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Higgins, Frederick Charles (Fred) (1867–1940)

In the restful environment and ethereal quietude of the Nepean riverside, acclaimed at home and afield for its natural beauty and peacefulness, Dr. Frederick Charles Higgins, able physician and surgeon, one of the outstanding personalities of the district, and friend and benefactor to many, passed to his rest on Wednesday morning, 5th inst. Quite recently, with the disposal of his practice, he quitted "Birralee," in High Street, that had been his home and surgery for many years, and, with his sister, Miss Higgins, sought the repose and tranquility of a delightfully situated home in Riverside Drive, Emu Plains. There his closing hours were spent.

Deceased was born at "Waverley," Scone, in the Hunter River district, on July 6, 1867, being the fourth son of the late Mr and Mrs R. G. Higgins, of Kickerbell, Quirindi.

In his early boyhood he lived at Clifford, Potts Point, Sydney, and was educated at the Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, where he took his degree of MB. et Ch.M.

In his youth Dr. Higgins was a good all-round athlete. He excelled as a rifle shot, and occupied a high place at the Sydney Grammar School in football and cricket. As a yachtsman, in his day, he had few equals in skill in handling sailing boats.

At the University he entered St. Andrew's College, and he soon made his influence felt in all matters that pertained to the good of his College. It was there that he first showed his leaning towards the extraordinarily wide, tolerant sympathy for those in distress that, in after life, became one of his greatest characteristics. There, too, he gave ample evidence of his utter intolerance and dislike of pretence and deceit. He quickly became the confidant and adviser of nearly all the students at the College: many of them always referred to him, affectionately, as "Old Fred."

His love of music manifested itself at a very early stage in his life. He was a pupil of the late Frederick Morley, an organist and teacher of note in Sydney of his day, and organist of St. John's (Church of England, Darlinghurst). The doctor was one of the leaders of the first surpliced choirs of St. John's. At the University he was a leader in the University Musical Society, and worked very hard to uphold its dignity and prestige. He composed many pieces of secular music for the piano, but his chief delight was in the composition of sacred music for the organ. He had the gift of improvisation.

In 1894, at the Church of England, Bexley, he was married to Miss Florence Rose by the Rev. C. J. Byng, and settled down at Marrickville.

Amongst the duties which then occupied him was the care of the Bazzerette at Long Bay, and he was also on the staff of the Coast Hospital.

Unfortunately he shortly afterwards contracted a serious illness and for a long time his life was despaired of. Some time after he had partly regained his health he was advised to go into the interior and travel about until he was fully restored to health.

Just at that time the A.M.P. Society offered him the position of their medical representative in the north of the colony. For some time he travelled with one of that Society's representatives in the north and north-west of New South Wales; and finally the continued change restored him to normal health.

Tiring of travelling about, and anxious to have the great advantages of home life and the society of his wife, the doctor finally decided to commence practice at Walgett. Here his cheerful demeanour, his unfailing, sympathetic optimism, and his obvious sincerity endeared him to his patients. His wife was unable to stand the climate, and the doctor decided to relinquish his practice. After looking round, he made his decision to come to Penrith, arriving here in May, 1900. He bought the practice of Dr. Mourdant Dundas, who was returning to England.

The doctor began practising at Penrith in High Street, in premises adjoining the land where he subsequently built his late home, "Birralee”. After he acquired the adjoining lands, and erected the home, where, for so many years, he carried on his work as a medical man, and later became Government Medical Officer for the town and district of Penrith.

In 1905 Mrs Higgins's health became impaired, and the doctor took his wife for a holiday to New Zealand, hoping that the trip would materially benefit her. But gradually her health became worse, and in 1908 she passed away. Her death was a serious blow to the doctor, and it was many months before he was able to face life again with his friendly smile and cheery optimism.

Since his arrival Dr. Higgins had been an outstanding man in the Nepean district by his professional repute, splendid citizenship, and wonderful personality. If there was one noble trait for which he was beloved more than another it was his generosity, the full extent of which is probably known to nobody, for there was not the least ostentation in the doctor's way of doing good; with him it was just as natural and inevitable as to breathe. He helped many a lame dog over the style. A friend to the poor, a comforter to the distressed and afflicted, and a helper and counsellor to those heavy of heart and distressed, he is thus spoken of throughout this district. The words of a namesake poet, B. Higgins,

Such is the use and noble end of friendship,
To bear a part in every storm of fate,
And, by dividing, make the lighter weight,

are very applicable to this sterling gentleman.

For three years, 1908-10, Dr. Higgins was an alderman of Penrith Council, and was Mayor for one term. He proved that for that sphere of public activity too he had undoubted qualifications. During his mayoral term a substantial bank overdraft was paid off, and he interested himself generally in the upkeep of the roads.

As an organist, pianiste, choral conductor, and composer his talent was considerable. His compositions were often used for church choral work, and there were instances in which the whole music of a service was his conception. For some time he was conductor of St. Stephen's Church choir. Some of his compositions have been orchestrated.

Dr. Higgins was a faithful and constant member of St. Stephen's Church, and served in its administration as church warden and as a nominator on occasion of rectorial vacancies. Some years ago he, from time to time, preached from the pulpit at churches of the parish, and he conducted, a Bible class for young men.

Widely read and particularly well informed on biblical subjects, the doctor had in preparation at the time of his death a book to be entitled, "Golden Thoughts from the Bible."

Nepean District Hospital has been particularly fortunate through the years in the medical staff it has possessed; it has had, and still has, the services of, public-spirited practitioners, who, with a fine nursing staff, have made it probably second to none among country hospitals. Dr. Higgins's record as a member of the medical staff was most meritorious, extending over all the years of his stay in Penrith. For many years he was a member of the Board of the Hospital, but, like other medicoes, had to stand down when the present Hospital Act, a few years ago, debarred them, from hospital directorship.

Deceased was a member of the Royal Institute of Physicians and a life member of St. John's Ambulance. During the war of 1914-18 Dr. Higgins carried on the practice of Dr. Barrow, then with the forces, as well as his own.

In this district he continued an ardent devotee of various forms of manly snort, being a particular keen tennis player. The courts at St. Stephen's were laid down at his expense. He was a patron of Penrith Golf Club.

The doctor's interest in the children was one of his very human qualities, and he was extremely popular with the rising generation. His bright and cheering addresses, at the Empire Day celebrations at Penrith Intermediate High School were much in favour with his youthful audiences. The doctor was a member of Penrith Parents and Citizens' Association. •

Horticulture had a particular appeal for him and his home gardening claimed much of his attention.

Dr. Higgins is survived by four daughters—Mrs Vincent Sheppard, "Lammerburn." Emu Plains: Mrs A. F. Campbell, "Woden," Queanbeyan; Mrs Reg Edols, "Gowangreen," Wellington and Mrs Mervyn Hunter, "Quambatock." Emu Plains. There are twelve grandchildren. Brothers and sisters of deceased:—Mr R. J. Higgins (Inverell) who has taken a prominent part in public matters (Shire Council, P.P. board. Etc.) in the north west. Mr. W. Higgins (Pymble); Mr. P. R. Higgins (Rose Bay), a barrister; Mrs Towers (Strathfield); Mrs Grey (Welton dale, Willow Tree); and Miss Higgins (Emu Plains). Two brother predeceased him- Mr. T. W. Higgins (Tamworth) and Mr G. A. Higgins (Gunnedah).

Original publication

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Citation details

'Higgins, Frederick Charles (Fred) (1867–1940)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/higgins-frederick-charles-fred-17872/text29455, accessed 20 September 2018.

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