“Fatal Wrestling Bout” (1909)

  • Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Thursday, 25th May 2017

A sad and sobering reminder of the risks inherent in even friendly wrestling, from the Nottingham Evening Post of 22 February, 1909:


The Westminster’s Coroner’s Coart on Saturday, Mr. J. Troutbeck held an inquest concerning the death of Arthur Charles of 21 Margharetta-terrace, Chelsea. The deceased was practising wrestling at the Fulham Baths on Tuesday last with Frederick Knight, who won the 1st. Olympia Championship as “catch-as-catch-can” at the Stadium last year, when he received injuries to the spine, and died later at St. George’s Hospital.

Evidence was given by Harry Mackenzie, who said he was watching a friendly wrestling bout between Knight and the deceased. They had wrestled for some minutes without a fall, when Charles buttocked Knight.  He was trying to press his shoulder down, but could not succeed. Knight wriggled clear and both men got up. Knight then secured a crutch-hold and threw Charles, whose head seemed to twist round. There was nothing unusual in the way the men were wrestling, and good temper was shown. There was nothing one-sided about the match.

Frederick Bush, a gymnastic and swimming instructor at the Baths, said that Charles came down on the back of his head and shoulders. Instead of his legs shooting out in the usual way they doubled up, and the witness thought that deceased was not prepared for the throw.

Wrestling was carried out under the rules of the Amateur Wrestling Association, and the contests were allowed by the borough Council. Any persons could enter on the payment of a small fee and wrestle. There was nobody appointed to see that the rules were carried out. Witness (said he) would at once prohibit anything of a rough or unusual nature.

Benjamin Arthur Few, friend of the deceased, who witnessed the bout, said the neck and crutch hold which Knight employed was perfectly legitimate. It was not, however, a common hold and throw, as it was most difficult to make. The body would be lifted to a perpendicular position, and the hold would be retained until the shoulders were pressed on the mat. The head and shoulders usually reached the ground simultaneously, but in this instance the bead seemed to touch the mat first.

Percy W. Longhurst, of Wallington, a wrestling expert, expressed the opinion that the hold and throw as explained was perfectly legitimate.  He thought that the deceased had failed to grasp the situation when be was seized.  Had he arched his neck and done other necessary things this would not have happened. Witness thought that the better practice would be for a person always to be present at the practice of wrestling bouts. Witness had refereed perhaps 20 bouts in which Knight had taken part, and his opinion was that he was fair, clean, honest, and skilful wrestler who would not make use of undue strength in order to obtain a fall.

After the accident, it was stated that the deceased had remarked to a policeman; “don’t blame him (Knight) for the accident.” At the hospital it was discovered that Charles’s spine had been dislocated. Death took place on Thursday morning, and was due to the injuries.

Frederick William Knight, of New Malden, bantam-weight amateur champion of England, said that Charles showed considerable skill. Witness described how he threw the deceased, and said that he had beaten 16 men in open competition by the same methods. The Coroner said it was notorious that wrestling was not dangerous sport, and as far his experience went, he had never known a fatality resulting.

The jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” and exonerated Knight from blame.

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