The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Major (later Brigadier General) Thomas Fiaschi

Thomas was born 31 May 1853 at Florence, Italy, son of a professor of mathematics at the University of Florence, and his English-born wife, tutor to Prince Corsini's children. He enrolled at the university as a medical student and at 21 left for Australia - the north Queensland goldfields, then worked as a 'house surgeon' at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney.

In February 1876, at Bethel House, George Street, Sydney he married with Congregational forms Irish-born Catherine Ann Reynolds, a nun from St. Vincent's. They returned to Florence where in 1877 where he graduated MD and ChD (Pisa and Florence). In 1878 Thomas was licensed to practise medicine and surgery in Italy. They reached Sydney in the Garonne in February 1879.

Fiaschi practised at Windsor. In 1883 he moved to Sydney, where he was active in the NSW branch of the British Medical Association (president 1889-90). In 1890 he published a viso aperto [frank but fair analytical paper] on the Italian community and the maritime strike.

In March 1891 he became honorary surgeon captain in the NSW Cavalry Reserves. It is his Italian connection that is credited with the NSW Lancers, as the Regiment was designated in 1894 wearing black cock's plumes in their slouch hats. In 1894 Doctor Fiaschi became an honorary surgeon at Sydney Hospital.

In 1896 he was accepted for his military experience to serve with the Italian forces in the Abyssinian War, and in April of that same year was granted six months' leave from the New South Wales Military Forces to do so. While in Abysinnia (now called Ethiopia) he wore the uniform of the New South Wales Lancers, complete with feather plume and double red stripes on the breeches, thus being the first to wear the uniform in war. After his return he gave a lecture at the New South Wales Lancers' Sydney orderly room on his experience abroad. [RNSWL Regimental History p22].

He was made a Knight of the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus, and commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy.  He wrote about the war in Da Cheren a Cassala Note di Viaggio (Florence, 1896), and had an article published about the mutilation and eviration of Italian prisoners of war in the British Medical Journal.

After visiting Italy, he returned home through the USA, where he studied advances in aseptic and abdominal surgery.

During the Boer War Fiaschi was promoted major, commanded the NSW 1st Field Hospital and was senior medical officer with General (Sir) Edward Hutton's brigade.

In February 1900, Major Thomas Fiaschi led four stretcher squads into Boer trenches after an attack by Canadian infantry had moved on. However Fiaschi noted a number of very much alive armed Boers. Simultaneously the Boers saw a large number of soldiers wearing British- style uniforms jumping into the trenches. At the same moment that Maj Fiaschi yelled at them 'Lay down your arms and come out' the Boer leader put up a white flag. The medics were astonished as 250 dishevelled Boer soldiers surfaced to surrender to the Medical Corp's armed guard by throwing their Mausers onto a heap, before the stretcher bearers could begin to carry out the wounded and ill. The field hospital surgeons operated late into the night. [Wilcox: Australia's Boer War p70]

For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty he was awarded the DSO and twice mentioned in dispatches.

Both his medical and military careers advanced on his return. He became Chairman of the Board of Medical Studies at Sydney Hospital and principal medical officer of the 2nd Military District with the rank of colonel.

Thomas and Catherine's third son Carlo joined the NSW Lancers as a Trooper in 1900 to help pay his way through medicine at Sydney University. He sailed with the Lancers in the first contingent for a year's service, during which he distinguished himself together with Tpr MacPherson by trying to save the life of Capt Jackson of the 7th Dragoon Guards when he was wounded near Arundel. The two carried him nearly a kilometre through Boer rifle fire but he died in their arms.

After returning to Australia Carlo joined the Australian Commonwealth Horse's 2nd Bn in B Squadron as a Lieutenant, arriving at Durban March 1902. This first contingent sent as Australian (as distinct from Colonial) soldiers, consisted mainly of those with previous service in South Africa. Their work was to clear Boer 'Bitter Enders' from the western Transvaal and across the Bechuanaland border.

Carlo completed his medical qualifications and practiced successfully for some years.

His father taught advanced surgical techniques developed during the Boer War, publishing several important papers. He also became famous in wine-making in the Hunter Valley.  Fiaschi senior 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.  Brigadier General Thomas Fiaschi died in 1927.

The Fiaschi family's tangible memorial is the bronze replica of Porcellino in front of Sydney Hospital.

Adapted with permission from a 1990 paper by Dr EP Kremer.

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