The Fighting Jew 'Daniel Mendoza' by Wynn Wheldon
After years of research and believing that you have found everything said or written on your subject – in my case Daniel Mendoza, the great Georgian-era bareknuckle prize-fighter – and having edited that information as best you can, it is always a little galling to come across, after publication, something you have missed.
This is especially so when the new tidbit throws light on your subject’s personality. Such pearls are never more than tiny, because of course it is the minuscule stuff that slips through the researcher’s fine-meshed sieve.
One such morsel was sent to me from a correspondent in Australia, where several of Mendoza’s children ended up for the wrong reason. His daughter Matilda was an exception. She chose to emigrate, with her husband Michael Simmons and at least four children. What was sent was a cutting from Sydney’s Evening News newspaper’s ‘Births, Marriages and Deaths’ column, for Friday, 3 September 1897. The pertinent information read as follows:
MENDOZA – In fond remembrance of my dear father, Daniel Mendoza, champion of England, who departed this life, September 3, 1833. Inserted by his only living daughter, Matilda Simmons.
The date is wrong. Mendoza died in 1836, but I am inclined to believe this was the compositor’s error rather than the daughters.
This was sixty-one years after Matilda’s father’s death. Matilda herself must have died very soon afterwards, as the records state she died in the year of the notice, 1897. When, precisely, I do not know. One can pursue this kind of information on genealogical sites that charge, but stone-cold facts always remain slightly elusive. For example, was Matilda’s husband Samuel Michael Simmons a ‘Simons’ or a ‘Symonds’, was he known as ‘Michael’ or ‘Samuel’. Did he die in a lunatic asylum? And was Matilda Simmons’ full name really ‘Matilda Louisa 'daniel' Sarah Isabella Simmons’? The number of her siblings ranges from five to nine, and the number of her children is equally unclear. One can (and does) spend days trying to track down the truth.
However, the memorial notice placed in the newspaper does seem genuine (paradoxically, in a Winslow Boy sort of way, the mistake with the date lends it truthfulness).
There are several possible ideas to draw from it. The most attractive, and the one I would probably have used, is that Matilda genuinely remembered the dearness of her father, that it had not escaped into lost memory. That he was worthy of such ‘fond remembrance’ says something for him, especially given what would appear to be an otherwise fairly questionable fatherhood. The mention of his being ‘champion of England’, with no indication as to what he was champion of, suggests that Mendoza’s name was still well-known enough as a boxer to carry some kind of prideful weight.
Some days after the snippet from the Sydney newspaper, I received, from the same correspondent, new information regarding one of Daniel’s more notorious offspring, Sophia, transported to Tasmania, arriving in January 1829, but she will have to wait for another post.
Wynn Wheldon's book The Fighting Jew is available for purchase now.