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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 13:53 GMT
Boxer's unlikely link Down Under
Join Jim Evans on a pictorial tour of this story

26 January is Australia Day, and to mark the occasion our reporter Brady Haran embarked on an unusual journey.

Haran - who grew up in Australia but now lives and works in Nottingham - travelled to the Australian country town of Bendigo.

In a rather indirect way, the gold mining town was named after Nottingham's legendary 19th century boxer, William Abednego Thompson.

Historian Jim Evans helped unravel how the naming took place.

'HANDY WITH HIS FISTS'

The tale starts on a giant sheep farm called the Mount Alexander Run (large farms like these are known as "sheep runs" or "sheep stations" in Australia).

The station was later renamed Ravenswood and today it is not a farm it all - its main farmhouse has been converted into a bed and breakfast.

Jim Evans, from the Bendigo Historical Society, explained that at some time in the 1800s there was a shepherd working on the farm who was "pretty handy with his fists".

The era's greatest bare knuckle prize-fighter was William Abednego Thompson (nicknamed Bendigo) from Nottingham, in England, so the shepherd somehow ended up with the same nickname.

The shepherd's fights often took place on the banks of a small watercourse on the property, so it became known as "Bendigo's Creek".

THE GOLD RUSH

Bendigo's Creek
Bendigo's Creek is barely a trickle
This part of south-eastern Australia was not particularly conducive to a settlement, mainly due to the lack of a river.

However everything changed in the spring of 1851 when two women found gold in Bendigo's Creek, further downstream from the Ravenswood Run.

This bleak countryside suddenly became a top destination for settlers who wanted to make their fortune.

Mr Evans said: "Thousands of people came to the area and a town sprung up - so they were looking for a name.

"As the gold was found on Bendigo's Creek, it was called Bendigo."

There were great cheers from most people
Jim Evans
However the name was abandoned for a short period, Mr Evans said.

"After that it was called Castleton, after the town in Derbyshire in England.

"It then became officially Sandhurst, after the British military establishment.

"But locals didn't necessarily like the name Sandhurst, so they were given a vote and in 1891 we reverted to the name Bendigo, and there were great cheers from most people."

STATUE OF THE MYSTERY MAN

Statue
There is a statue of the unknown shepherd
A statue of "Bendigo the Shepherd" stands proudly at the entrance to the Bendigo Visitor's Centre.

But, of course, the statue is merely an artist's guess at what he may have looked like, complete with wide-brimmed hat and farmer's attire.

Mr Evans said: "He is indeed a mystery man... we don't know his name or where he went.

"There's one historian who thought he left the area of the Ravenswood homestead before gold was even discovered."

But what of the "Original Bendigo" - the bare knuckle boxer from thousands of miles away?

A LONELY PORTRAIT

Painting of William Abednego Thompson
A painting of Thompson hangs in the trustee building
William Thompson receives little recognition in the town which, almost by accident, ended up taking his name.

The greatest honour is perhaps a lonely portrait hanging in the Sandhurst Trustees Building.

Mr Evans laments: "This is the only picture we have.

"I think there is an appreciation in the town of who he is, but I certainly don't think everyone in Bendigo knows the story."

In fact, Mr Evans said many people mistakenly think that Bendigo is an Aboriginal word.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's Brady Haran
"Bendigo has links with England, including statues of royalty"


Historian Jim Evans
"Because he was handy with his fists, he was nicknamed Bendigo"



SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Australia
06 Jan 05 |  Country profiles


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