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de Crespigny, Philip Champion (1850–1927)

by Earle Hackett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Philip Champion de Crespigny is a minor entry in this article

Sir Constantine Trent Champion De Crespigny (1882-1952), medical practitioner, was born on 5 March 1882 at Queenscliffe, Victoria, second son of Philip Champion de Crespigny, bank-manager, and his first wife Annie Frances, née Chauncy (d.1883). Philip (1850-1927) was born on 4 January 1850 at St Malo, Brittany, France, son of Philip Robert Champion de Crespigny, police magistrate and goldfields warden, and his wife Charlotte Frances, née Dana. Family tradition claims descent from hereditary champions to the Dukes of Normandy in the eleventh century. Huguenots, they had moved to England after the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685.

Philip was a careful, conservative bank official who from 1866 aided the steady expansion of the Bank of Victoria. From 1916, as general manager, he played a diplomatic role in negotiations which led, at the time of his death, to the amalgamation of his bank with the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney. He had been a chairman of the Associated Banks of Victoria, president of the Bankers' Institute of Australasia, and a council-member of the Commonwealth Bureau of Commerce and Industry. Philip died at Brighton on 11 March 1927. He was survived by the two sons of his first marriage, by his second wife Sophia Montgomery Grattan, née Beggs, whom he had married on 2 November 1891, and by their four children.

Constantine Trent was educated at Brighton Grammar School and Trinity College, University of Melbourne (M.B., 1903; B.S., 1904; M.D., 1906). In 1904-07 he was a resident in Melbourne hospitals, and in 1907 he practised in the country at Glenthompson. Specializing in pathology, in 1909 he was appointed to the Adelaide Hospital. He continued his interest in laboratory medicine, being honorary director of the hospital's pathology services and lecturer in pathology in the medical school of the University of Adelaide in 1912-19, but began private practice as a specialist physician in 1912.

Trent Champion de Crespigny was comissioned in the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1907. In May 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant-colonel and was posted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital during the Gallipoli campaign. From February 1916 he commanded the 1st A.G.H. at Rouen, France, returning to Australia in November 1917. He had been mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order in June. He then went back to England and in 1918 become consulting physician at A.I.F. headquarters in London. Next year he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians and returned to Adelaide.

His standing steadily grew as one of Adelaide's most reliable doctors. He was an honorary physician at the Adelaide and the Adelaide Children's hospitals. He became F.R.C.P. in 1929 and was one of the senior Australian medical men involved in founding the Royal Australian College of Physicians, of which he was president in 1942-44. He published a number of medical papers, mainly in the Medical Journal of Australia, between 1914 and 1944.

Trent de Crespigny had a tall, spare figure, was well dressed and wore pince-nez. Proud of his ancestry, he spoke slowly, with a superior manner which isolated him from his associates and patients, especially women. Nevertheless his intellectual gifts as a diagnostician and his knowledge of scientific medicine were outstanding in South Australia in his time. A daughter-in-law said that he looked upon medicine as a detective looks upon crime—never ceasing to hunt for clues.

For nineteen years from 1929 he was dean and chief examiner in medicine at the medical school of the University of Adelaide. In 1908 he had started a research laboratory in pathology in a tin shed at the back of the Adelaide Hospital. He then solicited funds from private persons, charitable bequests and the State government so that an Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science could be built. In 1937 it was established by Act of parliament and he became the first chairman of its council. His portrait by Ivor Hele hangs there today.

Trent de Crespigny was president of the South Australian branch of the British Medical Association in 1925-26. In 1929 he presided over the medical section of the Australasian Medical Congress in Sydney. In 1941 he was knighted and became known as Sir Trent. Four years later he visited the United States of America where he inquired for the university into medical postgraduate education, especially as it affected medical officers returned from World War II.

His few intimates found 'Crep' a rationalist and a man of dry humour. Adelaide generally saw him as somewhat eccentric. He figured in apocryphal medical anecdotes: some of these concerned his deliberate manner and others his acerbic wit, or his inability to drive a motor car safely. In the 1930s he had been one of the first doctors to hire an aeroplane and pilot to visit distant cases. His advice to one of his children was: 'When in doubt, my dear, do the difficult thing'. He had a serious sense of private and national duty.

Sir Trent had married, on 11 September 1906 at Beaufort, Victoria, Beatrix Hughes (d.1943). On 13 December 1945 he married in St Peter's Cathedral Mary Birks Jolley, a teacher thirty years his junior. He died in Adelaide of hypertensive cardio-vascular disease on 27 October 1952, survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage and by his second wife and their daughter. His estate was sworn for probate at £8015. A colleague described his death as 'probably the greatest loss to the South Australian medical profession for the past thirty years'.

His eldest son Colonel Richard Geoffrey, O.B.E. (1907-1966) was a noted physician. His half-brothers, Air Vice Marshal Hugh Vivian, C.B., D.F.C., M.C., Croix de Guerre (1897-1969) and Group Captain Claude Montgomery, C.B.E. (b.1908) had distinguished careers in the Royal Air Force.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • R. F. Holder, Bank of New South Wales: A History, vol 2 (Syd, 1970)
  • Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, Annual Report, no 14 (1951-52)
  • Lancet (London), 1 Nov 1952
  • British Medical Journal, 8 Nov 1952
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 21 Mar 1953
  • Brighton Historical Society, Newsletter, June 1965, supp pt 1
  • Industrial and Mining Standard, 17 Mar 1927
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Mar, 21 Apr 1927
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Mar 1927
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12 Mar 1927
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Jan 1941, 28 Oct 1952
  • Personalities Remembered (ABC radio script, 28 Nov 1971, State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Earle Hackett, 'de Crespigny, Philip Champion (1850–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/de-crespigny-philip-champion-5652/text9461, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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