History rewritten as wrestler Louis Bruce revealed as Britain’s first black Olympian | Olympic Games

A feat of detective work – and the possibility discovery of dozens of well-preserved paperwork at a wrestling membership in Wigan – has unlocked a exceptional secret that rewrites greater than 100 years of British Olympic historical past, the Guardian can reveal.

The sprinter Harry Edward, who gained two bronze medals on the 1920 Antwerp Games, has lengthy been lauded as Britain’s first black Olympian. However now a staff of researchers has discovered that Edward’s achievement was overwhelmed by 12 years by an extended forgotten black heavyweight wrestler named Louis Bruce, who reached the second spherical of the 1908 Olympics in London.

Bruce, who was born in Edinburgh in December 1875, is already identified to move historians as one of many first black tram drivers in Britain. Final 12 months he was celebrated by the London Transport Museum and appeared on its Black History tube map. Till now, nevertheless, his sporting declare to fame has been ignored.

Nonetheless that can change with the British Olympic Affiliation acknowledging the importance of the findings. Scott Discipline, the BOA’s director of communications, informed the Guardian: “This can be a fascinating new physique of analysis and we’re excited to study of Louis Bruce’s story in being the first reported black British Olympian. The range of British Olympians is to be celebrated and one thing we’re extremely happy with.”


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The invention additionally establishes Bruce as the fourth earliest identified black athlete to compete at an Olympics. Solely Constantin Henriquez, who performed rugby for France in 1900, the US hurdler George Poage in 1904, and the American 400m runner John Baxter Taylor Jr, who first raced in 1908 on 21 July, two days earlier than Bruce wrestled within the 73kg catch-as-catch-can wrestling division, competed earlier than him.


The seeds of the story had been sown final 12 months when the Canadian researchers Connor Mah and Rob Gilmore, who contribute to the web site, probably the most complete database in regards to the Olympic Games, started to scrub up official athlete data from London 1908.

The first hurdle they confronted is that many rivals’ full names weren’t included within the official data. In Bruce’s case there was an additional complication as he was erroneously recognized in some historical past books as “Lawrence Bruce”.

“A serious downside we had is that many official Olympic studies, together with newspaper protection, hardly ever used greater than a first preliminary and a surname for the athletes,” mentioned Gilmore, who labored on the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick for almost 40 years. “This additionally appeared virtually an iron-clad rule in sports activities journalism on the time, particularly with novice athletics.”

(Clockwise from left) Louis Bruce’s entry kind for the 1908 Olympics; on London tram obligation; a report of Bruce in motion on the 1913 Tramways boxing championship; motion from the light-heavyweight wrestling remaining in 1908; Bruce’s medal for collaborating within the Olympics. Composite: undefined/Getty, London Transport Museum


Nonetheless throughout their analysis Mah started to surprise if Bruce had been misnamed, and likewise observed from census archives {that a} Louis Bruce was in Hammersmith across the identical time as the 1908 London Games. In the meantime Gilmore discovered a wrestling commercial within the newspaper archives a 12 months later for a bout that includes Ernest Nixson and a “Darkey” Bruce, as properly as a number of clippings describing him as “colored” which additional piqued their curiosity.

However the breakthrough got here when it was recommended to Mah that the SnakePit wrestling club in Wigan had a group of previous wrestling paperwork and memorabilia, which had been handed from individual to individual down the years and is likely to be price exploring. It proved a eureka second.

When Mah contacted the membership, he discovered they’d a set of 1908 Olympic wrestling paperwork, together with entry varieties and lists, which included the complete names and addresses of all 53 British wrestlers within the competitors. That allowed him and Gilmore to ascertain that L Bruce’s first identify was Louis, not Lawrence. And, shortly thereafter, that his tackle, 76 Princes Street in Teddington, was the identical as the tram driver Louis Bruce listed within the 1911 UK census.

