“Morrissey and the Russian Sailor”


A Russian sailor in Tierra del Fuego challenges Morrissey to a duel. Morrissey takes on the challenge to uphold the honor of Ireland. The fight, for a large stake, takes 38 rounds, and each knocks the other down, before Morrissey is victorious


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.

There is no record of Morrissey ever fighting a Russian sailor -- and certainly not in Tierra del Fuego! On the other hand, he did fight some very long matches; in 1853 it took Morrissey 37 rounds to defeat James Sullivan.

(That win, incidentally, made Morrissey arguably the American champion; Sullivan in 1849 had beaten Tom Hyer in what the February 2006 issue of _American History_ magazine says was "considered to be the [first[ American championships prizefight") - RBW

O'Conor's last verse refers to other fights. Specifically, "Our hero conquered Thompson, the Yankee Clipper, too, The Benicia Boy, and Sheppard he nobly did subdue."

We have a ballad for "Morrissey and the Benicia Boy", at least.

"Thompson" was George Thompson, California champion, who lost a controversial fight to Morrissey in 1852.

The "Yankee Clipper" refers to Morrissey's controversial victory over Yankee Sullivan to become "Champion of America". See "The Fight at Boston Corners" and "The Great Prize Fight Which Took Place at Boston Corners, Oct 12, 1853" broadsides at the Library of Congress American Memory site.

There is also a broadside "Rough and Tumble, or the Amos Street Fight between Poole & Morrissey" at the Library of Congress American Memory site.

Sources: Biography of John Morrissey on the International Boxing Hall of Fame site; Biography of John Morrissey on the HarpWeek Explore History site; "Yankee Sullivan (James Ambrose)(alias Frank Murray)" at Cyber Boxing Zone site. - BS

Cross references


  • Joe Heaney, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" (on Pubs1, Voice08)
  • Johnny McDonagh, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" (on Lomax42, LomaxCD1742)


  1. Laws H18, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor"
  2. Rickaby 48, "Morrisey and the Russian Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Dean, pp. 4-5, "Morrisy and the Russian Sailor" (1 text)
  4. Fahey-Eureka, pp. 216-217, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Sandburg, pp. 398-399, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Kennedy 325, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Mackenzie 135, "Morrissey and the Russian" (1 text)
  8. O'Conor, p. 30, "Morrisey and the Russian" (1 text)
  9. OLochlainn-More, pp. 255-256, "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" (1 text, tune referenced: see OLochlainn 26)
  10. Leach-Labrador 38, "Morrisey and the Russian Bear" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Roud #2150
  13. BI, LH18


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1901 (O'Conor)
Keywords: fight patriotic
Found in: US(MW,NE) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland Australia