The birthplace of Bob Fitzsimmons in Helston, Cornwall
Robert James Fitzsimmons was born on 26 May 1863 in Helston, Cornwall, England, the youngest of seven boys and five girls born to James and Jane (née Strongman) Fitzsimmons. Not long before his birth, his parents had moved from his father's native Ireland to Cornwall, where his mother came from, in order for his father to find work as a policeman. Fitzsimmons received his early education at the National school in Helston. In 1873, the family moved again; James, Jane and their youngest five children sailed on the Adamant for the 93 day journey to Lyttelton, New Zealand.
They settled in Timaru, a town 91 miles (147 km) south-west of Lyttelton populated mainly by Cornish immigrants, and James Fitzsimmons established a blacksmith's forge in the town. Once Fitzsimmons had completed his education at the Timaru Main School, he took on a range of jobs. He wanted to join the crew of the Isabella Ridley, and do some service as a sailor, hoping that it would toughen him up for a career in boxing, but the ship was badly damaged in storms while still docked in Timaru. Instead, he took on a range of jobs; as a butcher's delivery boy, a carriage painter, striker at an iron foundry, and a decorator, before becoming an apprenticeship at his family's blacksmith's forge, with his brother Jarrett. His time working in the blacksmith's forge helped to develop his upper body, particularly his arms and shoulders. During his time working in the blacksmith's forge, there are stories that Fitzsimmons was not averse to fighting quarrelsome, often drunk, customers, and it was suggested that this even boosted business, as customers returned to the forge, hoping to see a fight.