Search for 'world's first black sporting superstar' underway in London

An artwork of boxer Bill Richmond, whose remains could be found during excavations to make way for a high-speed train line.

London (CNN)A slave who became the world's first black boxing star, a notorious politician who led anti-Catholic riots and the British explorer who gave Australia its name are among the figures whose remains are being searched for in the UK's "biggest ever" archeological project.

The three men lie alongside 45,000 others whose skeletons are due to be dug up from a London cemetery as part of a huge cross-country project to clear space for a controversial high-speed railway.
Bill Richmond, born a slave in Staten Island, New York, in 1763 before crossing the Atlantic and settling in England, became the world's "first black sporting superstar," according to his biographer, Luke Williams.
    Nicknamed "The Black Terror," he won 17 of his 19 bouts in Yorkshire and London during his career, while mixing with nobility and being selected as an usher at the coronation of King George IV in 1821.
    Archaeologists are hoping they will find his remains as they examine St. James's Gardens, close to Euston Station in central London, before a large terminus for the High Speed 2 (HS2) project is built on the site.
    They are also searching for the skeletons of Matthew Flinders, the first man to circumnavigate Australia, who suggested the name for the newly discovered country, and George Gordon, a politician who led massive anti-Catholic riots in 1780. HS2 says it is the biggest archaeological project ever to take place in the UK.
    "We're going to be able to tell the story of our nation," Helen Wass, the archaeological project's leader, told CNN. She said the dig "brings you face to face with the people who built London and the UK."
    Sites along the line from London to Birmingham have already been examined, with earlier finds including two Victorian-era time capsules and some prehistoric tools.
    An archaeologist on the project examines a coffin plate at St James's burial ground.
    But Wass accepted she could not be certain that the skeletons of Richmond, Flinders and others will be identified. "A lot depends on where they were buried," she said. "We might find a skeleton but we might not necessarily find a name to go with that skeleton."
    The wealth of an individual dictated which end of the site they were buried at, Wass said, and not all the people were buried with nameplates on their coffins, meaning thousands of remains are likely to go unidentified.
    "The most interesting thing is the everyday men, women and children who lived and worked in London at the time," Wass added.
    "During this period Queen Victoria came to the throne, there were Poor Law reforms, the Act of Union that created the United Kingdom happened... this was such a great time of political and social transformation," she said.
    The project has not been free from controversy, with environmental campaigners protesting the impact of HS2 construction on green spaces across England.
      "We're really, really conscious of the impacts that our works are having on the community and we're trying hard to mitigate that impact," Wass said.
      The first stage of the HS2 line, between London and the West Midlands, is scheduled to be complete in late 2026. The £56 billion ($72 billion) project was approved by Parliament in early 2017, after years of debate over its cost and environmental impact.