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Jerome, Jerry (1874–1943)

by Richard Broome

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Jerry Jerome (1874-1943), stockman and boxer, was born on 24 May 1874 at Jimbour Station, 10 miles (16 km) north of Dalby, Queensland, son of Wollon Charlie, an Aboriginal labourer, and his wife Guli. Jerry was of Yiman descent and won local renown as a horseman, athlete and show boxer. About 1906 he married Alice Davis at Dalby. He entered the ring officially in 1908—at an age when most fighters are 'washed-up'. Competing at the Olympic Stadium, Albert Street, Brisbane, in August 1912 he defeated 'Black Paddy', the noted Aboriginal middleweight from Western Australia, over sixteen rounds before a large crowd and the newfangled camera. Jerome's career of 63 fights for 39 wins included knocking out fellow contender Charlie Godfrey in four rounds on 7 September 1912 in Brisbane to claim the vacant Australian middleweight crown. He became the first of many Aboriginal titleholders.

Standing 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, and fighting at weights between 11 st. 2 lb. (71 kg) and 12 st. 1 lb. (77 kg), Jerome was neither a trained nor a scientific boxer. He confused his opponents with his unorthodox southpaw stance, his dancing and weaving tactics (which greatly amused the crowds) and his dazzling bursts of hurricane-like speed punching. He had a quick right lead, could punch effectively at long range or close quarters, and his left (somewhat 'agricultural') swing was his most dangerous blow. Thirty-two of his wins were by a knockout or by the retirement of his opponent through exhaustion. He had memorable fights against highly rated light-heavyweights, losing twice to Dave Smith and four times to Les O'Donnell, 'the cleverest boxer in the country'. Jerome first lost to O'Donnell on 2 November 1912, after claiming a low blow in the fourteenth round (a view the referee did not share) and refusing to continue. On 14 December that year he suffered a universally unpopular points decision over twenty rounds against the same opponent. In November 1913 he fought himself to exhaustion before losing to O'Donnell on a technical knockout. Jerome also experienced exhaustion at times when he fought with too much weight. Not only did he have a reputation for dodging roadwork, but his age worked against maintaining his fighting-weight. R. L. 'Snowy' Baker once remarked that, if Jerome could keep fit, 'he would be the greatest middleweight fighter in the world'. Commentators were adamant that he never abused alcohol.

While managed by George Lawrence in 1913, Jerome fought fourteen times (a total of 161 rounds) in nine months against top, sometimes heavier and imported boxers. He defeated the French champion Ercole de Balzac twice in early 1913, earning ovations from the Sydney crowd. On 20 December, at the end of this hectic period, he lost his title to Arthur Evenden, on points over twenty rounds. He was next trained by Peter Felix, a West Indian who was a former Australian heavyweight champion. In 1914 Jerome had only four bouts, three against visiting boxers, losing twice to the Frenchman Jules Dubourg and once to the American Eddie McGoorty after Jerome's arm was broken in the fifth round. He fought nine times in 1915, then retired from a ring career that had reaped £5000. A quarter of his earnings was placed in trust, always notoriously difficult for Aborigines to access.

Jerome fought on in boxing tents before retiring penniless to Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement where he coached youngsters. He maintained his independent and fighting ways: the Chief Protector of Aborigines J. W. Bleakley claimed that he sought to 'obstruct discipline and defy authority'. Survived by his three sons and one of his two daughters, Jerome died on 27 September 1943 at Cherbourg and was buried in Murgon cemetery, among his people, whom he never denied in the White world of boxing.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Corris, Lords of the Ring (Syd, 1980)
  • C. Tatz, Aborigines in Sport (Adel, 1987)
  • C. Tatz, Obstacle Race (Syd, 1995)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 9 Sept, 16 Dec 1912, 24 Feb 1913, 10 Oct 1942
  • Sporting Judge, 19 Apr 1913, 19 Dec 1914
  • Sporting Globe, 6 Oct 1943
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 23 Oct 1943
  • Herald (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1958.

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Jerome, Jerry (1874–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jerome-jerry-10624/text18883, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 30 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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