(Special thanks to French artists, Stephanie Venerande and Sabrina Helene for their contribution to this story. The greatest boxing bout in Montreal history was the 1980 welterweight Championship, between undefeated USA champion, Sugar Ray Leonard, and the fearsome Panamanian slugger, Roberto Duran. The problem with the English-language sports coverage of The Brawl In Montreal was that Montreal itself was deemed irrelevant so it could have been The Brawl In Houston, or wherever because the sports insight into Montreal culture of the moment was non-existent. A boxing story should be a STORY – not just guys punching each other.)
The banquet location was the Montreal Windsor Hotel, December 8th, 1881. There was a toast to Queen Victoria and President Arthur. A French poem was read by the Poet Laureate of Canada, Louis-Honore Frechette. Then the American literary guest of honor arose to give a speech. Mark Twain: “When a stranger appears abruptly in a country, without any apparent business there, and at an unusual season of the year, the judicious thing for him to do is to explain. This seems peculiarly necessary in my case, on account of a series of unfortunate happenings here, which followed my arrival, and which I suppose the public have felt compelled to connect with that circumstance. I would most gladly explain if I could, but I have nothing for my defense but my bare word; so I simply declare, in all sincerity, and with my hand on my heart, that I never heard of that diamond robbery till I saw it in the morning paper; and I can say with perfect truth that I never saw that box of dynamite till the Police came to inquire of me if I had any more of it. These are mere assertions, I grant you, but they come from the lips of one who has never known to utter an untruth, except for practice, and who certainly would not so stultify the traditions of an upright life as to utter one now, in a strange land, and in such a presence as this, when there is nothing to be gained by it and he does not need any practice. I brought with me to this city a friend – a Boston publisher – but alas, even this does not sufficiently explain these sinister mysteries; if I had brought a Toronto publisher along the case would have been different. But no, possibly not; the burglar took the diamond studs, but left the shirt; only a reformed Toronto publisher would have left that shirt. To continue my explanation, I did not come to Canada to commit a crime – this time – but to prevent it. I came here to place myself under the protection of Canadian law and secure a copyright. I have complied with the requirements of the law; I have followed the instructions of some of the best legal minds in the city, including my own, and so my errand is accomplished, at least as far as any exertions of mine can aid that accomplishment. This is rather a cumbersome way to fence and fortify one’s property against the literary buccaneer it is true; still, if it is effective, it is a great advance upon past conditions and one to be correspondingly welcomed. It makes one hope and believes that a day will come when, in the eye of the law, the literary property will be as sacred as whiskey, or any other of the necessaries of life. In this age of ours, if you steal another man’s label to advertise your own brand of whiskey with, you will be heavily fined and otherwise punished for violating that trademark, you go to jail; but if you could prove that the whiskey was literature, you can steal them both, and the law wouldn’t say a word. It grieves me to think how far more profound and reverent a respect the law would have for literature if a body could only get drunk on it. Still the world moves; the interests of literature upon our continent are improving; let us be content and wait…. If one may have the privilege of throwing in a personal impression or two, I may remark that my stay in Montreal and Quebec has been exceedingly pleasant, but the weather has been a good deal of a disappointment. Canada has a reputation for magnificent Winter weather, and has a prophet who is bound by every sentiment of honor and duty to furnish it; but the result this time has been a mess of characterless weather, which all right-feeling Canadians are probably ashamed of. Still, only the country is to blame; nobody has the right to blame the prophet, for this wasn’t the kind of weather he promised. Well, never mind, what you lack in weather you make up in the means of grace. This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window. Yet I was told that you were going to build one more. I said the scheme was good, but where are you going to find room? They said, we will build it on top of another church and use an elevator. This shows that the gift of lying is not yet dead in the land. I suppose one must come in the summer to get the advantages of the Canadian scenery. A cabman drove me two miles up a perpendicular hill in a sleigh and showed me an admirable snowstorm from the heights of Quebec. The man was an ass; I could have seen the snowstorm as well from the hotel window and saved my money. Still, I may have been the ass myself; there is no telling; the thing is all mixed in my mind; but anyway there was an ass in the party; and I do suppose that wherever a mercenary cabman and a gifted literary character are gathered together for business, there is bound to be an ass in the combination somewhere. It has always been so in my experience, and I have usually been elected, too. But it is no matter; I would rather be an ass than a cabman, any time, except in the Summer time; then, with my advantages, I could be both…. I was also shown the spot where Sir William Phipps stood when he would rather take a walk than take two Quebecs. And he took the walk. I have looked with emotion, here in your city, upon the monument which makes forever memorable the spot where Horatio Nelson did not stand when he fell. I have seen the cab which Champlain employed when he arrived overland at Quebec; I have seen the horse which