Herbert Augustus Slade - 1851-1920
Born 10 January 1851 to James Slade (an Irish whaler) and Sophia Te Paea Rupu Kopiri, at Kaikino north of Awanui. Passed away Utah, USA 1920.
Herbert ‘Maori’ Slade, was the first NZ born fighter to fight for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. His induction to the Māori Sports Hall of Fame, is not necessarily about the fight or his proficiency as a boxer, but that Herbert ‘Maori’ Slade, can be considered New Zealand’s first international sports personality.
The title fight and promotion:
On August 6, 1883 Herbert ‘Maori’ Slade, a Northland born boxer, entered the ring at Madison square Garden, New York City, to battle John L. Sullivan of Boston, for Sullivan’s world heavyweight boxing title.
Slade was different from any other prize-fighter who had appeared on the world sporting stage. He was a half-caste
Maori. Until this fight with Sullivan, no boxer of ‘coloured skin’ had fought for the world title on Americans soil, let alone one from the remote South Pacific.
Most Americans had never seen a Māori, so over 10,000
Americans crammed into Madison Square Garden to view this
native of New Zealand. Given the racial sensitivity of America when public lynchings of African Americans was common-place, the bout was significant merely for the fact that it went ahead at all. His appearance in that fight was remarkable for another reason. He was the subject of a huge promotional campaign in the United States at a time when the power of advertising, then in its infancy, was unheard of.
In the US, one of the papers quoted, ‘a 31 year old dark-skinned taciturn giant, the curious product of tumultuous times; easy
going, he nevertheless possessed a ruthless streak and a fury which he suppressed and did not like showing to the world.’ The promotional hype meant that on the night of the fight, Madison Square Garden was sold out and thousands more waited in the streets to hear the outcome. But perhaps the most astonishing reflection of the bout’s
fascination was the delaying of executions so the condemned could learn the result before their demise. Illuminated by 157 flood and gas lights, the fight took place in
the open air under pounding rain, drenching all in attendance. Nearly every American newspaper published a special pre and post-fight edition. The New York Daily News sold an astonishing 1.5 million pre-fight copies. Although Slade lost on a TKO in the third of four rounds, and while he will never be recorded as one of our greatest prize fighters, he nevertheless commands a place in social history as
the first widely advertised sporting figure.
Following the title fight, Sullivan and Slade toured the US, promoting boxing and wrestling. Sullivan devoted half a chapter to the Slade bout in his book “John L.
Sullivan and his America”.
(References, John L Sullivan & Maori Slade by Christopher Tobin (NZ), John L. Sullivan and his America by Michael T. Isenberg (USA) and NZ boxing historian Sir Robert Jones)