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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

“The Noble Art”

The Noble Art

Tom Heeney's Bid For World Crown

The Gisborne Amateur Boxing Association was formed on 17 February, 1910. During the 1920's tourneys staged by the Tokomaru Bay Boxing Association and the Te Karaka Boxing Association vied with those held page 440 in Gisborne. Poverty Bay winners of New Zealand amateur titles: J. Heeney (m.w.), 1914; D. Lawless (welter), 1920; W. McKay (fly), 1933; W. Shaskey (feather), 1938; Darcy Heeney (welter), 1937–38–39. Darcy Heeney (the only son of Jack Heeney) was runner-up in the welter division at the Empire Games at Sydney in 1938. He lost his life when H.M.S. Neptune ran into a minefield and sank in the Mediterranean Sea on 19 December, 1941.

In the “pro.” ranks Bert Lowe won the New Zealand h.w. title on 6 October, 1912, by defeating Jim Mitchell, of Millerton, on points. He was permanently dethroned by Albert Pooley, of Auckland, in October, 1914. Lyn Robinson gained the New Zealand f.w. title from Harry Ireland in 1919, and finally lost it to Duke Maddock, of Hastings, in 1926. Jack Heeney captured the New Zealand m.w. title in 1919 by defeating Laurie Cadman, but, in 1924, it was taken from him by Eddie Parker, of Dunedin. In October, 1920, Tom Heeney, by defeating Albert Pooley, of Auckland, won the New Zealand h.w. title. Joe Franklin won the New Zealand l.w. title in March, 1934, and Tom Baty held the New Zealand f.w. crown from March to August, 1946.

Tom Heeney, who became Poverty Bay's most illustrious glove fighter, earned the right to fight Gene Tunney, U.S.A., for the world's h.w. title, but, on 28 July, 1928, lost on a t.k.o. decision in the 11th round. His record of fights is:


1915: Beat S. Nelson at Gisborne on a k.o.

1919: Drew with Brian McCleary at Hastings.


1920: Beat W. Bartlett on a t.k.o. in the 9th round; beat G. Modrich on points; and, by beating A. Pooley on points, secured the New Zealand h.w. title.

1921: Beat Pooley on points; beat J. Cole (N.S.W. m.w. champion) at Te Karaka in the presence of a record gathering of “fans” for Poverty Bay (about 1,500) on points; drew with Colin Bell (h.w. champion of Australia).

1922 (in Australia): v. M. Gornik, won on a k.o.; v. Colin Bell, lost on points; v. J. Flett, won on points; v. J. Leahy, won on points; v. C. Bell, lost on points; v. T. Batho, won on a t.k.o.; v. C. Taylor, a draw; v. E. Waddy, a draw; v. J. Complin, won on a k.o.

1923 (in New Zealand): Beat Cyril Whitaker on points at Auckland, his opponent receiving an injury which proved fatal; beat J. Flett (h.w. champion of Australia) at Gisborne on a k.o. in the 8th round; beat B. McCleary (who had secured the New Zealand h.w. title during his absence in Australia) at Christchurch on a k.o. in the 14th round, the loser requiring hospital treatment; lost to J. Sullivan at Auckland on points; beat J. Savage at Napier on a k.o. in the 1st round; won on a foul from J. Sullivan at Gisborne in the 5th round.

1924 (in New Zealand): Beat E. Young at Tokomaru Bay on a k.o. in the 4th round.

1924 (in England): v. Phil Scott (British h.w. champion), lost on points (20 rounds); v. F. Hendricks (champion of Belgium), fight declared a “no contest”; v. Trooper Young, won on a k.o. in 3rd round; and v. George Cook (Australian champion), lost on points.

1925 (in South Africa): v. J. Squires (champion of South Africa), won on points; v. Squires, won on a k.o. in the 18th round; v. Blackie Miller (a former champion of Australia), won on a foul; v. Miller, lost on a foul.

1925–6 (in England and Ireland): v. C. Smith, won on points; v. Phil Scott, lost on points; v. Tom Berry (British l.h.w. champion), won on points; v. B. Madden (Irish champion), won on points; v. J. Stanley, won on points.

1927 (in the United States): v. C. Anderson (a coloured boxer), won on a k.o. in the 9th round; v. P. Uzeudun (champion of Europe), lost on points; v. J. de Mave (10th in rank among the contenders for the world's h.w. crown), won on points; v. Bud Gorman, won on a foul; v. Uzeudun (whose ranking was 7th), a draw; v. J. Moloney (“The Boston Fat Boy”), won on a k.o. in the 1st round; v. J. Risko, won on points.