Jacques Cartier rode when he discovered Montreal. I have used them both; I will never do it again. Yes, I have seen all the historical places; the localities have all been pointed out to me where the scenery is warehoused for the season. My sojourn has been to my moral and intellectual profit; I have behaved with propriety and discretion; I have meddled nowhere but in the election. But I am used to voting, for I live in a town where, if you may judge by local prints, there are only two conspicuous industries – committing burglaries and holding elections – and I like to keep my hand in, so I voted a good deal here. Where so many of the guests are French, the propriety will be recognized of my making a portion of my speech in the beautiful language in order that I may be perfectly understood. I speak French with timidity, and not flowingly – except when excited. When using that language I have often noticed that I have hardly ever been mistaken for a Frenchman, except, perhaps, by horses; never, I believe, by people I had. I hoped with mere French construction – with English words – would answer, but this is not the case. I tried it at a gentleman’s club in Quebec, and it would not work. The maid servant asked, ‘What would Monsieur?’ I said, ‘Monsieur So-and-So, is he with himself?’ She did not understand that either. I said, ‘He will desolate himself when he learns that his friend American was arrived, and he not with himself to shake him at the hand.’ She did not even understand that; I don’t know why, but she didn’t and she lost her temper besides. Somebody in the rear called out, ‘Qui est donc la?’ Or words to that effect. She said, ‘C’est un fou,’ and shut the door on me. Perhaps she was right; but how did she ever find that out? For she had never seen me before that moment. But as I have already intimated, I will close this oration with a few sentiments in the French language. I have not ornamented them, I have not burdened them with flowers or rhetoric, for, to my mind, that literature is best and most enduring which is characterized by a noble simplicity: J’ai belle bouton d’or de mon oncle, maisje n’ai pas celui du charpentier. Si vous avez le fromage du brave menuisier , c’est bon mais si vous ne l’avez pas, ne se desole pas, prenez le chapeau de drap noir de son beau frère malade Tout a l’heurel Savoir faire! Qu’est ce gue vois dit! Pate de fois gras! Revenons a nos moutons! Pardon, messieurs, pardonnez moi; essayant a parler la belle langue d’Ollen dorf strains me more than you can possibly imagine. But I mean well, and I’ve done the best I could.” [Loud and continued laughter and applause.]
Stephanie Venerande translated Twain’s ‘nonsense’ French to English: “I have a beautiful buttercup from my uncle, but I’m not that of a carpenter. If you have the cheese of a good carpenter, it’s good but if you do not, do not distress yourself, take the hat of black cloth of his brother sick all the time! Expertise! What we told to you! Pate de fois gras! Back on topic. Excuse me gentleman, forgive me for trying to speak the beautiful language of Ollen Dorf.” I don’t think the Montreal crowd understood what Twain was attempting to say in French, but laughed and applauded anyway.
Stephanie V: “Masculin et maladroit.” Jack Moriarty, birth-named John Moriarty, was a 27 years-old Irish pugilist born in London, England. By his 22nd birthday his family had located to Toronto, Ontario where he met and married a 17 years-old teenager named, Eliza. The Toronto boxing scene of the late 1870’s and early 80’s was one of the best in North America. These were gloved bouts that were tolerated by law enforcement except for fights-to-the-finish or excessively violent. Moriarty had observed and enjoyed the local scene with 1870’s boxers such as Professor Wood (aka/ New York City fugitive Billy Madden), Professor Richardson and their heavyweight champion, Jack Scholes, gave way in the early 80’s to smaller pugilists George Collins, Paul Patillo, former lightweight champion, George Fulljames and the current lightweight champion, Harry Gilmore. As an amateur enthusiast, Moriarty was late to pugilism when he challenged a large, muscular well-known American from Cleveland, Charlie Lange, who was touring Toronto’s Albert Hall. Moriarty had boxed with mixed results and was described by Toronto newspapers as “plucky and manly” while the more experienced Lange had recently defeated two great black pugilists, former Colored Champion, Professor Charles Hadley and McHenry Johnson. Lange had offered $25 to any local Toronto pugilist that could survive four rounds with Moriarty accepting the challenge. For two rounds, the smaller Moriarty shocked and delighted the crowd by being the aggressor and appearing to be ahead, although expending tremendous energy. Though the bout was under Marquis of Queensbury rules, a frustrated Lange was not disqualified for picking up Moriarty and flinging him across the ring. Both boxers began fighting dirty with illegal tactics which were ignored by the referee. Local detective Brown began closing in with law enforcement by the conclusion of the 3rd round. The controversial final round nearly ended boxing in Toronto and all of Canada as a legal sport. It was clearly not a “sparring contest” as the larger American began beating Moriarty to a pulp, knocking him down over and over. Stephanie V: “Saccage. Beau monster.” The local pugilist, although a repulsive, bloodied mess continued to rise in an attempt to finish the 4th round and win the wager. Moriarty survived the round, but the referee ruled the bout in favor of the American by knockout so the headline boxer would not lose the $25. Lange – TKO 4. Toronto law enforcement entered the ring to arrest Lange and his corner man for engaging in a “fight” while a “half-dressed” Moriarty successfully fled from chasing police. Lange eventually pleaded guilty and accepted a fine of $40 and court costs over 30 days in jail for being the instigator of violence while Moriarty was not prosecuted.
