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Disability History Month: JAMES “DEAF” BURKE (1809 – 1845)

Disability History Month: JAMES “DEAF” BURKE (1809 – 1845)

JAMES “DEAF” BURKE (1809 – 1845)

James “Deaf” Burke was a famous early 19th century bare-knuckles boxer in England who was reportedly completely deaf from birth; he was the British heavyweight champion from 1833 to 1839. Burke’s parents died when he was young and he scrambled to survive, living on the streets, seeking work where he could find it; it was a local pub owner who introduced Burke to boxing.

In 1833, in a particularly brutal fight for the English heavyweight championship that lasted 3 hours and 6 minutes, Burke defeated Simon Byrne, the Irish champion. Byrne died three days later from his injuries from the fight. Burke was arrested and tried for Byrne’s murder, but was acquitted and subsequently freed. But because of the stigma against him, Burke decided to leave England and come to the U.S. to pursue his boxing career, where he introduced Prize Ring boxing to America.

After a brief but stellar record in the U.S., Burke returned to England, where the rules for boxing had been made stricter and more specific, including the introduction of the 10-Count Rule to determine whether a contestant has been knocked out. Before one of Burke’s big matches, the referee was worried about Burke not able to hear the shouted 10-Count Rule, so the referee used his arms to show Burke each count. Boxing competitions across the world continue to use the gesturing along with the counting today.

In 1992, Burke was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.


International Boxing Hall of Fame: http://www.ibhof.com/pages/about/inductees/pioneer/burke.html
DeafDigest: http://deafdigest.net/mid-week-news/20140708/
British Sign Language Zone: http://www.bslzone.co.uk/watch/deaf-history/deaf-history-james-burke/
UBO Boxing: http://www.uboboxing.com/rules.htm

Part of Disability History Month provided by Office of the Governor Rick Perry – Committee on People with Disabilities

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