“Morrissey and the Benicia Boy”


The Benicia Boy -- Heenan -- challenges Morrissey saying "no man from Ireland before him could stand." They agree to fight for $5200 in North America. Morrissey wins in the eleventh round and takes the championship belt.


Source: Re historical references--"Troy Boxing -Round Two" by Don Rittner on The Mesh site. I have not been able to find which Long Point in Canada was the site of the fight. - BS

John Morrissey was born in Ireland in 1831 but was raised in New York and apparently went to California at the time of the Gold Rush. In 1852 he gained fame as a boxer by defeating George Thomson. The climax of Morrissey's career came in 1858 (so _DAB_ and other sources; I've seen a date of 1860 cited), when he defeated champion John C. Heenan and promptly retired. In the years that followed his gambling resort in Saratoga Springs proved very successful, and Morrissey was twice elected to congress. He died in 1878.

In addition to his boxing prowess, he is said to have been a "hatchet man" for the New York Tammany Hall machine. - RBW

America Singing at the Library of Congress American Memory site does not have this ballad but has another about Morrissey and Heenan:

LOCSinging, sb10143a, "The Great Prize Fight Between Morrissey and Heenan, the Benicia Boy, at Long Point, Canada, Oct 20, 1858 for $5000," H. De Marsan (New York), 1864-1878

Bodleian Library site Ballads Catalogue does not have this ballad among its "prizefighting" broadsides. However, among the broadsides at that site, there are many celebrating Heenan. For example:

Bodleian, 2806 c.15(229), "Heenan's Challenge to Mace," unbknown, n.d.; also Harding B 19(62), "Heenan's Challenge to Mace"

Bodleian, Firth b.25(587/588), "Heenan and King," J.F. Nugent & Co. (Dublin), 1850-1899 [could not be downloaded]

Bodleian, Harding B 13(12), "Sayers' and Heenan's Struggle for the Championship and GBP400," J.O. Bebbington (Manchester), 1858-1861

Bodleian, Harding B 13(7), "The Bold Irish Yankee Benicia Boy," J.O. Bebbington (Manchester), 1858-1861 [tune: "Irish Molly"]

Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 2161a, "Coburn's Challange to Heenan," P. Brereton (Dublin), c.1867; also 2806 c.8(234), "Coburn's Challenge to Heenan"

Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 2705, "The Boxing Match Between Sayers and Heenan," unknown, n.d.

Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 1448B, "Maugh Bonamalath" or "Charles Heenan, the Champion of the World," W. Pratt (Birmingham), c.1850

Bodleian, Firth c.19(12), "The Fight with Heenan and the Black," H. Disley (London), 1860-1883

Bodleian, Harding B 26(247), "Heenan's Arrival in England," unknown, n.d.

There is a different broadside there for this fight:

Bodleian, Harding B 40(15), "The glorious victory of John Morrissy, of Templemore, Ireland, over the Yankee Buffalo boy, on Long Island, North America," J.F. Nugent and Co.? (Dublin?), 1850-1899 [could not be downloaded]

Morrissey has many fewer but at least two have been collected (see cross-references above)

Broadside LOCSinging sb10143a: H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Historical references

  • Oct 20, 1858 - American Heavyweight Championship fight between John Morrissey and John C Heenan at Long Point, Canada. Heenan broke his hand during the fight. This is Morrissey's last fight

Cross references


  1. O'Conor, p. 44, "Morrissey and the Benicia Boy" (1 text)
  2. OLochlainn-More, pp. 252-253, "Morrissey and the Benicia Boy" (1 text, tune referenced: OLochlainn 26)
  3. Roud #9781
  4. BI, OCon033


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1901 (O'Conor)
Keywords: fight gambling sports
Found in: Ireland