Recently I spoke at Mother's Union sharing the story of William 'Bendigo' Thompson who was born in Nottingham UK in 1811, the youngest of 21 children who lived in an extremely deprived area of the city. I first heard about 'Bendigo' when we passed a plaque outside a building each day taking our kids to school when we were living in Nottingham. The plaque reads...
As the plaque shows, 'Bendigo' was a renowned bare-knuckle fighter, the very best in England! Accounts of the fights he took part in sound brutal. One fight he was in against a local arch-rival, named Ben Caunt, lasted 75 rounds! So fierce was his reputation as a fighter, when later he reformed his ways and devoted himself to Christian evangelism, one of the financial backers of 'Bendigo's' ministry said....'
‘I hope you fight Beelzebub with more fairness than you fought Ben Caunt, or else I might change sides’
'Bendigo' became so famous that the well-known author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even wrote a poem about him. When 'Bendigo' retired from fighting, his life began to unravel, resulting in a descent into severe alcoholism. It was during one of his 26 admissions into the local prison for 'drunk & disorderly', that 'Bendigo' heard the gospel through a prison chaplain. He came to know Jesus and on his release began a substantial preaching ministry right across England. He spoke with a directness that many found appealing and which led many of them to Christ. One observer of his ministry said....
’Although he couldn’t read the Bible, his straightforward manly speech could be useful'
Following his death aged 69 in 1880, his obituary was included in the Times Newspaper of London, a place reserved for the most illustrious. His tombstone read...
‘In life always brave,
Fighting like a lion;
In death like a lamb
Tranquil in Zion’
'Bendigo's' legacy extends as far as Australia today. The town of Bendigo in Victoria is indirectly named after him, as there was a shepherd in the area at the time whose boxing style closely imitated that of William 'Bendigo' Thompson. As a result, this shepherd was nicknamed 'Bendigo'. Initially the creek, and then later the town which was established in the area was named Bendigo in this shepherd's honour.
Join with me in giving thanks for God's great work of salvation in the life of William 'Bendigo' Thompson, and for the way God used him to share the news of salvation with others. This is the God we serve & worship today, and the God who continues to save sinners through His Son, the Lord Jesus. Praise Him!
'But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us'. (Romans 5:8)