Deaf History Spotlight: James Burke

James Burke was a boxer from England in the 19th century, and was also completely deaf. At a whopping six-foot two-inches tall and two-hundred pounds he trained near the River Thames and was feared by opponents.

A newspaper clipping featuring James Burke, with white trousers and a black belt, in fighting stance. He has short brown hair and fair complexion.

And no wonder! In 1833 he spared with Irish boxer Simon Byrne in the English Heavyweight Championships and finally winning after just over three hours. Three days later Byrne died of his injuries and Burke was thought to be at fault. He was ultimately acquitted of the crime, but was not given the championship belt over the ordeal. 

After failing to find new competition in England he traveled to the United States, eventually sparring with the new Irish champion Sam O’Rourke in 1937. Bad luck seemed to follow Burke and this match was no different: After his victory over O’Rourke in the third round he was forced to flee on horseback from an angry mob.