People - James "Deaf" Burke

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Updated September 15, 2010.

Q: Who is the nineteenth century deaf athlete whose story is a true riches to rags tale?
A: James "Deaf" Burke.


Born in 1809 in London, Burke was a boxer who became a heavyweight champion. He began fighting at only eighteen years of age. The boxing community referred to him as "the deaf 'un' " because of his hearing loss.

Tragedy Strikes

In 1833, Burke fought one Simon Byrne, a man who was physically bigger than Burke, who was under six feet tall.

However, Burke fought skillfully and defeated him, beating him so badly in the process that just three days later, Byrne died. Thus Burke entered the history books as the first boxer involved in a fight that resulted in a death.

Trying to Save a Career

Following Byrne's death, Burke went to the United States to continue boxing. After a couple of fights, he returned to England, where he fought some more. His last fight was in 1843, then he retired. Just two years later, he was impoverished and died of tuberculosis at just 35 years old.

Other James "Deaf" Burke Resources

The following resources are available on Burke:
  • British Deaf History Society, Deaf History Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, April 1999 - This publication has an article on Burke.
  • Cyber Boxing Zone - This page has a graphic of Burke, and career statistics.
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