For International Museum Day on 18 May our Head of Collections, Alice, has chosen her top 30 objects from Mount Stuart’s Collections which we’ll bring to you throughout the Month. Ranging from books, furniture, silver-work, paintings and documentation from hundreds of years of Stuart family life, this barely scratches the surface of our Collections so make sure to plan your visit and experience it for yourself!
Mount Stuart’s Ben Caunt trophy in our Billiard Room is an impressive sliver-mounted cow-horn snuff-box. The Trophy is inscribed ‘Ben Caunt, Champion of England’ and also bears the words ‘Ben Caunt Champion Pugilist, born 1815 died 1861.’
Benjamin Caunt weighed an earth shattering 18st and stood at 6″ 2” (at a time when the average male stood at 5″ 7”) was unsurprisingly nicknamed ‘Big Ben’ or the ‘Torkord Giant.’ Caunt was born in a small village in Nottinghamshire on 22nd March 1815. Little of his early boxing career is known, but after fighting locally with minor opponents, Caunt progressed to fight and claim victory over much fiercer boxers, such as Lincolnshire’s George Graham in 1834.
Possessing hands roughly the size of anvils, Caunt lacked the grace and finesse of lither fighting partners; instead preferring to beat them with pure brawn. However, despite his slow wit, it remains little wonder Caunt progressed practically undefeated through the 1930s, quickly becoming a renowned English fighter.
Caunt took his fighting career far enough to claim the Pugilist Championship title from William Thompson in 1838, though this was done so on a questionable and publically disputed foul. Despite this, ‘Big Ben’ remained a revered English boxing champion until 1845; the David Beckham of early Victorian England. However it could also be added that Caunt briefly lost the championship title in a fight with Nick Ward in 1841, a fight where the crowd vehemently forced the referee to disqualify Caunt on account of striking Ward when he was down. Later that year, a repeat fight between Caunt and Ward resulted in Caunt reclaiming the title Ward briefly took after 35 quick, decisive rounds.
‘The Torkord Giant’ somewhat reluctantly relinquished the title in 1845 to ‘Bendigo’, a quick and agile fighter, their fight lasting an impressive 93 rounds before Ben finally announced defeat. After this particular fight Caunt went in to his retirement at age 30, working as a farm labourer and then a particularly successful pub landlord. The Coach and Horses pub was a special favourite amongst many MP’s, a number of whom had made appearances at Ben’s fights during his time as England’s champion boxer. However, Ben’s retirement was to be short-lived. After a fire scoured his pub and killed two of his children, he returned to boxing in 1857. However, his return, like his retirement, was also short-lived. After a fight lasting only 60 rounds with Nat Langham, (a relation to Caunt through marriage), both opponents were too exhausted to continue and thus a draw was called.
Caunt fought few fights after his return to his former profession and never again attained the glory that was once his. However, he still became a wealthy man. It is also rumored that his familiar nickname, ‘Big Ben’ was the namesake for the iconic tower in London and despite a lack of hard evidence to back up this claim, the argument standing is that Caunt himself was so great in stature many in London began calling the impressively huge tower after the immense fighter. It is also rumored that when the tower was re-opened, the larger-than-life Commissioner of Works, Sir Benjamin Hall delivered a lengthy speech, causing a vagrant in the crowd to call, ‘Just call it Big Ben and be done with it!’ much to the crowd’s delight. However, the nickname for the famous fighter was already commonly used- therefore the rounded MP may have snatched up the already popular catchphrase, a nickname which caught like wildfire and quickly became one of the most commonly used names for one of London’s most iconic buildings.