Isaac Perrins, 1751-1801: Prize Fighter and Engineer

W.H. Chaloner describes the eventful and varied life of a sometime steam engine manufacturer, champion boxer, and, in later life, firefighter.

Isaac Perrins was one of those minor characters who appear fleetingly in the literature on the Industrial Revolution, but are dwarfed by the giant figures of the epoch. He worked as a skilled engineer for the firm of Boulton and Watt of Soho, near Birmingham, but like many of the hard-drinking and hard-living artisans of the time, he had a second trade, for he was also for some years in the 1770s and the 1780s a successful prize-fighter.

Georgian England was the heroic age of prize-fighting, of such characters as Big Ben Brain, champion of all England, 1791-94, immortalized by George Borrow, whose father, ‘the fighting Grenadier’, was his opponent and friend, and of the Jew, Daniel Mendoza, who reigned as champion of England in the later 1790s. Of all modern sports boxing was the first, next to horse-racing, to acquire an international flavour; it was open to all challengers, and by 1815 Irishmen, Americans, Germans and negroes had successfully sought fame, if not fortune, in the British ring.

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