Where Did You Go, Hezekiah Moscow? (Part IV: Ching Ghook Found)

My articles on Hezekiah Moscow, who was better known by his ‘ring name’ Ching Hook or Ghook, are by far the most shared and read pieces so far produced – apologies to Mr Wannop – and last year led to conversations with the National Archives. My research now appears in their school educational materials, part of the ‘Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Finding Aid‘ guide to discovering diverse histories. He was, and remains, fascinating.

Moscow’s beautiful photo had been digitised by the National Archives and was accompanied by his name (Hook), the photographer’s name, studio location and the date of the shot, online. It was republished on a couple of blogs about migration, black British history, and attractive chaps from the past. But to my knowledge, before the first Grappling With History piece was published in May 2019 no one else had really taken on trying to write his story, or if they had I couldn’t find it. Madness. So I bashed it all out.

Three articles were written as I researched – there’s quite a bit I’d change now, and there’s lots of things missing, which I’m saving for the book!

Anyway. A question is posed in the title of these pieces: where on earth did he go? And I hadn’t answered it.

In Part III I explained that Hook was last seen by his wife Marian or Mary Ann Moscow on 30 March 1892, then he simply disappeared. He was about 30 years old, had spent a decade boxing, and the previous year was touring music halls as a sketch artist. The couple’s baby, Eliza, was just months old. Part III suggested some ideas for what might have happened to him, but did not come to any firm conclusions.

In July 1892 Marian wrote a letter to the Editor of the Sporting Life asking for support, hoping the sporting fraternity might offer information as to the whereabouts of her husband. Another note – one I still find mysterious – appeared in the paper two years later, in which Marian called on ‘Frank Craig’ to write to her with any information on the whereabouts of her husband.

Assuming Frank Craig to have been THE Frank Craig, she was referring to a black boxer known as the ‘Harlem Coffee Cooler’, newly arrived in London in 1894 from New York. If Craig’s path couldn’t have crossed with Hook’s in London because Hook left in 1892, then perhaps they knew each other from the Big Apple? It seemed the most likely conclusion was that this is where Hook had absconded to. Of course, Ellis Island opened just two months prior to his disappearance, and the city began taking in more migrants than ever before. Had Moscow travelled to New York, met with Craig and become involved with the boxing world in a new city?

Years later, as a young teenager, Eliza also posted adverts in two newspapers, searching for the father she had never known.

Two years ago we found a two-line reference in a copy of Famous Fights magazine published around 1901, which I won’t post here due to the racist language used in its heading, but it seemed to confirm my suggestion that Hook had indeed gone to New York, and was working as a guard on the docks.

That was it. No indication as to why, or what his circumstances were, or if he was still alive at that point. A reference was found elsewhere hinting at Hook’s penchant for a drink and the fairer sex, which may have contributed to some form of downfall.

[Frank Craig pictured in Boxing World and Mirror of Life in December 1894, shortly after arriving in London and beating Ted Pritchard with two punches. His relationship to Hezekiah and Marian Moscow remains unclear]

While trying to piece together Hook’s movements during his final year in the UK, a small gut reaction – and there is no evidence to support this, only conjecture and an overactive imagination who thinks in Netflix series plots – wondered whether he might have departed with his touring music hall partner Alice Daultry. Take the first letter of her pseudonym and add it to the surname. Y’see?

I have not find a Hezekiah Moscow travelling from England on the Ellis Island records (there was a Hiram Moscow travelling around the same time) but given what we know about his somewhat transient past and use of a nom de guerre, this really proves nothing.

It is only this week, with the publication of new editions of Boxing World and the Mirror of Life appearing in the British Newspaper Archive – with copies running into the WW1 years – that I have found further corroborating accounts.

Various copies of Boxing World and Mirror of Life recall Hook’s matches with Bill Cheese, the one-eyed Dunbar, and his final-round fight with Felix Scott from Liverpool in an all-black east London tournament.

We find reference to his humour too – on being showered with copper pennies after a match (a traditional method of tipping impressive fighters, it seems) he said he didn’t mind so much being struck on the head with them, but would prefer half-crowns coming his way instead.

There is one reference to be found of Hook’s ‘unearthing’ around 1880 – it was believed he had been found hungry and destitute in Spitalfields by Alec Munroe, a fellow migrant from the Caribbean who soon became his close friend and trained Hook as a boxer. Boxing World, in a short piece on the return of black meat market porter Charley Bartley to the pugilistic arena, recalled Bartley’s fight with Munroe before Munroe’s murder, and then dipped into an aside that it was Punch Callow who first ‘discovered’ Hook and took him in, not Munroe.  

On the 23 June 1897 the newspaper responded to a question from reader J. Sanford. The answer states: “Ching Ghook, a black boxer, who was at one time a feature in London boxing rooms, disappeared some years ago and is now, so we are informed, acting as a kind of dock constable on one of the American piers.”

Two months later an identical answer was given to another reader, Tom Reid of Stratford.

In the same issue, buried in a column called Things Not Generally Known, which listed answers to random things that people… did not generally know… comes the following:

  • That many persons wondered where to and why the once famous coloured boxer Ching Ghook disappeared from London some ten years ago
  • That Charley Smith, the ex-English feather-weight boxer, who has recently arrived in this country from America, informed us that he met Ching Ghook in New York stone broke, friendless, and almost starving

Without knowing what new name he might have taken on, there is still nothing I have found in records accessed through Ancestry which can elaborate and give us further detail on where exactly he was living, what he was doing, and when or how he might have died.

But taking Charley Smith and the Boxing World’s writers at their word, the answer to ‘Where?’ does seem to be ‘New York’. 

The question of ‘Why?’ remains unanswered. 

I wonder if anyone ever told Marian and Eliza.

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