In 1962 New Zealand boxing could be said to have celebrated its centenary. It was on 8 July 1862 that a “navvie” (so described) and a veteran of the London prize ring fought in a ring pitched just outside of Kaiapoi on the banks of the Waimakariri River, Canterbury, for a stake of £100. This was the young colony's first experience of prizefighting, and the event was surrounded with sensation. The principals, George Barton (the “navvie”), and Harry Jones (the old L.P.R. bare knuckler), were badgered by the police, who at one stage cut the ring ropes and took possession of the ring, with revolvers drawn. The crowd of from 500–600 finally obstructed the “precious peelers” with sufficient purpose to enable the fight to proceed. Jones, too experienced and well conditioned for his rough-and-ready opponent, was favourite at four to one and the odds appeared justified, for he was proclaimed winner after more than 30 rounds (70 minutes). Summonses duly followed the fight, but these appeared to have quietly lapsed when it was discovered that among the spectators was the Crown Solicitor, several members of the General Assembly and of the Town Council, a magistrate or two, and many leading townspeople.
It was nearly 20 years before any real effort was made to build on these rather shaky foundations. This coincided with the arrival in New Zealand of the “Swaffham Gypsy”, Jem Mace, the last of the London prize-ring champions, the hardy bare-knuckle breed who rubbed the brine of beef into the skin of their faces to toughen it and whose rules permitted throwing and the use of elbows and knees. Mace established himself as a teacher of boxing – a unique teacher at that, and it was from his tournaments at Timaru in 1880 and 1881, and his boxing booths around the country, that there emerged men like the great Bob Fitzsimmons, world champion in three weights.
“Torpedo Billy” Murphy, the fragile-looking little Aucklander who hit like a heavyweight, despite his 8½ stone, put New Zealand boxing on the map when he knocked out Ike Weir, the “Belfast Spider”, in 14 rounds at San Francisco in 1890 to become world featherweight champion. He was the only native New Zealander ever to win a world title. These, and men like Harry Laing, who in Sydney knocked out Joe Goddard for the Australian heavyweight title, and Dan Creedon, who campaigned with great distinction in the United States (and actually fought Fitzsimmons for the world middleweight championship), were the immortals who wrote the early chapters in New Zealand's boxing history.