DESCRIPTION: The singer mourns for Les Darcy. He recalls "how he beats, Simply eats them, Every Saturday night." "(The Yanks) called him a skiter, but he proved himself a fighter, (so they killed him, down in Memphis), Tennessee."
EARLIEST DATE: 1960
KEYWORDS: fight Australia death
May 24, 1917 - Death of Les Darcy in Memphis, Tennessee
FOUND IN: Australia
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Fahey-Eureka, pp. 218-219, "Les Darcy" (1 text, 1 tune)
John Greenway, "Les Darcy" (on JGreenway01)
cf. "Young Les Darcy" (plot, subject)
NOTES: Les Darcy was an Australian boxer of whom great things were expected. He did not live long, and so his major bouts were few, but the Australians made him one of their great heroes.
Almost everything about his story is disputed. Learmonth, p. 147, in their item on "James Leslie (Les) Darcy" declare that he was born in Stradbroke in New South Wales in 1895. Wannan, p. 38, quotes this quick summary of his career by Del Williams: "He arrived in Australia on an oil tanker, his goal the world's middleweight championship. Instead, he found frustration, injustice, and finally death. Branded a slacker by the Governor of New York, and unable to box in America, his spirit began to fade, and on 24 May 1917, he awoke from a short sleep at the Gartly-Ramsey Hospital, Memphis, opened his eyes and beckoned to his friend, Mick Hawkis. He gasped for words and found none." Soon after, he died.
It appears that the the description of his journey is reversed: Born in Australia, where he became lightweight, middleweight, and eventually heavyweight champion, winning 46 of 50 bouts according to Learmonth, he stowed aboard the oil tanker in 1916 to compete in the United States.
When he died in 1917, the Americans gave the cause of death as pneumonia; Australians claim he was poisoned. Learmonth gives the cause of death as blood poisoning. MacDougall, p. 392, suggests meningitis, and adds that "His body was returned for burial in Australia giving Australians their chance to pay respects to a champion unfairly maligned." Davey/Seal, p. 85, reports, "Darcy died of blood poisining arising from an injury received in the ring before he left Australia. Darcy was much more than a sporting celebrity, though, and up to and during World War I [he] took on the character of a national hero, celebrated in tradition with an intriguing mixture of pride, grief and affection."
Two songs about Darcy are found in the tradition; this one, based on "Way Down in Tennessee," begins, "In Maitland cemet'ry (or "Way down in Tennessee") lies poor Les Darcy...." It has been surmised that this one was written by P.F. Collins (under the pseudonym "Percy the Poet"). The piece seems to have truly entered oral tradition, however; Fahey reports collecting it twice, and his text differs significantly from that used by John Greenway.
The other, more literary, Les Darcy song has eight lines per stanza and begins "We all get a craving to roam, Far from home, o'er the foam...." - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Davey/Seal: Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, A Guide to Australian Folklore, Kangaroo Press, 2003
- Learmonth: Andrew and Nancy Learmonth, Encyclopedia of Australia, 2nd edition, Warne & Co, 1973
- MacDougall : A. K. MacDougall, An Anthology of Classic Australian Lore (earlier published as The Big Treasury of Australian Foiklore), The Five Mile Press, 1990, 2002
- Bill Wannan, The Australians: Yarns, ballads and legends of the Australian tradition, 1954 (page references are to the 1988 Penguin edition)
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