Major Harry Worthington GMVC
By Alan G Henderson PSM AM*
Harry Worthington was the only child of Robert and Isabella Worthington, hoteliers in Echuca during the 1890s. Harry studied veterinary science in Melbourne and returned to practice in Echuca before enlisting in 1914 and serving in the Australian Army Veterinary Corps in the Middle East. Soon after his return from World War One in 1920 he acquired a farm in the Deniliquin district and in 1923 married Ida Henderson.
Hoteliers in Echuca
Robert and Isabella Worthington were married in Cheshire in 1884 and Harry was born the following year on 4 December. The family emigrated to Victoria in 1889 and travelled to the river port town of Echuca to acquire the license of the Southern Cross Hotel from Isabella’s brother James Hulme.
The Southern Cross Hotel was in the east of Echuca and its lively customer base included employees of nearby sawmills and brickworks. The business, including a store and postal agency enjoyed a few years of prosperity followed by a significant deterioration in economic conditions which impacted on some of the nearby businesses. As Echuca’s centenary historian, Susan Priestly observed
From the spectacular heights of the eighties’ boom Victoria plummeted down into the depths of the 1893 depression, a descent so merciless that it profoundly affected people’s outlook towards strict and sober conservatism.
The economic consequences of the end of the 1880s boom were compounded by the federation drought with rainfall in Echuca well below average for eight years from 1895. Regrettably ‘sober conservatism’ did not apply in all cases. In December 1894 Isabella gave ”notice to publicans and others that I have … obtained a prohibition order from the Echuca bench of Magistrates against supplying any intoxicating liquor to Robert Worthington of Echuca East.” A month earlier, Isabella had applied for the hotel license to be transferred from Robert’s name to her own. The Worthington’s were also selling assets, including forty acres a couple of miles outside Echuca and two houses for removal from a block opposite the Southern Cross Hotel.
Revenue increased under Isabella’s management but the Southern Cross was among twenty hotels that lost their licenses under the Local Option Act in November 1897. ‘The Local Option Act 1890 gave citizens the right to decide whether hotels in their district should be closed, and by 1900 Echuca had reduced its total by half.’[v] In July 1898 Isabella was awarded compensation for the loss of her license and surprisingly, in December she was granted a license for a wine bar at the Southern Cross.
In February 1898 Robert Worthington died aged fifty, ‘from general break up of the system’, according to a report in the Bendigo Advertiser.[vii] In 1894 Robert had been described as ‘suffering from illness’ by a witness explaining the reason for Robert’s ‘shaky’ signature on his Will. His debt-free estate bequeathed to Isabella was valued at £400, including a block of land with a five-roomed cottage.
In 1900 Isabella, aged forty, married John C Young from nearby Barmah. John Young, aged forty-four was a widower with three children. He was a civil servant involved with the management of State forests which required frequent transfers within the State. Isabella’s younger brother William H Hulme took over the license of the Southern Cross Hotel.
Harry’s Practice in Echuca
Harry Worthington was fourteen when his mother remarried. Presumably with Isabella’s steady support and that of her relatives, including her younger brother William H Hulme, Harry concentrated on his studies through the depression, drought and family turmoil posed by his father’s alcoholism and death in 1898. Harry featured among those awarded prizes by the Mayor at the end of the first year of Miss Brown’s new school in 1894 and he subsequently attended the Echuca Grammar School. The Grammar School had been established in 1873 and from 1881 was co-educational. In Victoria prior to 1905 secondary school education (post Year 8) was confined to private schools. Harry completed his schooling in 1902 and then enrolled at the Melbourne Veterinary College, graduating with honours in 1907. The Melbourne Veterinary College had been established in 1888 and was effectively taken over by the University of Melbourne in 1909.
At age twenty one he was registered by the Veterinary Board of Victoria in June 1907 and returned to establish ‘Harry’s Practice’ in Echuca. Initially he had consulting rooms in Millewa Chambers at 509-11 High Street, as well as at his private residence, Glenn Bowden in Crossenvale, in the southern part of Echuca. The fact that Harry’s mother, Isabella was born in Bowden, Cheshire, would explain both the name of his residence, Glenn Bowden and one of his race horses, Bowden Bells.
It has been estimated that by 1910 there were about seventy-five veterinary surgeons practicing in Australia, including at least twenty five in regional Victoria. Harry’s practice probably focused on horses. At least in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, veterinary surgeons ‘… had been trained primarily to deal with horses, examining them for soundness, advising on their purchase, or treating them for various ailments or injuries. During the initial years of Harry’s career the number of horses was increasing strongly in Australia from about 1.9 million in 1907 when he was first registered as a veterinarian and peaking at about 2.5 million in 1914, the year he enlisted for overseas service. Harry’s interest in horses went well beyond the professional. As an amateur he rode at picnic race meetings at Echuca, Deniliquin, Hay and in 1921, an Oaklands Hunt Club meeting at Moonee Valley.
Riverine Herald, 16 December 1907, 2
He also had success as an owner at these events including riding his own horse Bowden Bells to win the Murray Plate, the first event on the program at the 1911 Echuca picnic races. He was still riding winners at the Echuca picnic races in 1925. Harry was the honorary veterinary surgeon for the Echuca Race Club and the Moama Jockey Club and later, for the Southern Riverina Picnic Turf Club and the Deniliquin Jockey Club. He was also a successful competitor in Echuca and Moama agricultural show thoroughbred and sulky events. On one occasion in 1911 he lost a protest and second place prize money for entering the same horse in both a hack and a single buggy event. Harry had his share of equestrian mishaps, sustaining concussion in a fall at the second jump in the District Hunters’ Plate in 1907 and being thrown from his gig in 1911 when the wheel was fouled in the train lines in Echuca.
A Vet at War: Middle East Campaign
Britain declared war against Germany on 4 August 1914. The carnage among Australians in the First World War was horrific, with about 330,000 departing Australian shores and about 215,000 casualties, including around 60,000 killed. As Les Carlyon asks, ‘Why did Australia do it?’ He suggests a couple of reasons.
No-one in the Australian winter of 1914 envisioned casualties of 215,000. No-one in Britain, Australia or New Zealand envisioned the suicide of nations. For another thing, Australians saw themselves as transplanted Britons. A war against England was a war against them.
The latter sentiment applied literally to Harry Worthington. He was born in England and in 1914 his mother aged in her mid-fifties had lived more than half her life in England. There also may have been professional factors in his willingness to enlist.
Practically all the country veterinary surgeons … held a commission in mounted infantry regiments, and, as large numbers of horses were required by the A.I.F for artillery and transport as well as light horse units, the call on veterinary personnel was great indeed.
Harry enlisted on 16 November 1914 and initially was appointed as a Veterinary Officer in the Sea Transport Service supporting the 9th Light Horse Regiment. This regiment
was formed in Adelaide and trained in Melbourne between October 1914 and February 1915. Approximately three-quarters of the regiment hailed from South Australia and the other quarter from Victoria. As part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, it sailed from Melbourne on 11 February and arrived in Egypt on 14 March 1915.
* Note: Nephew of Harry Worthington