James Charles Hughes

  • 2Caps
  • 78Wallaby Number
Date Of BirthSeptember 25, 1886
Place of BirthSydney
SchoolSaint Ignatius' College, Riverview and St. Aloysius' College
Debut ClubUniversity (Sydney)
Other ClubNorth Sydney
Debut Test Match1907 Wallabies v New Zealand, 1st Test Sydney
Final Test Match1907 Wallabies v New Zealand, 3rd Test Sydney
DiedApril 30, 1943


The following obituary was kindly sent by Riverview. It is reproduced in its entirety as it also provides insight into the social life of the period as well as an understanding of the man. “James Charles Hughes was born on 25 September 1886, the second child of his parents. He was baptised at St Mary’s Cathedral by Father P. Coonan on 9 October 1886. The address of his parents at the time was given as 78 Darlinghurst Road. The sponsors at James’ Baptism were William Hughes, his father’s youngest brother, and Maria T. Gilhooley (his mother’s sister). James attended both Jesuit Colleges in Sydney, St Aloysius’ College (1897 – 1899) and St Ignatius’ College, Riverview(1900 – 1903). He maintained a lifelong affection for both schools and, later (1937), was to write that `both must be held equally responsible for the finished product.’

In School Day Memories, a feature of St Ignatius’ College magazine Our Alma Mater in 1937, he recalled the `comfortable walk’ from his home at Elizabeth Bay (Keadue) which entailed passing Old Darlinghurst Gaol on the way to school at St Aloysius’ College (then in Bourke Street). The grim prison edifice exerted an admitted `real fascination’ for the ten-year-old, in addition to an agreeable fusion of terror – one would imagine – to enliven the daily journey of an imaginative child. As it happened, James Hughes would be associated with the Burke Street site of his first Jesuit school almost all his adult life, as later it would become St Margaret’s Hospital for Women, where the former schoolboy would adopt the more exalted role of Honorary Medical Officer at the Hospital. “In 1900 James entered Riverview with two of his brothers – John and Bryan. After an outstanding scholastic and sporting career at Riverview, James Hughes commenced medical studies at the University of Sydney, graduating MB ChM in 1909.

He became Honorary Gynaecologist at the Mater Hospital. North Sydney, and the New Community Hospital, Sydney, as well as Honorary Obstetrician at St Margaret Hospital. Burke Street, Sydney. Dr Hughes had consulting rooms at Craignish, 185 Macquarie St, and lived for many years at 2 Lang Road, Centennial Park. “James Hughes was highly talented all-round sportsman but it was on the rugby field that he particularly excelled. After his brilliant sporting achievements at Riverview, he went on to become a star player of both Sydney University and North Sydney Clubs. He gained his State cap for NSW against Queensland and New Zealand in 1907 and in that season also represented Australia in two Tests against The All Blacks. His rugby career was to be cut short at its peak by his own decision to cease representative Rugby in favour of his medical studies. Together with his elder brother John and younger brother Bryan, the Hughes family provided three NSW players, with James and Bryan both achieving Australian rugby international status. In his last season James Hughes was rated Australia’s best second rower when he shared the top spot among the try-scorers of Sydney competition in 1908.

An article in a Sydney newspaper in 1915 refers to James as `… considered by many of the most competent judges to have been the finest forward that has ever been seen on our fields. Endowed with fine physique he was an excellent scrummager and possessed the brains that enabled him to use his natural attributes to best advantage. He is also a fine hard hitting batsman…’ “The belief expressed in the press in 1913 that James Hughes was very likely the finest forward ever produced by Australia was to be reiterated as late as 1935 in an article appearing under the name `Light Blue’ in the Sydney Mail. This writer `made bold to declare Jim Hughes, now Dr James Hughes, a Macquarie Street specialist, the greatest forward I have seen on Sydney’s football grounds.’ “James Hughes married Holly Irene Mary Coffee(b.14 December 1885) at St Mary’s Church, North Sydney, on 10 March 1910. The ceremony was performed by Father Thomas Gartlan SJ. Rector of Riverview, assisted by Father Colgan SJ. What was `certainly one of the prettiest weddings of the year’ was described in the press in great detail. The bride wore ivory crepe de chine and Honiton lace embroidered in silver bugles, the neck lined in silver and pearls. Her beautiful old lace veil (lent by Mrs T. H. Barlow) was secured with a circlet of orange blossoms. She carried white roses and lilies of the valley and wore her bridegroom’s gift of a pearl and diamond pendant. Mary and Cicely, James’ two sisters, and Beatrice Curtin were bridesmaids in turquoise on white satin with large silver hats lined with black and decorated with tiny rose buds and blue ribbons. They carried pink roses and wore turquoise earrings, the gift of the groom. Dorothy Coffee and Sheila O’Gorman Hughes, the two small bridesmaids, were pictured in white hailstone muslin and Valenciennes lace on blue silk. They wore blue shoes and stockings, `quaint’ hats of lace with rosebuds and blue ribbons and carried a crook with pink poisies attached. The groom’s gifts to them were necklets of pearls. John Hughes (Jnr) was his brother’s best man.

