At Farnborough in Hampshire on 17th April 1860, Tom Sayers of England and John Heenan of the United States met in boxing's first world championship bout - it truly was the Lion and the Eagle. All England held its breath, and when news of the outcome of the fight reached New York, the city came to a standstill. The Lion and the Eagle tells the now-forgotten story of one of the greatest events in England's sporting history.
The bare-knuckle prize ring, technically illegal and in decline for more than a generation, for one brief moment blazed brighter than ever. Newspapers which had ignored pugilism for decades, sent their best reporters. Charles Dickens was riveted, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote an epic poem, Prime Minister Palmerston ensured that police turned a blind eye.
The Lion and the Eagle tells how the fight was arranged, recounts the bloody and desperate battle itself, and details the extraordinary aftermath.
But that is not all. It tells the story of England and America in an age of turmoil and transformation. The miseries of the industrial revolution, the wonders of the Crystal Palace and the transatlantic telegraph cable, the chaos of New York City, the glamour of the Pony Express, all are here.
Victoria sat on the throne of England, the Light Brigade charged, Lucknow stood firm. In America, as the iron horse sealed the doom of the Indians, millions of slaves groaned under the lash and Abraham Lincoln set out on the journey which would take him to the White House. Through it all, Tom Sayers and Jack Heenan fought for their lives.
The Lion and the Eagle is a must for those who are fascinated by the most visceral sport of all. But it is also a book for anyone who has ever wondered how our ancestors lived when America was young and England ruled the world.
The book is an absorbing account of the build-up to, and climax of, that meeting and is as much a tale of the turmoil of an era as it is of boxing. Packed with charming detail and atmosphere it is a primer into the brutality of bare-knuckle prizefighting and should be enjoyed by fight fans and non-fans alike.