Saturday, August 18, 2012

Five Minutes of History: Jimmy Sharman

Bob Marchant, Jimmy Sharman’s boxing troupe (1996) 

During a conversation with my wife, the name “Sharman” was mentioned. I wondered whether that person was related to Jimmy Sharman, which prompted the response “Who’s that?”  It made me realise once again that the passing of time causes moments in history, experiences and memories to fade and become lost.   

I remember going to the annual local show when I was a youngster and later to the Sydney Royal Easter Show where I was captivated by Sideshow Alley, not throwing balls at stacked cylinders or  putting ping pong balls in the mouths of clowns that moved from side to side, but the tents that would be non-PC today: the half man, half woman; the ghost train;  the mermaid; the sword swallower. . . and Jimmy Sharman’s boxing tent. 

Mind you, I never went inside the tent, I was too young initially and not allowed by my parents.  When I was older I didn’t want to but a feeling of threat and brutality was apparent from the signs and displays, the fighters and the thugs from the audience who wanted to take them on. 

Jimmy Sharman Snr (1887-1965) found at a very young age that he could make money by fighting in the boxing tents in the district shows. After running away from home and engaging in fights with crude rings and equipment, he established his own boxing troupe that travelled to about 50 shows a year, the largest being the Sydney Royal Easter Show.   

By 1915 his Sharman Troupe was well established, his gravelly voice yelling out his catchcry invitations to the public to enter the tent and fight against one of the Sharman stable of fighters:  “Who’ll take a glove?” and “A round or two for a pound or two.”  (“Pound” was the then form of currency).    For the next 40 years he remained a fixture of sideshow alley, customers paying their two bob (two shillings) to view fights. 

By today’s standards such a display would be barbaric and dangerous;  by the standards of the day it was quite acceptable. 

Sharman maintained a strict code:  no consumption of alcohol by fighters or spectators; no mismatched fights; no punchy fighters, and no race discrimination, a progressive position considering the nature of the would-be fighters (usually the local thugs and brawlers) with whom he was dealing, the attitudes of the period and that quite a number of his fighters were black.   

Jimmy Sharman Jnr (1912-2006) was born a year after his father set up his first boxing tent and began working in his father’s tents as a teenager.  His interest however was not in boxing but in rugby league football, captaining Wests and playing 7 seasons as fullback between 1934-1940.  He was unable to serve during World War 11 because of ulcers, being ruled medically unfit.   

In 1955 he took over the boxing tent from his father and toured until 1971, when regulations were introduced prohibiting boxers having more than one fight per week.  That was the end of the Sharman Boxing Troupe. 

For six decades the Sharman tent had followed the show circuit in 4 states for 11 months each year.  Today it is a memory. 

Jimmy Sharman did not leave the shows, instead he became involved in the dodgem cars with his mate, TV mogul Reg Grundy. 

Jimmy Sharman Jnr also had one son, like his father named James.  James is commonly also known as Jim and, although not involved in fighting, he is also a showman of sort.  A director and writer of film and stage, he is internationally best known as the co-writer and director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

Some Sharman pics:

 Jimmy Sharman Snr refereeing a boxing match in 1910

Jimmy Sharman’s boxing tent, outside display (note the drums and megaphones) in Ballarat, Victoria, 1934

A similar outside enticement of the crowd

 Albury Showgrounds, 1930’s

 Jimmy Sharman Jnr playing for Wests

 Jimmy Sharman Jnr, aged 92, not long before his death in 2006.

 Jimmy Sharman Jnr with members of his boxing troupe, 1971

 Jimmy Sharman on the set of Rocky Horror


  1. I only knew of Jimmy Sharman's Boxers from the Midnight Oil song. Thanks for writing this!


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  4. The photo noted "A similar outside enticement of the crowd" - could you please provide a date on this photo?


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