Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath

The casino at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, circa 1910

In 1908 the world heavyweight boxing champion  Tommy Burns was about to fight  the black  American  giant, Jack  Johnson.  It was to be the Canadian born champion’s 13th defense of his title.  The location  for the bout was the  Sydney Stadium  in Rushcutters Bay, but Burns chose to train in the Blue Mountains, at the luxurious Hydro Majestic Hotel. He had already spent time there in the lead-up to the  fight and the owner, Mr  Mark Foy, offered to set up a gymnasium for him.


The Hydro Majestic was built on a grand scale.

The Hydro Majestic was built on a grand scale.

Naturally it was all great advertising for the  resort complex, which had only opened in 1904. Lists of prominent guests were published regularly;

Another visitor was the all-conquering Napoleonic ‘Fisticuffer’ Tommy Burns, with his dainty little wife. They were so enamoured of the place that they intend to return in a week, when Thomas will train for his battle with the giant Texan negro, Jack Johnston….The weather at Medlow is delightful, and the Hydro has a large number of guests from the old country and from America.

Once Tommy was installed in the gym the media came calling. They were a bit cheeky in their description of Mr Foy’s fancy  ‘Folly’ . A journalist for the Lithgow Mercury on December 4 wrote;

A wooden structure, surmounted by an iron roof, and situated at the end farthest remote from the main entrance of that conglomeration of architecture styled  Medlow Hydro Majestic, is, during four evenings a week, the scene of the world’s greatest bruiser’s training work.

You drop in in a casual way between 4 and 5 o’clock, and are astonished to find that the major portion of the group of people expectantly awaiting the arrival of Burns are ladies – visitors staying at the Hydro for the most part.

Boxer Tommy Burns

Tommy Burns, a famous guest at the Hydro.

In 1945, boxing trainer Patsy Burke remembered those days at Medlow Bath;

The Blue Mountains, with their rugged scenery and crisp, biting air, was the ideal spot for a training camp. We were quartered in Mr Mark Foy’s private cottage “Sheila”, about half a mile away from the HyroMajestic guest house, which was also owned by Mr Foy.  A little hall, standing alone in the grounds of the Hydro, was fitted up with ring and punching ball stand and used as a gym.

There Burns boxed every afternoon except Sunday. That was the day he shone as a social lion. Tommy gave a garden party for the women guests at the Hydro Majestic every Sunday afternoon, and believe me they were swell affairs. Burns never worried about a special diet. He ate plain foods especially prepared by our own cook and supervised by Mrs Burns.

Tommy himself felt he was in the best place possible to prepare. In an interview for The Referee in mid November  he said;

‘As for variety in exercise, it is all around the place in every shape and form. The hills to run down and climb up, the artificial lake to row upon, the handball court, the everything imaginable – just have a look about and you’ll see how complete my opportunities are. Get fit? Bar accidents I’LL BE FITTER THAN EVER I WAS IN MY LIFE.’

The fight went down in history as the first time a white heavyweight champion  had agreed to box a black man.  Previous holders of the title simply could not countenance the idea of such a match. Burns was paid £30,000 for the bout, and Jackson £5,000.   Jackson was by far the bigger man, but nevertheless Burns was the favourite.  And in a time of  strong racial prejudice, the public overwhelming supported Tommy Burns.

Tommy Burns, Jack Johnson fight 1908

In the ring!



Against all expectations  it was a very one-sided affair. Tommy Burns was receiving  a beating when the bout was stopped by  police in the 14th round.

One legacy of Burns’ visit was a joke that went; ‘How do you become a great boxer? Stand by the fire till your Tommy Burns.’ (Thanks for this Garry Davis)

But there was another, far more  important legacy of Johnson’s  win. It was expressed in this American editorial;

‘No event in forty years has given more genuine satisfaction t0 the colored people of this country than has the signal victory of Jack Johnson.’   The writer was implicitly equating it  to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.

I know many of us feel boxing should be banned, but if you want to watch how the 1908 contest  played out, here is an old  film of the THE  FIGHT



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