Sabrina Helene: “Sans doute enigmatique.” Billy Hawkins was an ambitious 27-years old entertainer/minstrel dancer from Winnipeg, Manitoba until he switched careers to pugilism after a tuberculosis diagnosis. Hawkins’ original intention had been merely health-oriented due to the rigorous training, but he discovered a talent for pugilism with the intent to further his show business dreams via sports. Sabrina H: “La danseuse.” Dancing had taught Hawkins unusual footwork in the ring while his easy-going demeanor allowed him defensive patience mixed with a devastating right-handed punch. There was a softer, effeminate side to Hawkins, but he was fearless in successfully challenging larger opponents who often outweighed him by twenty-five pounds or more. Hawkins scored an impressive string of early round knockouts against opponents such as Joe Thompson, Jim Unsworth, Joe LaRock, Joe Welsh, Herb Thompson, Frank Donahue, Tom Manning, Ben Franklin, Tom Welsh, Clem Austin, Frank Seacoat, and James Maloney. Hawkins was defiant against Canadian law, along with spectators of these bouts, who were also criminals since they desired illegal knockouts while participating in ruses designed to hide from law enforcement. Since police were often the criminal spectators who wanted to see ‘fights-to-the-finish’ there was a blurring of legal morality. Billy Hawkins: “We never knew what a decision was. It was clean-up or nothing. Sure, we had Marquis of Queensbury Rules to go by. But usually, we went clean by them.” Hawkins’ only defeat had been due to over-reaching ambition against heavyweight, Ed McKeown, who outweighed him by fifty pounds. Hawkins, the #1 contender, had earned the right to fight Harry Gilmore for Canada’s lightweight championship. Five boxers had challenged the dancing knockout artist with growing fame and reputation. Of those, Hawkins accepted Moriarty as the best ‘name’ before the anticipated Championship showdown with Gilmore.
The publicized Toronto battering by Lange, along with subsequent law enforcement arrests had gained Jack Moriarty an enlarged, but respectable fame. The boxing bout location of Montreal, Quebec was likely selected by Hawkins who had fought more often there. Undoubtedly, Hawkins wanted to neutralize a Toronto crowd who would have been rooting for their local boxer. Toronto was a better city for legal boxing, but Hawkins’ show business instincts were to please paying spectators with fights-to-the-finish. The pugilism in Montreal was considered inferior to that of Toronto with both places viewing the other with cultural disdain. The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, formed in the 1870’s, imported Europeans to defeat Toronto’s best pugilists, the white Professor Wood and black Professor Richardson, without success. So when an upstart began displaying pugilism brilliance in the early 1880’s, and allowed his name to be linked to Montreal (though his wandering home was where he lay in bed that night), Billy Hawkins set to prove he could defeat Toronto’s most famed talent. Paul Patillo taught boxing in Toronto, often exhibiting publicly and was viewed as their most scientific home-grown professor. Billy Hawkins easily out-boxed, humiliated and knocked out Patillo within three rounds. The Montreal connection would not ultimately work for Hawkins because boxing was never going to be prioritized by their culture.