Mah mentioned: “All we knew about him earlier than we began our analysis was {that a} ‘Lawrence Bruce’ was affiliated with Hammersmith Beginner Wrestling Membership and that he competed within the heavyweight division of the 1908 Olympics, defeating Alfred Banbrook within the first spherical, however dropping his subsequent bout to Ernest Nixson.

“Over the few months of digging we had been capable of make important progress, but it surely was the set of paperwork on the SnakePit membership that offered the breakthrough. Particularly as they offered the complete names of each single competitor, of their authentic handwriting and the road tackle of every competitor.

“The individual there despatched images of all of the paperwork they’d through WhatsApp after I vaguely described what I used to be in search of. I had no concept that they’d every thing – it was an enormous stroke of luck.”

That was removed from the tip of the story. The pair had been then helped by the sports activities historian Andy Mitchell, who found additional particulars about Bruce’s extraordinary life – together with his beginning certificates and {a photograph} of Bruce on a tram from 1906, confirming past doubt that he was black.

Within the image Bruce – who bought his licence to drive trams in 1900 and was later promoted to inspector, a notable achievement for the time – stands alongside the mayor of Kingston upon Thames, Henry Charles Minnitt, as he ceremonially takes the controls of the first London United Tramways electrical tram to cross the Kingston Bridge over the River Thames as part of a brand new path to Tolworth and Surbiton.

As properly as his common duties, Bruce was the private driver for the managing director of the corporate, Sir James Clifton Robinson, who had a personal tram at his home for commuting to work.

In 2021 the London Transport Museum celebrated Bruce’s achievements, calling him “one in every of London’s first Black tram drivers” – though they too bought his first identify unsuitable, calling him Lewis not Louis. “Sadly, little additional is understood of Lewis’s story,” they wrote.

Louis Bruce obtained his licence to drive trams in 1900 and was later promoted to inspector.Louis Bruce obtained his licence to drive trams in 1900 and was later promoted to inspector. {Photograph}: London Transport Museum

Since then, the researchers have uncovered way more about Bruce’s life, together with the actual fact he ceaselessly carried out in leisure acts as a dancer, ragtime singer and comic in tramway social occasions and concert events.

Throughout that interval he married Ethel Elizabeth Dunn in September 1911, and the couple later had a son, Dennis. He might have labored on the trams as late as 1922, however by the Nineteen Thirties he owned a newsagent store in Epsom Street, Sutton.

In the meantime Bruce’s sporting achievements continued after the 1908 Olympics. In January 1913 one report famous that “the well-known colored boxer” Inspector Bruce, had gained the London United Tramways heavyweight title, whereas a 12 months later he additionally claimed victory in a one-mile strolling handicap race at Griffin Park.

The Olympic historian and statistician Hilary Evans, who helped with the analysis, mentioned that Bruce’s story was extremely important: “These days it’s very uncommon to discover a motherlode of paperwork that haven’t been examined by historians.”

Bruce died, aged 82, in 1958 with an property valued at £5,897. Nonetheless one thriller stays. His beginning certificates states that Louis Bruce McAvoy Mortimore Doney was born in Edinburgh to Jane Elizabeth Doney, who’s believed to have been white. Nonetheless his father shouldn’t be named.

Intriguingly, Doney was a widow who had six daughters in Plymouth earlier than giving beginning to Bruce in Scotland – but she was again within the south-west and remarried by the point of the 1881 census. Bruce then grew up in Plympton, Plymouth, along with his grandmother and two aunts.

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On his marriage certificates, Bruce listed his father was a medical practitioner named William King Bruce, however researchers are but to search out him.

“The one factor lacking, frustratingly, is the identification of his father,” says Mitchell. “That discovery will go some option to explaining why a 33-year-old widow from Plymouth with six daughters ended up having an illegitimate baby in Edinburgh.”

All of it makes for a exceptional story, which provides to the wealthy tapestry of British achievements for the reason that fashionable Games started in 1896. Subsequent month on the Winter Games in Beijing, 50 Workforce GB athletes will search to put in writing their very own chapters in Olympic historical past. Now, finally, Bruce’s story can also be being heard.

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