Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fiaschi, Piero Francis (1879–1948)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with Thomas Henry Fiaschi

Thomas Henry Fiaschi (1853-1927), surgeon, and Piero Francis Bruno Fiaschi (1879-1948), medical practitioner, were father and son. Thomas was born on 31 May 1853 at Florence, Italy, son of Lodovico Fiaschi, a professor of mathematics at the University of Florence, and his English-born wife Clarissa, née Fisher, who had tutored the children of Prince Corsini of Florence. He enrolled at the university as a medical student and at 21 left for Australia, where he was on the north Queensland goldfields before becoming a 'house surgeon' at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney. At Bethel House, George Street, Sydney, on 17 February 1876 he married with Congregational forms Irish-born Catherine Ann Reynolds, a nun from St Vincent's. They returned to Florence where in 1877 he graduated M.D. and Ch.D. (Pisa and Florence). Their first son, Lodovico (d.1944), who was mentally retarded, was born there. In 1878 Thomas was licensed to practice medicine and surgery in Italy and, after a short time in London, reached Sydney with his family in the Garonne in February 1879.

Fiaschi practised at Windsor, and in 1883 moved to Sydney, where he was active in the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association (president 1889-90). In 1890 he published A Viso Aperto … on the Italian community and the maritime strike. In March 1891 he became honorary surgeon captain in the New South Wales Lancers and in 1894 honorary surgeon to Sydney Hospital. He served with the Italian Army in Abyssinia in 1896, was made a knight of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus, and officer of the Order of the Crown of Italy; he wrote about the war in Da Cheren a Cassala. Note di Viaggio (Florence, 1896) and about the mutilation and eviration of Italian prisoners of war in the British Medical Journal. After visiting Italy, he returned home through the United States of America, where he studied advances in aseptic and abdominal surgery. In 1897 he moved to 149 Macquarie Street.

During the South African War Fiaschi was promoted major, commanded the New South Wales 1st Field Hospital and was senior medical officer with General (Sir) Edward Hutton's brigade. In February 1900, while searching for wounded in the Boer trenches, he received the surrender of Cronje's forces. For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. On his return he was promoted lieutenant-colonel in the Commonwealth forces, was honorary surgeon to the governors-general in 1902-09, and in 1911 became principal medical officer of the 2nd Military District with the rank of colonel. In 1909 he was chairman of the board of medical studies at Sydney Hospital, and in 1911 became honorary consulting surgeon.

On 25 April 1910 his third son, Carlo Ferruchio, a medical practitioner, died from a self-administered overdose of morphia. In March 1910 Carlo and a nurse had been acquitted on a charge of manslaughter of a patient on whom he had operated; his death and burial with Anglican rites revived the sectarian bitterness surrounding his mother's past and marriage. Fiaschi was asked by the superior general of the Sisters of Charity to withdraw from St Vincent's private hospital pavilion. He did so and gave the correspondence to the Daily Telegraph, protesting against 'mere religious rancor'.

On 10 August 1913 Fiaschi's wife died in Sydney, and on 19 August 1914 he married with Anglican rites Amy Curtis, a nurse, at Christ Church, Bundaberg, Queensland. In May 1915 Fiaschi left Sydney for Lemnos, where he commanded the 3rd Australian General Hospital before being invalided to England with beriberi in November. On recovery he went to Italy, where in July 1916 he temporarily resigned his commission in the Australian Imperial Force, to be surgeon in a military hospital at Schio in the Trentino; he was accompanied by his wife who worked as a nurse for the Italian Red Cross Society. They returned to Australia in October 1917 and he joined the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve as colonel, retiring in January 1921 as an honorary brigadier-general.

Fiaschi was a bold and enterprising practitioner and a good teacher; his keenness did not fade with the years. He did pioneering work in Listerian surgery, the treatment of exophthalmic goitre, hydatid disease and in bone surgery which, according to Dr Archie Aspinall, was his best work. He translated Bassini's text on hernia, and published several papers. He was a president of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association.