There was a Montreal flag controversy days before the 1885 boxing bout due to the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day: “THE ARCHBISHOP OF QUEBEC objected to the American flag being used in the St. Patrick’s procession, as the loyalty of the bearers of it might be impugned. The processionists, however, soon silenced the prelate by claiming that they had as good a right to fly a foreign flag as the French Canadians, who use the revolutionary flag of France as their emblem. In the eyes of His grace the significance of either of these flags, as used by his flock in place of that of Great Britain, doubtless is, Out of the frying pan into the fire.” Stephanie V: “Des flames ou une jupe volante?” Sabrina H: “La fume qui se dagage de la bouche.” It is a bit unclear who controls the Montreal territory of 1885 other than no one claims to be Canadian. The primary force of the region is Britain, under the auspices ‘United Kingdom’ (aka/ Britain’s militarily enslaved) who insisted the world quit religion because they figured it out – and bow/curtsy to their lazy, worthless anything-to-avoid-work, ‘royal’ queens, princes, dukes and other stuffy titles.
There was much sports activity in Montreal on the day of the Moriarty/Hawkins boxing bout. These were deemed more respectable and appropriate as athletic competition than pugilism. There was a hockey match between the Windsor and Wolseley teams at Victoria Skating Rink – won by Windsor. There was a meeting of the Montreal Fencing Club members to choose a new instructor and other such things. The most popular Montreal sporting activity was a series of snow-shoe steeple-chase races from sprints, marathons to distances in-between. The sponsors include: (1) The St. George hosting its final “cross country tramp” from Montreal to Lachine. (2) The Wholesale Day Goods Merchants hosting its annual event at the Shamrock Lacrosse Ground. (3) Le Trappeur Club hosting its annual event on Exhibition grounds. (4) St. Charles hosting its annual event at Montreal Driving Park. There were foot races and a walking race carrying a 20 pounds bag. The Montreal and Thistle Curling Clubs played a match that contained a newspaper box score with players and numbers. Four played at a time on each side with two halves. There were no repetition of players for the halves with the final score of Montreal, 41, and Thistle, 38.
Nearly simultaneous as the Moriarty/Hawkins boxing bout were Montreal females involved in fisticuffs. Sabrina H: “Mains de femmes.” Stephanie V: “Pas joli joli.” Daily Witness: “About eleven o’clock on Saturday night a drunken row occurred between three women living on St. Antoine street near Windsor. One had gone into the house drunk. The other two attempted to put her out. She refused to go, and struck one of them on the head with a tumbler. The latter, with the aid of her girlfriend, got the drunken one to the top of the stairs and then pushed her down. The stairs were very steep, and by the time she got to the bottom of them the blood was streaming from several wounds in her face…. Several witnessed the encounter with one of the men outside, as the woman reached the bottom of the stairs expressed his fear that the fall had killed her. ‘I don’t care a Goddamn whether it has or not’, one of the other women screamed down.”
Montreal in March is cold with snow, but not unbearable as likely neither Hawkins/Moriarty was aware of the blizzard approaching. The newspaper accounts set the date of the boxing bout for both March 13th and 14th but it appears the latter is correct based on the Montreal weather recorded. Friday the 13th and the 14th afternoon were reasonably seasonal weather conditions. The boxing bout must have had an afternoon delay until a “January blizzard,” struck Saturday evening which lasted through Sunday morning. Daily Witness (3/16/1885): “A heavy snowstorm set in Saturday night and continued most of the day, yesterday, rendering out-door walking unpleasant. Churchgoers in the morning, when a strong gale was blowing, found it difficult to make headway. In many places the drifts had accumulated to the depth of six and eight feet, and the unfrequented by streets were covered with a uniform of several feet…. The various railway lines have been in a heavy condition to-day, owing to the snowstorm of yesterday.” Common sense should have suggested otherwise, but the boxing bout in a blizzard continued. Stephanie V: “Blanche comme une duit.” Billy Hawkins: “It was twenty-five below and every time we landed with those kid gloves on it was like splitting your skin with a knife…. It was so cold that the 150 people assembled kept in motion the entire time to keep from freezing.”
Jack Moriarty’s father, John Moriarty Sr., was involved in the bout as a shoe-maker. The pugilists expected a cold fight with difficult foot traction. The clogged spiked shoes made by Moriarty Sr. would prove inadequate, but both fighters were equally handicapped. The location was a hand-ball court on Saint Antoine Street. There were police and journalists amongst the spectators of the illegal fight-to-the-finish bout. The prize money was for $20 a side and the receipts of the house. Moriarty was 5’7 and weighed 146 pounds. Hawkins was 5’8 and weighed 145 pounds. Moriarty possessed a rugged face and physical appearance that one thinks proper for a pugilist. Hawkins’ misleading physical appearance was that of a mischievous schoolboy on a lark.
