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Gabriel, Charles Louis (1857–1927)

by Catherine Santamaria

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

Charles Louis Gabriel (1857-1927), medical practitioner and photographer, was born on 25 June 1857 at Kempsey, New South Wales, eldest son and third of thirteen children of Charles Louis Gabriel, surgeon, and his English wife Rhoda Emma, née Rudder. Dr Gabriel senior, born at Martinique, Lesser Antilles Islands, West Indies, had visited Sydney as a surgeon with a French expedition to the South Pacific and later returned to settle at Kempsey. Young Charles Louis was and educated there, and matriculated at the University of Sydney. From 1878 he studied at the School of Medicine of the Royal Colleges, Edinburgh (L.R.C.P., L.R.C.S., 1885). Copies of testimonials from Edinburgh paid tribute to his broad education, general culture and humanity.

By 1886 Gabriel had returned to Australia and next year went to Gundagai, New South Wales. In July he became medical officer to the Independent Order of Oddfellows' lodge, a post he held for more than thirty-five years. In 1888 he was appointed government medical officer to the Gundagai District Hospital and maintained a private practice. He quickly became one of the liveliest members of the community: the leading influence in the fledgling literary institute, president of the football club and patron of the swimming club. At the same time, and involuntarily, he became one of the principal actors in a public and prolonged dispute revolving around the hospital, its staff, administration and facilities. Gabriel repeatedly argued that improvements, particularly in hospital finances and general hygiene, must be effected. He was successful and at the same time earned for himself the reputation of the hospital's chief fund-raiser.

Of a number of pastimes, photography was his favourite—Gundagai and its citizenry were his subjects. Gabriel left a legacy of some 900 negatives which record the town in which he lived for 40 years. His main photographic preoccupation was people and in particular women. He managed to capture with warmth and intimacy the lazy life of the country town at the turn of the century. He photographed such events as the flood of 1900, the erection of the memorial to the men of the Bushmen's Contingent who fought in the South African War, the opening of the new hospital in 1904 as well as sporting activities such as tennis, fishing and chess. His films were processed by C. E. Weston, a draper and an amateur photographer. His photographs show a notable sense of composition and visual dynamics and represent a fine blend of art and documentary history.

Unsubstantiated folklore suggests that Gabriel had two wives; but he never alluded to an earlier marriage. On 30 March 1891 he married a widow, Jessie Violette Walton, née Young, at St Patrick's Church; they had no children. He died in Tumut hospital on 10 February 1927 after surgery for appendicitis and was buried in the Catholic section of Gundagai cemetery. An obituarist described Gabriel as 'Gundagai's most talented man'.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Quartermaine (ed), Gundagai Album (Canb, 1976)
  • Gundagai Independent, 10 Feb 1927
  • J. Gormly, newspaper articles on Gundagai and Wagga, 1902-18 (National Library of Australia)
  • Gabriel family papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Catherine Santamaria, 'Gabriel, Charles Louis (1857–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gabriel-charles-louis-6265/text10793, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 1 October 2014.

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

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