After the marriage, a sumptuous breakfast was held in a marquee on the lawn at the home of the bride’s parents at Chatswood. In addition to relatives of the bride and groom, many of the wedding guests were people prominent in Sydney Catholic life and included Riverview families such as the Daltons, Meaghers and Hollingdales. According to reports `Jupiter Fluvius’ was an uninvited guest at the reception, contriving to produce spasmodic showers throughout the afternoon. Later, as James and Holly left the reception for their honeymoon trip to Kiama – the bride elegant in navy blue and a golden straw hat – they were treated to an exuberant rugby `war-cry’ by the groom’s bachelor friends. James’ bride, Holly – herself a member of a “Riverview” family – was born one of the three daughters of John Francis (Frank) and Sara (Maloney) Coffee of Iroquois, Mowbray Road, Chatswood. Her wealthy American father, born in Warsaw, New York, in 1852, was a journalist who had arrived in Australia in 1877 and established his own publishing firm in Sydney five years later.

It was quite a coup for his firm – the Oceanic Publishing Company– when it was selected by Cardinal Moran to publish his monumental History of the Catholic Church in Australia. Frank and Sara’s three sons, Francis (Frank), John (Jack) and Leo were all educated at Riverview between 1899 and 1902. The eldest son, Francis (Frank) Coffee, born in 1887 was killed at Gallipoli on 18 November 1915.“Our Alma Mater gave a very full description of the career of James Hughes in its issue of 1943: `Riverview lost one of her most distinguished Old Boys when Dr Jim Hughes died after a comparatively short illness on April 30th this year. The Old Boys’ Union, too, lost one of its most enthusiastic members, for Dr Jim was a faithful follower of all its functions, was a member of the Executive almost every year after he left School, and held its presidency in 1916. “During his four years at Riverview, Jim Hughes, from start to finish, made his presence felt in many ways, not only because of his bright happy disposition, which endeared him to everyone, but also because of his high intellectual and athletic gifts.

He was Dux of Junior Class in 1900, and at the Public Examination the following year was runner-up for the University Prize and Medal in Arithmetic. He passed the Junior Public and matriculated in 1901. During this year he won the tennis championship of the school, and was considered the best all-round cricketer. “He topped the Senior Class 1902, rowed in the College Four, was again the best all-round cricketer and played centre three-quarter in the First Fifteen. He was first in the Senior Class in 1903, Prefect of Sodality, rowed for Riverview in the G.P.S. Regatta, and played for the First Eleven and First Fifteen. He was always a prominent debater. In the matriculation (Hon.) examination (1903) Jim Hughes secured a brilliant pass and was also this year’s Dux of the College.

“After he left school he won his `Blue’ for cricket and Rugby at Sydney University. Although much better known as a footballer than a cricketer, nevertheless, after his graduation, he was a member of a first grade Paddington Eleven which at that time included Trumper, Noble and Kelly. It is interesting to recall that in the last game he played for Riverview, he scored 104 runs in 47 minutes against Kings. “He was generally acclaimed the finest forward produced in Australia. His superlative displays in 1907 for NSW, and for Australia against New Zealand, when he was only twenty years of age, will probably never be forgotten. He was the first man selected for the English tour in 1908, but wisely declined the invitation because he was then in his final year of his course of medicine. “He was a foundation member and Senior Gynaecologist of the NSW Community Hospital, better known as the Langton Clinic. He was also a foundation member of the Guild of St Luke and was its President at the time of his death. “Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul was celebrated at St Francis’ Church, Paddington, and served by his son W/O Desmond Hughes AIF, then recently home from the Middle East.

