Daphne Akhurst

by Cathy Jones

On Australia Day, 26 January 2006, 1920s and 1930s tennis champion Daphne Akhurst was inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Akhurst was one of Australia’s greatest tennis champions, but her life was tragically cut short dying at age 29. At the time of her death, she lived in Strathfield with her husband Royston Cozens.

Akhurst trained as a music teacher at the State Conservatorium of Music but was a self-taught tennis player. She won the NSW schoolgirls singles championship in 1917-1920, the first in a long series of titles. Akhurst dominated Australian women’s tennis throughout the 1920s, winning the Australian Women’s Open in 1925 and 1926 and then, three in a row from 1928-1930. In the women’s doubles, she won five Australian titles with three different partners – Sylvia Lance [later Harper] in 1924 and 1925, Esna Boyd in 1928 and Louie Bickerton in 1929 and 1931. Akhurst won the mixed doubles four times, partnered by John Willard, Gar Moon and in 1928 by Frenchman Jean Borotra.

In 1925, Akhurst and team mates Esna Boyd and Sylvia Harper [formerly Lance] were the first Australian women’s tennis team to travel abroad. The trip was financed by a series of exhibition matches organised by tennis enthusiasts, rather than the Lawn Tennis Australian of Australia [now known as Tennis Australia] . Trips abroad for Australians to compete in events in Europe and America were often financed from fund-raising or sponsorship. The ability of Australians to compete for overseas sporting titles became more accessible in later decades by improvements in air travel.

When Akhurst competed at Wimbledon in 1925, she was considered an outsider. She reached the quarter finals taking a set off Joan Fry, the eventual runner-up. In 1928, the Australian women’s team was sent overseas winning all thirteen matches. In the same year, she reached the singles and women’s doubles semi-finals at Wimbledon. With Jack Crawford as her partner, she was runner up in the Mixed Doubles finals. Her achievements at the time earned her a ranking by Ayres’ Almanac of No.3 in the world. The Referee claimed she was the best all-round player in the world.

On 26 February 1930, Akhurst married Royston Stuckey Cozens of Strathfield. Cozens [1902-1998] was the son of Arthur Cozens, a tobacco manufacturer, who lived at Albert Rd Strathfield. Like his father, Royston Cozens was a tobacco manufacturer, employed by the British-American Tobacco Company. Following their marriage, they lived at ‘Wahgumgah’ 111 Homebush Road on the south-west corner of Albyn Road, Strathfield, which Cozens had purchased in October 1929 for £2900.

After her marriage, Daphne Akhurst continued to compete in competitive tennis and her name is occasionally recorded as Daphne Akhurst Cozens or Daphne Cozens. She won the Australian Women’s Open in 1929 and 1930 but retired from serious competition after winning the Australian women’s doubles championship in 1931.

Daphne Akhurst had one son, but died on 9 January 1933 aged 29 of an ectopic pregnancy. She was cremated following a funeral service at St Anne’s Anglican Church Strathfield. The death of Mrs R S Cozens of Homebush Road Strathfield was acknowledged at the meeting of Strathfield Council January 1933 .

Daphne Akhurst was also associated with the Strathfield Recreation Club, Morwick St Strathfield. In the 1950 Strathfield Recreation Club Jubilee Guide, Floris Conway recalled:

‘Who does not remember seeing, but yesterday, lovely Daphne Akhurst, acclaimed by England’s Press ‘the shy lady of Wimbledon’. Surely no finer tribute could be paid to a great champion, one who earned and held the love and affection of all with whom she came in contact, both on and off the Courts, until the sad hour of her early death. Strathfield was the scene of many of her triumphs’ .

The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup was donated by the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association and was first used by the Australian Tennis Open in 1934. This trophy is given to the winner of the Australian women’s singles each year. At the 2006 Hall of Fame Ceremony a bronze bust of Akhurst was unveiled. This bust will be installed alongside other tennis champions in Garden Square in Melbourne Park.

Daphne Akhurst Tennis Titles

Year Title Position Titles
1924 Australian Open Winner Mixed Doubles with John Willard
1924 Australian Open Winner Women’s Doubles with Sylvia Lance
1925 Australian Open Winner Women’s Singles,
1925 Australian Open Winner Women’s Doubles with Sylvia Lance Harper
1925 Australian Open Winner Mixed Doubles With John Willard
1925 Wimbledon Quarter finals Women’s Singles
1926 Australian Open Winner Women’s Singles
1926 Australian Open Runner-Up Mixed doubles with Jim Willard
1926 Australian Open Runner-Up Women’s doubles with Marjorie Cox
1928 Australian Open Winner Women’s Singles
1928 Australian Open Winner Women’s Doubles with Esna Boyd
1928 Australian Open Winner Mixed Doubles with Jean Borotra
1928 Wimbledon Runner Up Mixed Doubles with Jack Crawford
1928 Wimbledon Semi-finals Women’s Singles
1928 Wimbledon Semi-finals Women’s doubles
1929 Australian Open Winner Women’s Singles
1929 Australian Open Winner Women’s Doubles with Louie Bickerton
1929 Australian Open Winner Mixed Doubles with Gar Moon
1930 Australian Open Winner Women’s Singles
1931 Australian Open Winner Women’s doubles [as Daphne Akhurst Cozens] with Louie Bickerton

References

‘The Archives and Research Centre’ [recollections of Esna Boyd], Courtside Magazine, April 2004

‘Florence Fuller’, Biography on National Gallery of Australia at http://www.nga.gov.au.

Floris Conway, ‘They played the game!’, contained in Strathfield Recreation Club Jubilee Metropolitan Championships, 1950

Gibbney & Smith, ‘Charles Carey Lance’, Biographical Dictionary.

Regan, K. ‘Daphne Akhurst’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.7 1891-1939, Nairn & Searle [eds].

Sands Sydney and Suburban Directory, 1930-1932/3

Strathfield Council, Homebush Road Notice of Land Transfer file, 1929

Minutes of Strathfield Council meeting, January 1933

Tennis Australia, ‘Legend Akhurst Honoured’, downloaded on 12 January 2005 from http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/news/articles/2005-12-07/2005120711317271

Wikipedia Encyclopedia at en.wikipedia.org for title records from Australian Open and Wimbledon Championships.


© Cathy Jones 2006. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author. 

2 comments on “Daphne Akhurst

  1. Davan S. Mani

    Did the son of Daphne Akhurst survive? If so, what was the boy’s name and what happened to him?

    Davan S. Mani

    • Daphne Akhurst and her husband Royston Cozens had a son who was born in 16 July 1932 at Englewood Private Hospital Strathfield. She died from complications of an estopic pregnancy in 1933. This child did not survive. I do not have any information on the son that was born in 1932.

      Cathy

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