Tall and handsome with keen, searching eyes, fine physique and erect military bearing, Fiaschi was a dignified and imposing figure. Though quick-tempered, he readily forgave and never bore a grudge. He had a keen sense of humour and anecdotes about him abound. A man of wide culture, he was well read in both the general and medical literature of Italy and France. On his professional jubilee in July 1926 he was honoured by a wide section of the community; he was presented with a portrait of himself by Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo, a gold medal from the Dante Alighieri Art and Literary Society (of which he was a founder and president) and a book of autographs illuminated by W. Hardy Wilson.

Also an expert viticulturist, Fiaschi was a firm believer in wine as a medicament; he planted the Tizzana vineyard on the Hawkesbury, another near Mudgee and had cellars in Little George Street, Sydney. He was president of the Australian Wine Producers' Association of New South Wales in 1902-27, a councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales and an active member of the local Royal Society.

Fiaschi died at his son's home at Darling Point on 17 April 1927 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage and two daughters of his second; his daughter Clarissa (d.1975), became the Marchesa Torrigiani. His estate was valued for probate at £11,137.

His second son Piero, born on 5 March 1879 at Windsor, went to the United States, where he graduated from the New York College of Dentistry in 1903 and M.D. in 1905 from Columbia University; in 1906 he qualified M.R.C.S. (England) and L.R.C.P. (London) and next year returned to practise in Sydney. In 1909 he became a part-time officer in the A.A.M.C. and, serving in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and England during World War I, rose to lieutenant-colonel, was mentioned in dispatches and was appointed O.B.E. Discharged in February 1919, he spent some time in the United States before returning home. On 31 January 1917 at All Souls Parish Church, Marylebone, London, he had married Grace Horwood Thompson.

Fiaschi set up a highly successful practice at 178 Phillip Street, became a genito-urinary specialist and an authority on venereal disease: 'the condottiere of Phillip Street', he refused to move when Macquarie Street became fashionable for the profession. He was clinical assistant at Sydney Hospital in 1936-46.

From March 1921 to April 1935, when he was placed on the retired list, he held a number of medical appointments in the militia: he commanded the 9th Field Ambulance, 1927-28, the 4th Cavalry Field Ambulance, 1928-30, and in 1930-32 was acting director of medical services of the 1st Cavalry Division of 2nd Military District. In 1939-48 he was honorary medical officer to the South African War Veterans' Association of New South Wales and in 1941-42 senior member of the mixed medical commission inspecting prisoner of war camps. He was a familiar figure in Sydney's Anzac Day march.

Tall, lanky with an aquiline face, dark, sad eyes and booming voice, Piero was a strange mixture of bluntness and sensitivity. His war experience had affected him deeply. Although outwardly abrupt, he was inwardly shy; with many lovable qualities, he combined the hospitableness and stubbornness of the northern Italian with the generosity and impetuosity of the Irish. He was full of contradictions: to his friend H. M. Moran he was 'the stormy one'; to E. Haslett Fraser, in Goldoni's words, a 'burbero benefico' (a repiner with a heart of gold). Piero was intensely fond and proud of his father, and like him the subject of many anecdotes.

He died in Sydney Hospital on 15 June 1948 from burns received when a spirit heater he was lighting exploded. He was survived by his wife and child, a daughter, and buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery.

Father and son are commemorated by a life-sized bronze replica of the famous Florentine Porcellino monument outside Sydney Hospital, which was donated to the city by the Marchesa Torrigiani in 1967.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Moran, Viewless Winds (Lond, 1939), and Beyond the Hills Lies China (Lond, 1945)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 14 May 1927, 30 Dec 1933, 15 Apr 1939, 4 Sept, 16 Oct 1948
  • Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 7 Mar 1891, 4 June 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Oct 1896, 29 Jan, 22, 23 Mar, 28 Apr 1910, 30 Oct 1917, 27 May, 14, 21, 22, 25 July 1926, 18 Apr 1927, 12 Jan 1940, 18 June 1948, 22 Aug 1967
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3-7 May 1910
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Fiaschi, Piero Francis (1879–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fiaschi-piero-francis-6361/text10589, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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