James (Jimmy) Sharman (1887-1965), boxer and showman, was born on 20 June 1887 at Narellan, New South Wales, fifth of thirteen children of locally born parents James Sharman, labourer, and his wife Caroline, née Brailsford. Leaving school at about 12, he took a labouring job on a dairy farm and soon after began fighting in boxing tents at annual district shows. At Campbelltown in 1906 he won £11 16s. in a sideshow fight. Cured of farm-work forever, he ran away from home and won himself a reputation as a fighter among the shearers of the Cowra district before being sent back by the police. He took a job at Cataract dam and continued fighting in crudely erected rings with makeshift equipment. A southpaw lightweight with a heavy punch, he claimed to have won all but one of his seventy-eight bouts in 1908-12.
In 1912 a £500-a-side fight with Jack Carter at Wagga Wagga, about which conflicting accounts are given, boosted his reputation. That year on 22 April he married Violet Eileen Olive Byrne at Narrandera with Roman Catholic rites. He became a promoter at the Star Theatre, Temora, before fulfilling a long-standing ambition to run his own tent show.
The Sharman Troupe took to the roads of the Riverina and by 1915 was well established at agricultural shows, Sharman’s gravel-voiced cry ‘Who’ll take a glove?’ becoming his trademark. For over forty years Sharman took his troupe around eastern Australia, at first by train and from the 1930s by motor truck, visiting forty-five to fifty shows each year, before returning to his base at Narellan. At Sydney’s Royal Easter Show he became the institution of ‘Sideshow Alley’; two generations of customers paid their ‘two bob’ to enter his big tent. Only World War II interrupted his annual ten-month tours; Sharman and his assistant ran a coal and coke business in Melbourne until the war ended.
A member of the Showmen’s Guild of Australasia, Sharman took pride in the discipline of his troupe. He insisted on tight contracts, prohibited consumption of alcohol by both performers and spectators, discouraged punch-drunk fighters and opposed colour discrimination. He boasted that many Australian champions began or ended their careers in his tent, including Frank Burns (middleweight champion), Teddy Green (bantamweight), Harry Mack (featherweight), Mickey Miller (bantam and featherweight), George Cook (heavyweight), Jack Hassen (lightweight) and triple titleholders Billy Grime and Jackie Green.
Lightly built with a weatherbeaten face, Sharman remained fit and alert until old age. He died on 18 November 1965 at Camden and was buried with Catholic rites in the Narellan cemetery. His wife and only son Jimmy, who had taken over management of the troupe ten years earlier, survived him. His estate was valued for probate at $192,025.
- P. Corris, Lords of the Ring (Syd, 1980)
People (Sydney), 24 May 1950
Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Nov 1965
Sharman papers (State Library of New South Wales).
Related Entries in NCB Sites
Paulsen, Alexander Henry (employee)go to ADB entry
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Reid, William John (employee)go to ADB entry
Peter Corris and Diane Langmore, ‘Sharman, James (Jimmy) (1887–1965)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sharman-james-jimmy-8398/text14747, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 4 March 2021.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988