Boxer Les Darcy locket now a national treasure

A Sydney priest, whose mother was once engaged to Les Darcy, has donated to the National Museum a worn gold locket containing a portrait and a lock of hair from the legendary Australian boxer.

Fr Kevin Hannan who lives in Bondi is the son of Winnie O'Sullivan who became Mrs Tom Hannan in 1921 after the famous boxer's tragic death in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1917, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

It is the thumbprint, worn into the flimsy gold, that conveys most eloquently Winnie O'Sullivan's abiding grief, the Herald says, with the indentations in the nine-carat gold indicating how many times she opened and closed it.

Inside were two of her fondest treasures: a portrait of her dead fiance, Les Darcy, and a lock of his hair - perhaps taken on his death bed in a Memphis hospital in 1917.

Even when she married and became Mrs Tom Hannan in 1921, even when she became the mother of two boys, Winnie kept her memento for moments of private contemplation.

As well as the locket, Fr Hannan has donated to the National Museum of Australia, correspondence between his mother and Darcy.

James Leslie Darcy who was the son of poor but devout Irish Catholic parents in East Maitland used his fists to support his family, fighting his first bout in 1910 in an illegal boxing match on a Sunday.

The story of how he became Australian middleweight champion in 1915 at Sydney Stadium, rapidly earning a worldwide reputation by beating several high-ranked Americans, is well known.

But it all went wrong when Darcy was unwittingly caught up in the World War I conscription row and denounced as a coward when he stowed away on a ship bound for America on the eve of the conscription referendum.

Arriving in the US, he was refused any fights and eventually died of septicaemia on 24 May 1917, aged just 21, after falling ill due to a tooth infection caused by bad dental work.

But the story of Winnie, their relationship and her faithful dedication to his memory is less well known, partly because like so many women of her generation she kept her grief private.

Fr Hannan told the Herald that most members of her family were not even aware of the Darcy connection until after Winnie's death in 1974. He doubts whether even her husband knew about the locket.

But since it was discovered, family folklore has it that Winnie took the clipping from Darcy's hair when she rushed by ship from Sydney to his deathbed in 1917.

Private relic to remember a very public man (Sydney Morning Herald 8/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Les Darcy (Rewind, ABC TV)
Les Darcy, Sport's Tragic Hero (Australian War Memorial)

8 Sep 2006