ROUND 1: Both fighters were cautious with light sparring. Toward the round conclusion the boxers mixed it up with the initial aggression by Moriarty: “Johnny sent in a stinging blow with his left, which was neatly and heavily cross-countered. Blow followed blow in quick succession until the men clinched in Moriarty’s corner, and amid loud cries of ‘Break’ time was called, the honors being equal.”
ROUNDS 2-3: The bout continued to be fairly even with both landing punches: “(The rounds) were marked by the cleverness of Moriarty in head-play to avoid the assault of the more scientific Hawkins.”
ROUND 4: Jack Moriarty was a classic stand-in-your face and throws punches while absorbing punishment pugilist, with some head movement. Billy Hawkins was one of the greatest (and vastly underrated) lightweights in history. Hawkins could punch with anyone of similar build and weight class while out-boxing everyone. Moriarty was game, but Hawkins had been patiently setting up his foe. All four rounds began with Moriarty as the offensive aggressor with Hawkins on defense: “Hawkins playing a waiting game.” Moriarty stepped forward to punch while Hawkins countered with steady left jabs to the face/eyes. A trap had been set by Hawkins that he sprang with a left jab feint: “(Hawkins) hit out with his right catching Moriarty on the body, and following it up with a stinging blow.” Moriarty was stunned, with a bloodied face, but his offensive aggression had him stepping forward. The blood transferred from Moriarty to Hawkins’ nose as the offensive man pressed. Stephanie V: “Vais m’abreuver de sang dans.” The pugilists closed together in a clinch until ‘Time’ was called.
ROUND 5: Moriarty was tired and wounded while perhaps sensing the folly of playing into Hawkins’ strategy. Moriarty did not pursue while resting to regain energy. Hawkins was confident, patient while remaining defensive. ‘Time’ was called with little offense and no damage.
ROUND 6: The bout was leaning in Hawkins’ favor, but the gritty determinedness of the offensive Moriarty possessed, “A puncher’s chance,” which kept spectators/gamblers (hopping up-and-down to remain warm) intrigued. This round was the most exciting of the bout with pugilists exchanging punches throughout. Sabrina H: “Le sang et l’eau vaincu par la mort.”
ROUND 7: Despite the exhaustion and wounds, Moriarty’s backers were still hopeful their pugilist could win by knockout. Any offensive aggression of Moriarty was countered by Hawkins’ defensive patience.
ROUND 8: Moriarty continued his aggression until he landed perhaps his best face punch of the bout. Sabrina H: “Ahahhah beaute.” It would be Moriarty’s last gasp. Hawkins responded with aggression to put his opponent away: “(The punch received) only served to arouse Hawkins to still further endeavor, and he beat his man all over the ring.” Moriarty was exhausted, wounded and ill until he engaged a clinch which the tired Hawkins could not break until ‘Time’ was called.
At this point it was obvious that Hawkins would win the bout. The pugilists must decide how long to continue in miserably cold weather conditions. Hawkins had injured his right punching hand so what remained was his left jab. Moriarty’s warm blood must have provided relief to both freezing fighters. If any pugilist in boxing history did not mind being bled on by an opponent it was Hawkins. The pugilist’s exhaling breath appeared a fog. Spit would turn to ice before gravity pulled it to the ground. New York Clipper: “The umpire then came forward and stated that Moriarty felt sick, and he declared the fight in favor of Hawkins.” Billy Hawkins – TKO 9.
The Manitoba Daily Free Press: “Both men were in the pink of condition, Hawkins having, perhaps, slightly the best form, although the more youthful Toronto man raised the confidence of his backers by his lithe and springy appearance. During the first six rounds a fine exhibition of skill was given and some hard hitting was indulged in by both men. Hawkins, however, having the best of the battle all through, but at the end of the 6th round it was anybody’s fight. Two more rounds were fought, and then it was plain to all that Hawkins must win. When time was called for the 9th round Moriarity (s.i.c.) failed to come to time and the umpire announced that he was sick.”
Jack Moriarty would not mention the most publicized and important bout of his career later in life. He might have viewed himself harshly as a quitter. It was a fight-to-the-finish which had no knockdowns. The blizzard conditions likely affected the mental willpower of both pugilists. Neither the media nor Moriarty’s opponent spoke of his effort as anything but admirable. Sabrina H: “Magnifique.” Billy Hawkins: “(Moriarty) was one of the gamest men that ever lived…. From the 3rd (round) on I had him whipped to a groggy stage, but he stuck. I could not knock him out at that. For 7 rounds, I landed at will and rendered my right hand almost useless, but Jack stuck and only quit in the 10th (s.i.c.) when he could not see enough in the center of the ring.”