Les Darcy - "The Maitland Wonder"
By Paul Upham: Maitland City Council will officially commemorate the restored Les Darcy Family Vault on Saturday 26 June 2010 in East Maitland, north-eastern NSW. Darcy was one of the greats of the early years of Australian boxing prior to his premature death in 1917.
The restoration of the Darcy grave has been funded by numerous private sponsors and a contribution from the NSW Government. Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame exhibit curator Arnold Thomas has also been closely involved in the project along with the generous contributions of Maitland City Council.
In 2007, best selling author Peter FitzSimons wrote “The Ballad of Les Darcy” (HarperCollins Publishers), which unveiled the special legacy of Darcy to a new generation of Australians.
FitzSimons wrote of Darcy, “...the thing that gnawed at me was that the ballad of Les Darcy remained to the Australian public not a hundredth as well known as the ones so often told of Phar Lap and Don Bradman, even though in the fist half of last century Don Bradman – Phar Lap – Les Darcy has been almost the Holy Trinity of Australian sport stories.”
Known as The Maitland Wonder, Darcy remains permanently etched in Australian history as a legendary sporting saint, even though he was only 21 years of age when he died.
Working as a blacksmith’s apprentice, Darcy developed powerful forearms and huge strong fists. He started boxing as an amateur at age fifteen and quickly turned professional in 1910.
After winning his first seventeen fights, Darcy unsuccessfully challenged Bob Whitelaw for the Australian welterweight title, losing a twenty-round points decision on 3 November 1913. In a non-title rematch on 21 March 1914, Darcy knocked out Whitelaw in five rounds.
Promoter Snowy Baker matched Darcy’s first fight in Sydney against Fritz Holland on 18 July 1914. The American was awarded a twenty round points decision win and Darcy’s passionate fans were so enraged, there was a riot as they attempted to set fire to the Sydney Stadium at Rushcutters Bay.
On 23 January 1915, Darcy engaged in the first of two fights with another American Jeff Smith, who was promoted as holding the Australian world middleweight title. Darcy complained to the referee of a low blow at the end of the fifth round, who determined that the Australian did not want to continue the match and awarded the decision to Smith. In a rematch on 22 May 1915, Darcy won by 2nd round disqualification when Smith punched him below the belt line in the groin.
Darcy was an amazingly tough man and never appeared hurt in the ring from a legal punch. He had a low centre of gravity and he was seemingly unbreakable. Eye witness accounts stated he had incredible vigour, stamina and strength.
Always hungry to learn, Darcy took opponents the distance in the ring because he loved the experience. He simply loved fighting.
As the issue of conscription arose during the First World War, Darcy became a pawn in a tug of war between the Australian government and his mother. Under the age of 21, which disqualified him from automatic acceptance into the armed forces, twice Darcy attempted to enlist, but his mother Margaret refused to give her written consent.
As more Australians lost their lives in World War I, Darcy continued his boxing career, but came under greater scrutiny from his critics. While conscription was still optional, the Australian government prevented Darcy from legally leaving the country to travel to fight in America.
On 19 February 1916, Darcy knocked out Harold Hardwick in seven rounds to win the Australian heavyweight title. His final fight in Australia was on 30 September 1916, when he knocked out George Chip in nine rounds.
Two days before his 21st birthday on 29 October 1916, Darcy stowed away on an ocean steamer bound for the USA and arrived in New York six weeks later. He was publicly portrayed as a coward by his critics in both Australia and America.
After Darcy took the oath of allegiance to become an American citizen and joined the American Air Force, promoters arranged his first foreign fight in the USA to be held on 7 May 1917.
Whilst training for his American debut, Darcy collapsed on 27 April 1917. He was admitted to hospital with septicaemia and endocarditis. It was suggested his blood poisoning had come from a fight a year earlier where he had lost two teeth. His tonsils were removed but he developed pneumonia and died on 24 May 1917.
After his death, Darcy’s embalmed body was returned by ship to Australia where over half a million people paid their respects in person in Sydney and Maitland.
Darcy’s final record was 46 wins, 4 losses and 29 wins by knockout. He was inducted into the Australian National Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Les Darcy was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, USA in October 1998.
This coming Saturday’s public event will commence at 11:00am at King Edward Park in East Maitland. Visitors are most welcome to attend.
A painting donated by Mr Robert McCaig titled “The Maitland Wonder” will be auctioned on the day as a contribution towards the Darcy Restoration Fund.