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Welch, Leslie St Vincent (1879–1947)

by M. D. Cobcroft

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Leslie St Vincent Welch (1879-1947), medical practitioner, was born on 7 February 1879 at Bondi, Sydney, eldest of four sons of English-born parents John St Vincent Welch, insurance manager, and his wife Emily, née Thackeray. After attending Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and studying engineering for two years at the University of Sydney, Leslie decided to enter medicine. He trained in London, mainly at St Bartholomew's Hospital, qualifying in 1907 as a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Returning to New South Wales, he was registered to practise on 11 November 1908. On 12 June 1909 at St Paul's Church of England, Byron Bay, he married Beatrice Emily Sparrow, a nurse.

Before World War I Welch worked at Bangalow and Bombala, in Sydney at Neutral Bay and Manly, and at Narrandera and Abermain. On 14 July 1915 he was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He served in Egypt, where he was mentioned in dispatches, and with the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column on the Western Front. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 17 January 1917 and he returned to Abermain. In 1920 he moved to Kempsey. He was divorced on 13 June 1922. At the district registrar's office, St Leonards, Sydney, on 29 July that year he married May Winston Reeve, née Anderson, an American-born widow.

On 1 June 1926 Welch became chief medical officer of the medical branch, Queensland Department of Public Instruction. Next year he visited outback schools investigating trachoma ('sandy blight'), an eye disease then affecting 20 per cent of western Queensland pupils. He arranged for the appointment of a full-time ophthalmologist, and enlisted local doctors and school nursing sisters to examine and treat affected children. In 1928 he helped to establish the (Thomas) Wilson Ophthalmic School Hostel, a sanatorium in Brisbane for more serious cases. Under his supervision hygiene lessons aimed at preventing the condition were incorporated into the school curriculum.

From 1930 Welch, with (Sir) Raphael Cilento, director of the division of tropical hygiene, Commonwealth Department of Health, and Dr John Coffey, Queensland commissioner of public health, directed a joint Federal and State campaign to reduce the incidence of hookworm in children. Welch also tried to eliminate contagious infestations in schools, such as scabies and head lice, and set up travelling rail dental clinics. A member of the State Nutritional Advisory Board, he arranged for free (or very cheap) milk at schools and promoted the nutritious Oslo lunch. Appointed (1938) an honorary lecturer in the department of social and tropical medicine, University of Queensland, he wrote articles (under a nom de plume) for the popular press.

A strong and uncompromising advocate for children, Welch served (1938-47) on the executive of the Queensland Bush Children's Health Scheme, which brought country children to the city for medical treatment or to camps at the beach for holidays. Charming and courteous, he was an accomplished cellist and a keen photographer who used many of his own images in official reports and publications. Welch, who suffered from diabetes, retired on 9 June 1947. Survived by his wife, he died of myocardial infarction on 20 August that year in Brisbane and was buried in Brookfield cemetery. He had been childless. His brother Kenyon was Australia's first flying doctor.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Pearn, Focus and Innovation (Brisb, 1986)
  • R. Patrick, A History of Health and Medicine in Queensland 1824-1960 (Brisb, 1987)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 6 Dec 1947, p 707.

Citation details

M. D. Cobcroft, 'Welch, Leslie St Vincent (1879–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/welch-leslie-st-vincent-11995/text21509, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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