The Australian colloquialism where your jovial mood is suggested to be “As happy as Larry.” find its etymological roots in the early bare-knuckle pugilism of a Sydney prize fighter and undefeated middleweight boxing champion at the turn of the 19th century.
The Larry in the idiom is Laurence ‘Larry’ Foley (1849-1917), who was born in Bathurst and would gain recognition as the “Father of Australian Boxing”. He spent his formative years in Wollongong where he served a Roman Catholic priest and had an expectation of joining the priesthood but instead moved to Sydney where he would later participate in a Roman Catholic street fighting gang that feuded with a rival Protestant group. Larry Foley would become the unofficial bare-knuckle champion of Sydney by beating Sandy Ross the leader of the rival gang in a contest which lasted 71 rounds and went for over 2 hours and took place at Como in South Sydney.
The bout which leads to the birth of the phrase “As Happy as Larry” was against the Australian boxing champion Abe Hicken. The contest lasted 16 rounds with the first round of the match lasting for 23 minutes because in 1879 rounds lasted as long as it took for one man to achieve a knockdown. Larry Foley claimed the victory and won £600 which made him a jubilant man and it was apparently reported in the newspapers that the crowd was said to be just as “Happy as Larry” leading to the creation of the phrase that is still used to this day.
Larry Foley retired from boxing at age 32 and became a publican running the White Horse hotel located on George St in Sydney. He opened a boxing academy in the back of the pub called the “Iron Pot” where he trained many boxers and which also held many boxing contests. He died of heart disease in 1917 and is buried in Waverly Cemetery. In the above photo, we see a picture of Larry in his boxing stance and a picture of his White Horse hotel.
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