1928 (in the United States): v. J. Sharkey (another aspirant for the world h.w. title), a draw; v. J. Delaney (the former light h.w. world champion), won on points; v. Gene Tunney (holder of the world's h.w. crown), lost on a t.k.o. decision in the 11th round.

Heeney had 21 additional fights in the United States, with 5 wins, 13 losses, 2 draws and one “no decision” result. He was 35 years old when he hung up his gloves.

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1929: Lost on points to J. Maloney; lost on points to Otto von Porat; won on a foul from Elzear Rioux; lost on a k.o. to Vittoria Campolo in 9th round; and beat George Hoffman on points.

1930: Lost to Tuffy Griffiths; beat George Panks: lost to Frank Crawley; and lost to Emmett Rocco.

1931: k.o'd by Max Baer in 3rd round; lost to Charlie Retzlaff; lost to Johnny Risko; lost to Jimmy Stattery; beat Jose Santa; and drew with Gracomo Bergamos.

1932: Lost to Max Baer; beat Hans Birkie; drew with John Schwake; and lost to Patsy Pirione.

1933: v. Charlie Retzlaff, “no decision”; v. Stanley Poreda, lost on points.


On 25 May, 1909, the first of what was to have been a sertes of “boxing evenings” was staged by the Gisborne Pastimes Club. No charge was made for admittance. After a few “spars” had been put on a towel was placed in the ring. There was, at once, a shower of coins. As a police permit had not been obtained, court proceedings followed. Billy Crawford (the promoter) was fined 5/; but the information against the 68 patrons was dismissed.

The only boxing contest in Gisborne which had a fatal result took place in February, 1915. Archibald Leonard Forman (aged 16) won over W. Plowman in a m.w. bout. He then met N. Lewis in a h.w. contest, but, finding himself out of his class, retired at the end of the 1st round. After he left the ring he collapsed and was taken to hospital, where he died next morning from hæemorrhage of the brain. The jury's verdict was: “Death from natural causes, no blame being attachable to anyone.”

In 1919 Jack Heeney was defeated by Tommy U'Ren (a redoubtable Australian) at Hastings in the 9th round, and, in 1922, he lost, on, points, at Wairoa to Hughie Dwyer, who held the Australian l.w., welter and m.w. titles. Jimmy Clabby (the famous American m.w.) defeated Les. Gleeson (Australia) at Gisborne in July, 1920. in the 11th round. A month earlier Gleeson had defeated Jack Heeney, but, subsequently, Heeney turned the tables on him. Fritz Holland (another noted American m.w.) held classes at Gisborne in 1927. Pete Sarron, who afterwards became world f.w. champion, gave an exhibition “spar” at Gisborne in 1930.


Born in Gisborne on 18 May, 1898, Tom Heeney was the ninth child of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Heeney, sturdy Irish parents, who settled in Poverty Bay in the early 1880's. After attending St. Mary's School, and, later, the public school at Te Hapara, he went to work for Ted Martin, plumber and drainlayer. Fond of open-air life, most of his leisure was spent on the playing fields, on the rivers or on the beaches.

Heeney was prominent in connection with two efforts at life-saving. On 27 January, 1918, when three young women—Misses Elizabeth Galloway and Elsie and Vera Rhodes—were swept out beyond the breakers off Waikanae Beach, he and some others went to their rescue. Heeney brought Miss Galloway ashore, but it was found that she was beyond further human aid. By this time a life-line had been obtained and, donning the jacket, Heeney went out again and assisted in getting the other young women back on to the beach. Heeney and Eric D. Robinson were each awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society, and Lillian Whitely, Thomas Ingham and Robert Ellery were presented with certificates. Whilst Heeney and others were sunning themselves on Waikanae Beach on 6 February, 1924, a little girl drew their attention to the fact that a youth, Arthur Neill, was in difficulties beyond the breakers. Heeney rushed out with a life-line, but could not find any trace of the unfortunate lad. Upon his return to the shore he was almost exhausted, having been greatly hampered by seaweed and kelp.

Afer his unsuccessful bid for the world h.w. title Heeney became an American citizen. In September, 1928, he and his American bride were accorded an open-air civic reception at Gisborne in the presence of some thousands of the residents. Heeney served in the United States Navy in the Pacific during World War No. 2.