Of the many colorful and interesting people who to the Klondike, details are often sketchy and conflicting. Such was the case with Australian heavyweight boxing champion Frank Slavin. I have pieced together what I hope is an accurate rendering of his boxing career.
Frank “Paddy” Slavin was born in Maitland, New South Wales, Australia, Feb. 15, 1864. He started his career as a bare-knuckle fighter, then later switched to glove fighting. He fought in 40 matches in his early years, between 1882 and 1889, during which time he developed the skills that elevated him to a world-class pugilist.
Lithe and muscular, standing over 186 centimetres tall (6-foot-1), he was an aggressive boxer with plenty of skill and a killer instinct. He could deliver punishing blows with either hand, yet he could take punishment in the ring. In his early bouts in Australia, he had two matches with future world heavyweight champion Bob Fitsimmons. Neither came away with a win from these encounters.
In 1888, he sailed to New Zealand, where, after winning five straight matches, he obtained the New Zealand heavyweight title, defeating reigning champion Harry Laing by a knock-out in the sixth round. He returned to Australia a short time later and quickly dispatched Mick Dooley by a knock-out in the first round, to obtain the Australian heavyweight title.
Setting his sights higher, he sailed to England, where he won a series of matches until he faced British Empire champion Jem Smith in December 1889. The battle with Smith was controversial. By the 14th round, it appeared that Slavin had the upper hand, until Smith grabbed Slavin around the waist and held him onto the ropes while Smith supporters beat and kicked him in a most despicable (and illegal) manner while the crowd booed in protest.
The referee clearly objected to the foul play and withdrew from the match, calling it a draw, although the crowd clearly treated Slavin as the victor.
Slavin married Edith Florence Slater in England a few months later in February 1890. He defeated Joe McAuliffe, winning the Police Gazette Championship belt, then defended his title against Jake Kilrain in Hoboken, New Jersey, June 16 1891.
He returned to England undefeated, where, on May 30 1892, he faced his most formidable opponent yet for the Commonwealth heavyweight championship: black boxer Peter Jackson. They squared off in the National Sporting Club, Covent Garden, London, England on May 30 1892. The men seemed equally matched in the early rounds, but as the fight wore on, Jackson, the more scientific boxer, gained the upper hand and knocked out Slavin in the 10th round.
Slavin apparently did not take the defeat well. He began drinking excessively, and his fight record from this point on was spotted with more losses than before. Canadian Joe Boyle became his manager in 1896, and the following year, the two men were drawn north to the Klondike ahead of the big stampede.
In December 1898, Slavin was drinking in the Monte Carlo saloon in Dawson City, when he got into an altercation with Archie Hoffman, a man who styled himself the heavyweight champion of the Pacific Coast. Hoffman knocked Slavin to the floor.
“My man,” said Slavin, “you can knock me about a saloon when I’m drunk but I’ll show you what I can do in a ring when I’m sober.” Wilson Mizner and Tex Rickard, who were working behind the bar in the Monte Carlo, saw an opportunity and quickly arranged a match. They set up a ring on the tiny stage of the Monte Carlo and charged $15 and $25 admission to the bout.
It wasn’t much of a fight. Slavin entered the ring wearing a pair of white flannel trousers and a long white sweater with rolled-up collar, in contrast to his opponent, who was in boxing trunks and bare chested. It didn’t take long; in the first round, Slavin bobbed and weaved a little bit, then with a single swing, punched Hoffman in the jaw. Hoffman went down like a sack of potatoes, without ever having touched Slavin.
In 1900, Slavin, now 36 years old, went into the ring with an Australian named Will Perkins. Ten years younger than Slavin and in good physical condition, Perkins was heavy set and well proportioned. Perkins lasted 14 rounds before his manager “threw in the sponge.” Slavin administered a brutal beating to Perkins, who had a broken rib and internal injuries that are said to have led to a premature death 18 months later.
A year later, Slavin was matched in Dawson with a wrestler named Frank Gotch. Gotch was not well matched to Slavin, and eventually resorted to a wrestling hold to throw Slavin out of the ring. The referee called it a draw, but it was clearly a Slavin victory. Slavin then dispatched opponent Billy Mansen at the Palace Grand Theatre in two rounds, and a few weeks later did the same to Frank Smith in one minute, 16 seconds.
Slavin entered the ring again in the Orpheum theatre May 24 1902, against a younger and much shorter Nick Burley. The battle continued for nine rounds before Slavin, threw up his hands and the referee declared Burley the winner. Two months later, Slavin retired from boxing officially, but he and Burley weren’t finished yet. The two men met again in exhibition matches in the goldfields the following year, and had one final match in December 1907 (which Slavin lost).
Slavin prospected and mined over the next few years. “He was a good neighbour and willing to help anyone,” said old time Yukoner Andrew Baird. In 1916, Slavin entered one final battle, during World War I, when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force August 26, 1916. He was 52 years of age.
Slavin came back after the war a physical wreck and settled with his wife and three daughters in Victoria. A final tragic blow for the aging fighter was that his son, Frank Charles Slavin, who also enlisted in 1916, was killed near Cambrai, France during the finals days of the war, on Sept. 29, 1918.
Slavin died October 16, 1929, at the age of 65. He is remembered as one of the Yukon’s great fighters. In 2005, he was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame.
Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, From the Klondike to Berlin, is now available in stores everywhere