Sydney Architecture Images-
Gone but not forgotten
Larry Foley's Hotel Plaque 53 of the Green Plaques
|Old Colonial Regency|
|Rendered brick Stone|
|Larry Foley's White Horse Hotel in George Street, Sydney, with the Sudan regiment passing by.|
GEORGE STREET IN 1882, LOOKING TOWARDS KING STREET
On the right is the Royal Hotel as it was before the shops were added. Adjoining that is the row of
shops known as Macdonald buildings, one of which is the White Horse Hotel, afterwards kept by Larry Foley.
Larry Foley's Hotel
George St. Larry Foley, known as the father of Australian boxing, was an Australian champion in the
days of bare knuckle fighting and unlimited rounds.
After his retirement he was both an hotel landlord and a boxing trainer and opened his own boxing academy.
Efforts were made by the police to stop boxing contests at his hotel but largely without success.
Foley made a brief comeback to fighting in 1883 to fight William 'Professor' Miller, with gloves. The
contest lasted for 40 rounds and was declared a draw.
Larry Foley was born near Bathurst on 12 December 1849. He retired from a successful boxing career in 1879, aged only 32 and opened a hotel in George Street, Sydney and his own boxing academy. He died 12 July 1917.
Yesterday I said to a mate that “I was as happy as Larry”. Bemused, my mate, 35 years my junior, said “What do you mean?” Fair call. Aussies born before World War 2 often used the phrase “happy as Larry” when they were very, very happy. It’s not used much these days. So who was Larry?
Larry Foley was a pug who made a name for himself in the brutal bare-knuckle days in Sydney during the 1870s.
On debut, Foley eventually won the first unofficial championship of Australia after 140 rounds. You’ve read it right, 140 rounds: a knockdown constituted a round.
The report said he “flattened” Abe Hicken to win. It would probably have been more accurate had the report read Hicken had fallen over dead-set exhausted and couldn’t get up one more time.
Foley said afterwards that he was very, very happy, and the report ended with the punters being described “as happy as Larry” with the result.
The phrase was born. And it stuck solid.
No wonder Larry was very, very happy: he pocketed 1,000 quid cash, a veritable fortune in a sport that was against the law.
While Foley and Hicken did battle, 20 frustrated cops were on the other side of the Murray keen to arrest the pair after getting a tip-off. They ended up empty-handed; Foley’s hands were full of cold hard.
This was a fascinating period in Sydney’s rich history, graphically written by Geoffrey Scott in his book Sydney’s Highways of History, published in 1958.
Let Geoffrey tell the story:
By the 1880s, leather gloves and Marquis of Queensberry rules were transforming the bloody old prize-fighting game, and Larry was ready to quit.
In 1883, he had the toughest fight of his career, when he conceded two stone (13kgs) and three inches (a tick under eight centimetres) in reach to “Professor” Billy Williams at the Academy of Music in Castlereagh Street. A mob of Larry’s supporters saved him from ignominious defeat by storming the ring.
After that, Larry retired “undefeated,” settling down to preside over the White Horse hotel in George Street and to run his boxing academy in an annexe of glass and iron, affectionately known to the sporting world as the “Iron Pot”.
A fearsome concoction of boxing talent was brewed in the Pot: the giant Cornishman Bob Fitzsimmons, who won the world heavyweight title in 1897 by beating Gentleman Jim Corbett, the simple and gentle-mannered West Indian Peter Jackson, “Starlight,” the New Guinea boy from the pearling grounds of Thursday Island, Frank Slavin, Joe Goddard, and Young Griffo.
In later years, Larry Foley became a prosperous demolition contractor, as well, pulling down many of the old buildings at The Rocks.
(Still as happy as Larry; not so for many of his peers).
Frank Slavin died in Canada, after toting a gun and badge as the sheriff of tough Dawson City in the Klondike. Peter Jackson spent his last years as a penniless consumptive in Queensland.
Young Griffo (Albert Griffiths) died in New York in 1927, a forgotten drunkard living on charity, even though he was arguably the best fighter Australia has produced.
The White Horse hotel and Foley’s boxing academy have long disappeared from George Street. But the site, near the present Strand Arcade, should be sacred soil to Australian sportsmen.
Indeed it should Geoffrey Scott, and many thanks for taking us down memory lane.
Now we are all as happy as Larry, including my mate.
White Horse Tavern and the Boxing Saloon
A few doors south of Peek and Company in the year named was the White Horse Tavern, kept by J. Holman. Prior to this gentleman, one Watkins was the landlord. The fame of the White Horse Tavern, however, is due to a more modern character, Mr. Larry Foley, who died in 1917. It was in these premises
that Mr. Foley had his boxing saloon where young Sydney learnt the mysteries of the noble art. Peter Jackson was at one time an instructor in the saloon, and he was followed by Jim Hall, who had his great fight with Fitzsimmons there. Larry Foley himself first came into prominence in 1871, when he fought Sandy Ross on the southern bank of the George's River. The battle lasted 140 rounds, and when one reads that it was a very hot day, one can only admire the super-endurance of these gladiators.
The result of this fight was a draw, but later on the two met again at Port Hacking. Ross had comfortable quarters near the field of battle, but Foley was nearly swamped in crossing Botany Bay in a small boat on the morning of the fight, and had to walk a long distance after he landed, wet through and chilled to the bone. Despite this handicap he beat his man in six rounds.
In 1883, Foley had a great battle with Professor William Miller. The fight lasted 40 rounds and ended in a draw.