Jem Mace had a complex character. Different biographical authors have given widely differing pictures. This is mainly because most authors try to fit their subject into a single category. Jem, however, is impossible to pigeonhole. He was a chameleon. He appeared differently to different observers.
He was born working class, he felt at home among working men and clearly understood their psychology, and used this understanding to earn himself a lot of money. He came from a rural community. He lived and worked in the Gypsy community, he bonded with them and empathised with their problems and by extension he empathised with other minority groups. Several American boxers in his era were anti-Black and refused to fight black opponents, This resulted for a period in there being effectively two championships, one white and one black. Jem was critical of this and always treated Blacks as equals. Many of the Aristocracy supported prize fighting, hence over time he got to know several of them well and became relaxed in their company. (At the time the aristocratic fight supporters were called “The Fancy” subsequently shortened to “fans”).
His chosen profession meant he spent his life as an outlaw (prize fighting was illegal). Although he always tried to avoid conflict with the law, he was always looking for ways to avoid its strictures and appeared to have no conscience about performing illegal acts. He sought “the good life” and sometimes appeared to have had no conscience about leaving others to pick up the tab.
He was intelligent, but received no education. As a boxer, he was supremely self confident and brave. After initially suffering a few set-backs due to poor preparation, he became very diligent about training and fight preparation. He did not smoke and, in spite of being a licensed victualler for a lot of his life, only drank in moderation. He was, however, a compulsive gambler.
In his private life, he was easy going, friendly and free with his money. He was a popular companion and made life long friends. He was a “peacock”, always dressing immaculately and showily. It was important to him to be the centre of attention. He was very competitive, which occasionally turned into aggressive behaviour when things did not quite go his way.
His attitude towards his women was ambivalent. He was a compulsive womaniser, and was always strongly attracted to teenage girls. He loved female company and was never aggressive towards them. Initially in a relationship, he was very loving and treated his women like royalty, but if the love faded, he could walk away and not look back.
His attitude towards his children was similar. He was a loving father. He chose all his children's names, occasionally without too much thought for the psychology of their mother. He provided for them when times were good but was remiss when times were bad. With the exception of Alfred he remained on good terms with all his children (and stepchild) throughout his life, often in spite of being separated from their mother. (Jem and Alfred held strongly opposing religious views.)
He was an optimist....The grass would always be greener on the other side of the street....and of course, he would win the next fight and the next bet.
He earned vast sums of money, but was totally inept at looking after it. He lived “hand to mouth” spending money as fast as he earned it. He started many businesses, but because he was not interested in the day to day task of running them efficiently, in time, every one failed. The most vivid illustration of his lack of long term financial planning is gained by comparing the grave markers of Jem and that of his contemporary colleague and pupil, the Australian boxing champion, Larry Foley, who earned much less from boxing than Jem but invested his money wisely in a viable contracting business.
Because his income would fluctuate widely and he based his expenditure on his maximum earning potential, he would find himself in financial difficulties when times were less good to him. He would sometimes leave a financial dilemma behind him and do what was known at the time as a “moonlight flit” (i.e. move away and avoid paying creditors).
Jem Mace’s initial Grave marker, Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool, England
Larry Foley’s gravestone,
Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, Australia.