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2002-06, 333, 334, Susan Tompkins, Vale

BEN HANEMAN: A CHIVALROUS LIFE, OF WORK AND WORDS

Excerpts from the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 25/1/02, p.26

 Benedetto Haneman had a better claim to the title Renaissance man than most. Not only was he a cultured and passionate man with the most diverse interests and talents, but he was born in Florence, in 1923.

 He came to Australia with his parents when he was four, was educated at Canterbury Boys’ High School, where he skipped several classes and was ready to begin medicine at Sydney University when he was still only 15. Despite his great passion for books and for Spain, medicine remained one of the great loves of his life.

 Haneman’s interest in the history of medicine was lifelong. He was a constant presence in the library of the College of Physicians, attended many international conferences on the history of medicine [and had in recent years himself organised one held at the Faculty of Nursing at Sydney University, Ed.], and was, at the time of his death, Australian president of the History of Medicine Society. When he died, he had nearly completed an MA at the University of New South Wales on the cholera epidemic in Peru in 1991. This was anything but the beginning of his writing. After his retirement from St George Hospital he contributed columns, articles and reviews to a range of journals, including The Jewish News, Australian Doctor, Medical Observer and the Australian Book Collector [and Biblionews! Ed.]

The great hobby horse of his life was Spain. An early interest in stamp collecting had brought him in touch with some Spanish correspondents, which in turn led to a wonderful integration into the country and culture from which his people, the Jews, had been expelled in 1492.

 Having learnt Spanish as a young man, he never tired of travelling to Spain. He became a visiting honorary professor at the University of Navarre at Pamplona. In Sydney he was long active in the Hispanic Society and the Spanish Cultural Society and received, in 1984, the Cross of Cavalier of the Order of Civil Merit from the Spanish Government for his contribution to the Spanish community in Australia. The Australian Government also recognised his contribution when he was awarded an AM for services to medicine and the Spanish community in 1988.

The most overwhelming evidence of his love for Spain was his book collection. Always a great reader, he had a particular love for Cervantes’ masterpiece, Don Quixote. He collected 1,100 editions of the novel, in 39 languages, together with another thousand books on Cervantes. He was an incurable bibliophile, counting it a particular day of self-denial if he refrained from buying a book before lunch.

His huge library included thousands of books of Spanish literature and history and on a raft of eclectic topics ranging from Judaica to medical history and biography. He donated his collection of Don Quixote editions and books on Cervantes to the State Library of New South Wales and this institution became an important part of his life.

It was in the library that he had the fall that led to his death, and it was in the library that family and friends gahtered to recall him.

Susan Tompkins, with help from Gerard Windsor

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