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Wallis, Joseph John (1888–1952)

by Richard Broome

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Joseph John Wallis (1888-1952), boxing referee, was born on 3 December 1888 at St Peters, Sydney, eldest child of Sydney-born parents Joseph Newton, brickmaker, and his wife Georgina Jane, née Calf. Like many working-class youths, Joe boxed for money and masculine honour. After substituting in a bout for a friend called Wallis, he assumed that surname. He fought as a featherweight at the Gaiety Athletic Club, Castlereagh Street, but soon turned welterweight. By 1910 he was also a produce merchant. On 2 July that year at the Methodist Church, Newtown, he married Alice Gertrude Makin.

From 1914 Wallis refereed at the Olympia Athletic Club, Newtown (to 1916), the Hippodrome and (from 1919) the Stadium, Rushcutters Bay. Referees in his day controlled and scored fights unaided by judges. Wallis used a five-point system devised at a conference in 1914 of managers, referees, trainers, and representatives of Stadiums Ltd. His longevity as 'third man' in the ring revealed his skill and toughness, given the hooting, abuse and sackings meted out to incompetent or unpopular referees. He habitually left the ring promptly after each decision. On 16 February 1927 his alacrity did not save him from an irate loser, Johnny Reisler, who attacked him. Wallis fought back and a mêlée ensued. The rigour of refereeing five fights on a card, at several venues, most weeks of the year, was mitigated when bouts were reduced from 20 rounds to 15 in 1927.

Of middle height, Wallis steadily put on weight until he was a portly fifteen stone (95 kg). Photographs of him officiating in his middle age show him in white shirt and trousers and black and white patterned shoes, with hands clasped behind his back, accentuating his ample stomach. Peter Corris has claimed that he used his weight as an asset to 'rough up' lighter boxers 'spelling in a clinch'. Wallis's contemporaries generally admired him, however. In 1940 Archie Moore, a first-class American middleweight who fought seven times in Australia, declared him 'one of the greatest referees in the world'. Merv Williams later asserted that 'nothing ruffled' him, that his 'judgement was respected', and that he 'seldom put his hands on the contestants'.

In 1941 Wallis opposed calls for a boxing commission, mirroring the views of his employer, Stadiums Ltd. He prolonged some unequal bouts. In the hard-hitting, 1949 Australian lightweight title-fight, in which Archie Kemp died after an eleventh-round knockout by Jack Hassen, neither the police officers supervising the event nor Wallis had intervened. He claimed that, although both boxers had been 'a bit dazed', a 'referee has to decide these things in the ring, and at the moment . . . If a referee stops a contest prematurely he comes in for hot criticism'. In June 1950 the police ordered him to stop a fight in which Freddie Dawson had knocked Hassen down three times. It was Wallis's last time as third man. Ill health and some controversial decisions caused his retirement.

Wallis ran a gymnasium and owned the Cricketers' Arms Hotel, Moore Park. Survived by his wife, and two of their three sons, he died of cancer on 30 October 1952 at Camperdown and was buried in Woronora cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Corris, Lords of the Ring (Syd, 1980)
  • Sporting Judge, 25 Jan 1919
  • Sporting Globe, 31 Oct, 7 Nov 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 1940, 5 Dec 1944, 14 Sept 1946, 21 Sept 1949, 28 July 1950, 31 Oct 1952.

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Wallis, Joseph John (1888–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wallis-joseph-john-11947/text21413, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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