That same day His Grace the Archbishop remarked to Rector: `Dr Jim Hughes’s death will be regretted most of all by over a thousand poor people in his practice at Paddington.’ “Riverview was represented at the Mass and funeral by Very Rev. N. Hehir SJ. (Rector of St Ignatius’ College), and Father T.J. McLoughlin SJ. A very large number of Old Boys of Riverview including the President of the Old Boys’ Union (Mr J.O. Stenmark), the Hon. Secretary (Dr George McElhone), and several member of the Executive was present. The church was crowded to the doors by the friends and admirers of Dr Jim, bearing ample testimony to the respect and affection in which he was held both by the medical profession and by the general public. “The most sincere sympathy of his old School is extended to his widow, his large family and other relatives. R.I.P.’ As we have seen when James Hughes graduated in medicine his father, John Hughes of Rockleigh Grange, provided financial support which enabled him to set up his practice in Lang Road, Centennial Park.

Part of his busy and successful practice was acting in the role of attending physician to the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Rose Bay which his grandfather had done so much to found and where two of his aunts had become nuns. As detailed in the above obituary, Dr Hughes retained very close links with his old school. His energetic efforts on its behalf besprinkle the page of Our Alma Mater, and his football prowess remains legendary even after so many years. For example in the 1926 issue we read that `Dr James Hughes is the President of the Old Boys’ Union – and what a worker. The success of the Annual dance was due to him and Mrs Hughes. It looks as if the young sons at present at `View are going to follow in their father’s footsteps on the football field’. The shoes would indeed have been very big to fill although James is modest about his schoolboy achievements in his recollections published in Our Alma Mater in 1937. Here he explains that: `I played in the backs in those days – an excellent training for one who later puts on weight and plays in the forwards.

Among the backs one learns positional play, how to pass and take a pass, and how to kick and tackle. I never regretted playing in the three-quarter line at school, when later I weighed over 14 stone and changed to the forwards. If you want to be a good forward, first play for a year or more in the backs.’ This theory appears to have worked well for James Hughes who made his debut for NSW in 1907 against Queensland and New Zealand, and also played two Test matches that year against the All Blacks. A commentator writing in 1935 also attributes some of James Hughes’ skill and effectiveness as a forward to his earlier career in the backs when noting that `one of the secrets of his greatness was his early training as a five-eighth at St Ignatius College where he led a strong fifteen and played so ably – not as a forward – but as a clever back… He was a class back, possessing a super abundance of football sense and brains which enabled him when he went on to the Sydney University to take his place as breakaway in the vanguard and to adapt himself readily to the many new requirements of this position… New Zealanders Francis and Seeling were outstandingly great, but in my opinion Jim Hughes, a champion athlete and sportsman, was greater still in all-round skill as a rugby union forward – one of the supreme tests in sport.’ “James Hughes’ Rugby ability, like that of his brothers John and Bryan, receives high praise in Jack Pollard’s book on Australian rugby and its players: `A star in one of Sydney University’s greatest packs… Jim Hughes was rated Australia’s best second rower when he topped the Sydney competition’s try-scorers with `Boxer’ Russell in 1908, but thereafter concentrated on his medical studies.’ “Dr James Hughes lived for many years in his home at 2 Lang Road, Centennial Park, but his death on 30 April 1943 was registered at North Sydney because it had occurred in that municipality at the Mater Private Hospital. According to his death certificate, James Hughes died from anaemia, cardiac failure, chronic nephritis and hypertension. His death notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 May 1943 where he is described as beloved husband of Maude and dear father of Jim (AIF retd), Desmond (AIF retd), Rodney (RAAF, England), Bryan (AIF), Tony (AIF retd), Hope, and Lloyd, aged 56 years.’ He was buried in the Roman Catholic section of South Head Cemetery. His first wife, Holly (Coffee) Hughes had predeceased him, dying young on 1 August 1929 – a few months short of her 44th birthday. “Dr James Hughes and his wife Holly had six children.” The fame of Hughes is reinforced by other obituaries about him.

