight you," he said with emphasis. "We fought you and beat you fairly, and we're through with you now."
I shall always regard Jackson as one of the greatest boxers in the history of the game. He was a fine, upstanding boxer. There was no crouching about him, and his left hand was a good one. He was a better hitter than Corbett, and was remarkably clever on his feet. I met Jackson in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1899, and took him to Skagway for a bout. Peter was in need of money, and there was lots of it in the Klondike.
On our way north Peter confided with me;
"You know I got the decision in the fight in London," he said, "but you won the fight. I've never been the same since. I broke my hand on your head, and your hands just about broke m'insides."
They made a life-size oil painting of Peter and me, and it now hangs in the National Sporting Club. When I was in London on overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force I again had a sitting. Now they have a painting of "The Old War Horse," as they called me then, in the full uniform of a "Tommy."
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 25, 1926.