Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Hereward Leighton Kesteven (1881–1964)

by D. R. Walker

This article was published:

View Previous Version

Hereward Leighton Kesteven (1881-1964), medical scientist, was born on 16 January 1881 at Levuka, Fiji, son of Leighton Kesteven, district medical officer, and his wife Caroline Elizabeth, née Eames. In the 1880s the family moved to Brisbane and in 1891 to Sydney where he attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School until he left because of his father's bankruptcy. In 1903 Kesteven was appointed technical assistant to the curator of the Australian Museum.

Married to Irene (Ivy) Valentine Smith, a professional musician, on 18 October 1905 at Randwick Registry Office, he attended the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1909; D.Sc., 1911; M.B., 1914; Ch.M., 1916). His doctoral thesis was on 'The constitution of the gastropod protoconch'. From 1908 to 1913 Kesteven was lecturer-in-charge of the department of physiology at Sydney Technical College. For the benefit of students he published A Manual of Practical Bio-Chemistry (1912).

Entering general practice in 1915 at Belmore, Kesteven later moved to Queensland where he practised at Gin Gin and Gladstone. In 1919 he returned to Sydney where he gained his M.D., receiving the University medal for his research in comparative anatomy. At Maroubra, where he set up practice, he used the local cinema as his surgery during the influenza epidemic.

Kesteven soon abandoned the pressures and restrictions of a suburban practice for Bulahdelah where he remained from 1920 to 1936. Patients unable to pay cash plied him with local produce instead. Deprived of regular research facilities, Kesteven added a laboratory and dissecting room to his house. The locals, knowing of his research interests, provided lizards and snakes for dissection. Appointed honorary zoologist to the Australian Museum, Sydney, in 1926, he wrote for its publications and for those of the Linnean Society of New South Wales and the Royal Society of New South Wales of which he was a member.

A person of great energy and varied interests, Kesteven was largely responsible for providing Bulahdelah with a hospital, which he helped to build. He assembled the town's first radio set. He played tennis, cricket and billiards enthusiastically and joined with his family singing popular songs around the piano. A keen farmer and botanist, he acquired and worked a property near Bulahdelah. Kesteven had opinions on economic matters which he was good enough to share with John Maynard Keynes. In the Federal election of 1934 Kesteven stood against Sir Earle Page on a Douglas Credit platform and lost. He took a keen interest in the opening of the Myall Lakes and was a vociferous advocate of northern development.

Returning in 1936 to Sydney, where most of his family were now living, Kesteven became medical director of Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Co. (Australia) Ltd. After some wartime work in armament factories in the Lithgow area, in 1942-46 he was director of medical services to the Allied Works Council and organized the provision of medical services to the civilian work force. In this period Kesteven wrote a series of articles for the Australasian Manufacturer, later published as An Industrial Medical-Efficiency Service. His attempt in 1946 to establish an industrial medical service at Richmond, Melbourne, failed.

Between 1942 and 1946 the Australian Museum published his 'The evolution of the skull and the cephalic muscles: a comparative study of their development and adult morphology', the result, in Kesteven's words, of 'half a life-time devoted to the small portion of comparative anatomy and embryology it deals with'. He won the Walter Burfitt prize in 1944 and the David Syme prize in 1946.

Kesteven's first wife had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 1936 and, after a long and agonizing illness, died in 1943. On 24 June 1944 at St Mark's Church of England, Darling Point, he married Louise Ray Smith, a nurse. Ill health and the need for a warmer climate took him in 1948 to Queensland. He practised at Cooktown, Palmwoods, Maroochydore and Brighton where he died suddenly on 18 May 1964. Survived by his wife, and four sons and four daughters of his first marriage, he was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 3 Oct 1964
  • bankruptcy file 10/22858 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. R. Walker, 'Kesteven, Hereward Leighton (1881–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 January, 1881
Levuka, Fiji


18 May, 1964 (aged 83)
Brighton, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.