“The death at Sydney, on April 30, of Dr James Hughes, at the age of fifty-six, will be a shock to his many friends not only in Australia but in this country, among them Colonel H.M. Moran, RAMC – now stationed the `Wallabies’, the first Australian Rugby Union team to tour Britain (1909 – 10); Mr. S. A. Middleton – another `Wallaby’ and a prominent member of the Australian community in London; and Dr L. G. Brown, the Oxford, England, and Queensland forward, all of whom were contemporaries of Dr Hughes in Australia. “He was educated at St Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney, and at Sydney University, where he graduated M. B., Ch. M. in 1907, after a brilliant scholastic career. He played for Sydney University in 1906, 1907 and 1908; visited New Zealand with the first Sydney University team to go there to play inter-University Rugby with famous Otago University XV, [of which Colin M. Gilray, NZ, and Oxford and Scotland wing three-quarter; Dr A. A. Adams (NZ., London University and England), and Dr D. G. Macpherson (NZ and London University and Scotland wing three-quarter) were leading players]. The game was a draw – 3 all. “In 1906 Dr Hughes was selected to play for NSW in the inter-State games against Queensland at Sydney and Brisbane. He played for NSW and Australia against W. J. Wallace’s All Black team in Sydney in 1907 and was a member of the NSW XV which defeated the All Blacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground that year by 11 to 0, and was selected to lead the New South Wales XV, which defeated the late A. F. Harding’s Anglo-Welsh team, at Sydney, in 1908. “He was also a member of the Sydney University XV which defeated the famous Auckland City club, at Sydney in 1906. This was the only defeat in Sydney suffered by `the City’, which included G. W. Smith, Tyler, Cunningham, and Gillett – four of the 1905 All Black team which toured Great Britain, losing only to Wales. “Dr Hughes, who was a leading Sydney surgeon, was also a brilliant batsman, obtaining his Blue for the annual match between Sydney and Melbourne Universities, 1906 – 07 – 08. In the 1906 match the Sydney University captain, Rev., E. F. Waddy, now a master at Rugby, scored 300. Dr Hughes played first grade cricket for Paddington, M. A. Noble of whom he was a close friend. He also excelled at golf, lawn tennis, and was a good billiards player. His brother John was a member of the Harlequins and played with Wakefield. A. L. Gracie, H. B. Wakeham, R. H. Hamilton-Wickes, the late V. G. Davies, and others in 1920 and 1921.”

Tributes To Dr J. Hughes

London, Saturday – “The Times” and “Observer” published tributes to the late Dr James Hughes, who dies in Sydney last week. “The papers say his reputation as the outstanding Rugby forward in 1906-1908 – the golden age of Rugby Union in Australia – was Empire-wide, although Dr Hughes never visited England. “Dr H. M. (`Paddy’) Moran, a former Wallaby captain, writes: `I never knew a greater forward in my career. Charles Seeling, the 1905 `All Black’ and Jim Hughes must be bracketed as the greatest international forwards.’ “One of the 1908 Wallabies and a member of the Australian Olympic crew at the Stockholm Games, Syd Middleton wrote: `Jim Hughes was the outstanding forward in the vintage years of Australian Rugby, possessing speed, strength, determination and sense of position. He always had an eye for an opening and played the ball.’ “Requiem Mass was celebrated at Farm-street Jesuit Church.”

His caps are on display at Sydney University Oval, the Grandstand Club House. Australian and NSW Rugby Football Caps. “This NSW Cap was awarded in 1907 to Dr James Charles Hughes (pictured), an ex-student of St Ignatius College, Riverview, when both he and his brother, John, while playing with Sydney University were selected for NSW. The Australian Cap was also awarded to James in 1907 when he played two Tests for Australia. He was then selected for the 1908-1909 First Wallaby Tour of Britain but withdrew to complete his Medical exams. Both James and John were also University Blues (James in 1907-08 and John in 1907-08-09). “The caps were kindly donated in 1996 by James’ son, Dr Lloyd Hughes, (an ex-student of Waverley College) who also played with the SUFC and represented NSW. He was a member of the SUFC’s 1955 1st XV Premiership Team and won a double Blue in Rugby and Athletics.”

James Charles Hughes