Randolph Turpin/Julius Soubise
Britain's first black world boxing champion
On 10th July, 1951, Randolph Turpin made history by beating Sugar Ray Robinson to become middleweight champion of the world. This was a great achievement; Sugar Ray Robinson had only been beaten once, out of a total of 133 professional fights.
Randolph Turpin was born in Leamington on 7th June 1928. He was a cook in the Royal Navy, and had a very successful amateur career, becoming A.B.A welterweight champion in 1945. In 1946 he turned professional, and won all his first 19 fights. He became British middleweight champion in 1950 and European champion in 1951.
He only held the world title for 64 days, when Robinson reclaimed the title in a rematch in October 1951. However he continued to gain further national titles, including the Lonsdale belt for becoming British Light Heavyweight champion three times, in 1952, 1955 and 1956. He was also Commonwealth Light Heavyweight champion in 1952.
Tragically, Randolph faced many problems towards the end of his life and committed suicide in 1966, aged just 37. In 1979 a plaque was unveiled in Leamington Town Hall in his memory, and in 2001, he was inducted into the American International Hall of Fame, the ultimate award that a boxer can achieve.
Defeating Sugar Ray Robinson
In 1764 Captain Stair Douglas of the Royal Navy mentioned to the Duchess of Queensbury that he had in his possession a smart and intelligent Negro boy, aged about 10, whom he had bought in St.Kitts. Would the Duchess like him as a present? Struck by the African's good looks as well as his intelligence, the Duchess accepted him. She named him Soubise, sent him to school, dressed him well and generally made a pet of him as was the fashion of the day. Apparently he attended Eton and was said to be a good violinist, to have a good singing voice and oratorical skills.
The grateful and affectionate youth soon won the Duke's favour as well, who sent him to Domenico Angelo's Academy, the foremost school for learning fencing and the niceties of riding. The Duchess and her friends frequently attended the visitors' gallery at the Academy to watch her favourite perform his equestrian exercises. The Duchess even managed to persuade Angelo to take Soubise as his articled assistant to teach riding and fencing.
Though Angelo feared that Soubise's 'colour and humble birth might have made him repulsive to his high born pupils' he acquiesced to the Duchess' wishes. Soubise's engaging manner and good nature soon proved Angelo's fears unfounded, and he was a frequent guest at the all-male exclusive dinner parties held at the Academy. He was also a regular guest at other sporting clubs for gentlemen, where he sang songs of his own composition.
As he grew up, Soubise's good looks, pleasant manners and undoubted gifts for gallantry won him the favour of the Duchess' maids, as well, it was rumoured, of the Duchess and numbers of other ladies. However, all this attention apparently spoilt the young man, who began to assume princely airs, becoming one of the most conspicuous -and seemingly over-scented - fops around town. Angelo dismissed him from his most congenial job at the Academy. Though the Duchess repeatedly discharged his large debts, he slowly also began to lose her favour.
The final straw was the attempted rape of one of the Duchess' maids, who insisted on prosecuting him. Two days before her death on 17 July 1777, he was sent off to India to earn his living as an accomplished master of riding and fencing. Ignatius Sancho wrote to friends enlisting their aid for the exile, but warning them not to lend Soubise any money. He established an academy in Calcutta, and, through connections, was able to obtain numerous patrons and pupils and even a contract to break horses for the government. Soubise died on 25 August 1798. Nothing is known of his life in India.