Bonhams to sell portrait of 18th century bare-knuckle fighter whose death changed boxing

An extremely rare early portrait of a boxer, George 'The Coachman' Stevenson 1742, whose tragic death led to the first set of rules for boxing, is being sold by Bonhams on January 29th in the Gentleman's Library Sale in Knightsbridge.

The English School portrait of the pugilist George 'The Coachman' Stevenson 1742, an oil on canvas, is estimated to sell for £10,000-15,000.

Stevenson died a few days after a bout against the English champion, Jack Broughton, an event that led Broughton to draw up a code of rules in order to prevent a recurrence. Published as 'Broughton's Rules' they were the first boxing rules and were universally used until 1838.

Alistair Laird a specialist in Bonhams 19th Century Paintings Department says: "I have never seen an 18th Century picture to do with boxing in my 30 years in art auctions. This is an extremely rare image."

The Yorkshireman George Stevenson, had fought the English champion Jack Broughton on the 17th February, 1741 in a fairground booth on Tottenham Court Road. Unfortunately, Stevenson died a few days after his 45-minute fight, an event that triggered Broughton to draw up a code of rules in order to prevent a recurrence.

Published on 16 August 1743, 'Broughton's Rules' applied to the bare-knuckle Prize Ring and included 'That no person is to hit his adversary when he is down, or seize him by the ham, the breeches, or any part below the waist; a man on his knees to be reckoned down'. Otherwise much was left to the discretion of referees. Rounds were not of a fixed length but continued until one of the fighters was knocked or thrown to the ground, after which those in his corner were allowed 30 seconds to return him to the "scratch" – the middle of the ring – failing which his opponent was declared the victor.

Broughton's rules were universally used until 1838. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in recognition of his contribution to English boxing. The sport enjoyed an unprecedented surge in popularity during the Regency period when it was openly patronised by the Prince Regent, (later George IV) and his brothers. Championship boxing matches acquired a louche reputation as the places to be seen by the wealthy upper classes. Thus a match would often be attended by thousands of people, many of whom had wagered money on the outcome.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

  1. Alistair Laird
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8211
    FaxFax: +44 20 7447 7434

Related auctions