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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Les Darcy, c. 1916

an unknown artist

gelatin silver photograph (frame: 85.5 cm x 70.5 cm, sight: 48.0 cm x 35.8 cm)

Les Darcy (1895–1917), boxer, was one of Australia’s earliest sporting heroes. Born into an Irish Catholic family near Maitland, he earned his first money in the ring as a fourteen year old. By the time he was eighteen, Sydney boxing promoters had begun to import fighters to challenge him. He lost his first two fights in Sydney to American Fritz Holland. In January 1915 he faced another American, Jeff Smith, in a de facto contest for the world middleweight title. When Darcy complained of a low blow at the end of the fifth round, the referee believed that he did not want to continue and awarded the decision to Smith. In September 1916, Darcy was awarded the victory when Smith punched him in the groin. Between these contests Darcy won 22 consecutive bouts, in all winning 46 of his 50 professional fights. His apparent imperviousness to the fiercest of blows, his boyish looks and his working class background quickly made him a national hero – until his decision to earn money in America was read as a cowardly attempt to avoid enlisting. Denied a passport, he stowed away on a ship bound for New York on the eve of the 1916 conscription referendum. Darcy was stripped of his titles and the controversy followed him to the States, where promoters lost interest in him. To deflect further criticism, he volunteered for the army and became a US citizen in early April 1917, but a fortnight later was admitted to hospital suffering from an infected tooth. As the infection spread to his bloodstream, Darcy developed pneumonia and died. After an immense funeral procession in San Francisco, his twenty-one-year-old body was brought back to Australia. Around 250 000 people are said to have lined Sydney’s streets as his casket was transported to Central Station for his journey back to Maitland for burial.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010

Accession number: 2010.99

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Les Darcy (age 21 in 1916)

Subject professions

Sports and recreation

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.