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Deck, Horace Leigh (Hatherleigh) (1880–1944)

by Priscilla Deck and Stuart Braga

Horace Deck, by Harold Cazneaux, between 1925 and 1935

Horace Deck, by Harold Cazneaux, between 1925 and 1935

Horace Leigh Deck was born at Ashfield, Sydney, the fourth son and eighth child of John Feild Deck and his wife Emily Baring Deck. It was a family of twelve, one of whom died in infancy. He came to be known by the name of Hatherleigh, the town in Devon where his great-grandfather, the Rev. Samuel Feild, had been vicar in the early nineteenth century.

He attended Sydney Grammar School, where he was awarded prizes in his senior years. In the University of Sydney Junior and Senior Public Examinations (the equivalent of the later School Certificate and Higher School Certificate), he did very well, getting 6A’s and 1B and a medal for Greek in the Junior in 1897, and a Matriculation Scholarship and Honours in the Senior in 1899. He commenced his medical course at the University of Sydney, but went to England in 1902 after passing his second year examinations to complete his studies, having gained admission to the leading London teaching hospitals, Guy’s and St Bartholomew’s, (‘Barts’).[1] He studied there for three years, being awarded the MRCS on 8 February 1906 and LRCP on 25 January 1906. He then studied at the London School of Tropical Medicine, passing his examinations with distinction and gained the Cambridge Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene on 8 February 1908. Having completed his medical studies, he returned home to the practice his father had established many years before.

His elder brother Northcote married Jessie Gibson of New Zealand, and her best friend and chief bridesmaid was Grace Hoby. Apparently, a bit of match-making by a senior member of the groom’s family took place and a little over a year later, on 18 July 1912, there was another wedding in New Zealand between Hatherleigh and Grace Hoby at the Baptist Church, Vivian Street, Wellington. He brought his bride home to ‘Withycombe’, 31 Elizabeth Street, Ashfield, named for the village near Plymouth where his mother had been bought up. It had been built on the property next to the original Deck family home. Here they lived for the next two years until World War I intervened.

There was strong pressure on Australian doctors to enlist in the Australian Army Medical Corps, the medical unit of the AIF, especially after the losses on Gallipoli since April. Several members of Hatherleigh’s extended family were already serving in France in the British Army and his cousin Constance Young was a VAD in a Kentish hospital. Hatherleigh, somewhat older than they, had greater commitments. His father, John Deck, was in his late 70s and was semi-retired from the Ashfield Homoeopathic Hospital which he had run since coming to Australia in 1876, and which Hatherleigh was now largely running.

Hatherleigh’s decision to enlist was a family commitment. His father, widowed in 1914, undertook to keep the hospital going, no doubt supported by his daughter, Constance Deck. Hatherleigh enlisted on 31 July 1915, with the rank of Captain and sailed on RMS Orontes. He wrote an article for the ship’s paper, ‘First Impressions of the Land of the Pharaohs’, which, he noted, was appreciated. Whilst in camp near Alexandria he was able to visit Cairo and various other tourist spots as well as visiting his sister and brother-in-law, Olive and Douglas Porter, and their children. The Porters were missionaries in Egypt and had made their home there, which was, of course, a welcome change from his army tent. After service in Egypt, he was transferred to England to a camp on Salisbury Plain. Here, during leaves, he would be able to see his wife who had arrived in England and was staying nearby, as well as a number of other relations, mostly members of the Young family. Some were English and some had made the journey over from Australia.

Too old to be a Regimental Medical Officer, he was not posted to France. By the middle of 1917, it was clear that John Deck, then 81, could not keep going. Hatherleigh wrote to AIF Headquarters seeking permission to return to Australia on these grounds. Despite the critical shortage of medical officers, Colonel Victor Hurley, with wisdom and compassion, released him, and Hatherleigh returned to Australia. He had done his bit, the only member of his family to serve in the AIF, though three cousins served in the British Army.

Hatherleigh returned to Australia in September 1917 and terminated his commission on 8 October. His father transferred half the property at Ashfield to him in 1918 to build his own home and carry on the medical practice. The original house was demolished and a new house named ‘Bisham’ after the Berkshire village where the Hoby family came from, was built at 29 Elizabeth Street, next door to No. 31. It was designed specifically to allow easy access to the waiting room and surgery. Hatherleigh’s busy practice continued here until his death. Devoted to his patients who had great faith in him, he would never give up, but try every avenue available. In addition to the practice of homeopathy, his father’s great professional interest, he had a large library of books, ranging from ordinary medicine and surgery to diet and naturopathy. These he used to keep abreast of new ideas and treatments. He also met a chiropractor, in whose field he also took an interest. With a friendly and gregarious nature, he remained a General Practitioner, whilst his elder brother, Harry, became a surgeon.

A very family-oriented man, having come from such a large tribe of brothers and sisters and with a much older sister living next door, he would often gravitate across to the other house, to the extent that a bell had to be installed to call him home to answer the telephone or to attend to patients. When time allowed, he enjoyed a game of tennis. There was a grass court next door and his sister’s sons had tennis parties sometimes, as did his brother Ernest at Clifton Gardens. He also enjoyed the piano and, although a good pianist, was not in the same league as his brother Norman who could spend years away in the Solomons and on returning, after just a few days’ practice, could rival the best. Photography was also an interest. In snapshots taken by someone else with his camera in which he appears himself, he was often more concerned with instructions to the cameraman. His regular annual holiday was to Katoomba, not far from Sydney, at Convention time and where his love of walking and climbing made him very familiar with most of the Blue Mountains area. A few times he took himself on a cruise or to ‘Fairymead’ to visit cousins. As he had married a New Zealander, there were, of course, a few trips there where he too had family members. His interest in tramping and climbing found plenty of outlets here before returning home, sometimes leaving his wife and child, born on 8 September 1926, with the Hoby family for a few extra weeks.

In the early 1940s, he had not been well for some time, although still in practice, and planned a further trip across the Tasman to rest. His wife Grace planned to see her father, then over 90 years of age, but Hatherleigh was not to make the trip. One morning very shortly before leaving, after breakfast and having taken a phone call, he collapsed, never regaining consciousness, and died within a few hours. He was buried at Rookwood Cemetery, aged 63.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Priscilla Deck and Stuart Braga, 'Deck, Horace Leigh (Hatherleigh) (1880–1944)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/deck-horace-leigh-hatherleigh-19517/text32604, accessed 1 December 2021.

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