GENTLEMAN GUNBOAT JACK
By Dick Sheaff
Gentleman Gunboat Jack was, among other things, a pugilist, a circus performer, street brawler, bar fighter, bouncer, and tap dancer. And Jack was a ladies man. Also known as Jack Lawrence and Jack Colzie, he became a living legend in India in the 1920s.
A year or two ago I found a promotional broadside (shown), the back of which Jack had used as personal stationery to write a letter to a woman:
P.O Box 47
March 28, 1925
Dear (Triny?) Just a line hoping you are injoying the Very best of health. I am okay.
(Triny?) dear you no it's tuff Now on me, and its starting thats the hardest, and you no the game and you no at the present I have to work on small money Now please cant you come on for $20.00 per Week, Now dont think that I am trying to put any thing over on you as I don't Want no other girl Rider But you, and I am going to teach you to ride alone. Now please kid be easy, and let me no at once, and write me a long letter tell me all of the news. I am as ever Very Truly yours
With Very Best of Wishes hoping to hear from you real soon. I am
Gentleman Gunboat Jack
The Black Secret
According to boxing records, Gunboat Jack (Global ID#1189167) was a welterweight boxer, born James W. Colzie. He won 56 (22 by knockouts) and lost 30 (3 by knockouts). With 5 draws, his official total was 92 fights for a total of 783 rounds.
It is said that he once sparred with Jersey Joe Wolcott.
Another promotional broadside labels him "The Black Secret" and the "Lawrence Terror", saying "this is the Fighting Gentlemen they all side step. He is a Real Trouble Maker ... When looking for an opponent for Jack any body from 135 to 175 pounds will do ... Say it with Gloves."
Jack was said to have been in the American Navy, perhaps jumping ship in Madras, India. He saw himself as an adventurer. Somehow he found himself in Bombay, working as a smuggler of contraband. One story has it that he became known as Jack because he had a tendency to solve disputes with a carjack. He wore flashy suits and had diamonds in his teeth. Jack has been quoted as saying "I like three things too much. I like drinkin.' I like women, and I like music." ("Forensics & Faith" blog of Brandilyn Collins).
A broadside for a 1931 bout against Robin Neil of Calcutta states that the match would be held in "Gunboat Jack's Boxing Arena" in the White City section of Karachi, a cantonment where Indians were not allowed.
Jack took up with a widowed Anglo-Indian woman, a teacher named Mrs. Berry in Karachi. They had a child in 1941, a girl named Bobbie Berry. Bobbie was a star athlete in school, later disappearing for several years, when she re-emerged as a belly dancer named "Princess Amina." She was apparently an extraordinary dancer, described by one writer as "a performer of dazzling virtuosity and seemingly inexhaustible stamina."
One writer said that "during the era of silent films, Gunboat Jack was an added attraction in cinema halls, featuring in much publicized bouts on the stage ... his motorbike daredevilry was performed ... next to the Victoria Public Hall." (V. Sirham, quoted in The Hindu, column by S. Muthiah, May 24, 2004).
For a while, Jack served as doorman and bouncer at a club called Bosco's, all duded up as a cowboy with boots, spurs and Stetson hat. At some later point, Jack became the "head of watch and ward" at a Madras, India boarding school for boys. Before being shipped back to the United States by the US Embassy, Jack ended up on a street corner in Bangladore, sitting on a chair with a Bible, preaching.
There are a great many stories and anecdotes about Gunboat Jack. In trying to sort out the chronologies, I realized that there may have been two individuals who went by that moniker and that the stories have become conflated into the life of one man. If any reader has additional information about one or more Gunboat Jacks, I'd love to learn it!