Tom Belcher was the younger brother of Jem (picture below) who was champion 1800-03.
Not living in his brother's shadow, Tom was a skilful fighter, popular for his mesmerising exhibitions.
The pugilistic tradition ran in the family; the Belchers' grandfather was Jack Slack, the master butcher who had become champion by defeating the famed John Broughton in a momentous 1750 contest.
The brothers also hailed from the prizefighting hotbed that was the city of Bristol (the illustrious list of Bristolian greats includes Hen Pearce and John Gully).
When Tom Belcher 'hammered' Dogherty at the Curragh (23 April 1813), Egan’s account conveys the English hero's consummate superiority:
'Twentieth. – Belcher now seemed perfectly at home, and felt convinced how things were going. The length of his arm, added to the advantage of superior science, enabled him to serve out Dogherty about the head with such severity of manner, as to occasion the latter to fall at his feet' (Boxiana II).
Egan’s summary emphasises the emphatic nature of Belcher's victory:
'The dexterity, the ease, and perfect sang froid, with which Belcher defeated Dogherty, surprised even those persons who were somewhat acquainted with the art […] it excited universal astonishment – to view one man (and a scientific professor too) nearly smashed all to pieces'.
Intriguingly, Belcher later defeated a Battle-of-Waterloo hero with similar ease: ‘[John Shaw, the Life-Guardsman,] a Hercules in appearance, with arms like two May-poles […] was also dead-beat with the gloves by TOM’, and Egan cited this meeting as establishing ‘the superiority of ART over strength’.
Belcher assumed command of the Castle Tavern in 1814 (unofficial pugilistic HQ), and ‘the Fancy immediately rallied round him’. Egan recollected Belcher’s period in charge:
'During the principal time of Tom’s residence […] milling, "glorious milling" was the order of the day. Patrons "came out" in mobs to give it support, necessary to make it a striking feature with the bloods, the bucks, the men of ton […] He had lots of sporting dinners; numerous gay little suppers; and always plenty of matches on the board to excite the attention of the fancy' (Book of Sports, 1832).
In 1821, Egan described the scene at a benefit night held at the sport’s top venue, the Fives Court in Little St Martin’s Lane (pictured); he extols the fascination still exerted by Tom Belcher:
'Whenever he puts himself in an attitude, there is not a peeper absent from the stage. In an amateur, it would, indeed, betray as great a piece of neglect in omitting to witness Tom’s one, two, put in, as for indifference to be felt by a lover of the drama, in [Edmund] Kean’s out-and-out effort, in the last scene of Sir Giles Overreach. Upon these two subjects, yawning and ennui cannot occur; ecstacy and praise involuntarily echo around' (Boxiana III).