Hugo Leschen earned fame on and off the field in 1890. On the night of 17 January, Hugo ran along the footboard of the north train as it entered the Stockport station in a brave attempt to save the life of the Chief Secretary, James Ramsay MLC, who had been set ablaze in an adjacent compartment when a kerosene lamp exploded. Hugo dragged him out and doused the flames but Ramsay died in hospital.
Not content with that, Hugo on 10 July was arguably the best player for the first South Australian team to defeat Victoria in intercolonial football. A member of the fading Adelaide club, Hugo was partnered by a host of Norwood men - ‘Bunny’ Daly, Alf Grayson, Arthur Jackson, Jack McGaffin, George McKee, Norman Richards, ‘Topsy’ Waldron and John Woods – in the historic 6.8 to 4.6 victory at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground. Normally a defender, Hugo played forward that day and took a critical mark for a goal at a decisive stage as the visitors finished strongly. Also in the best player was Hugo’s Adelaide teammate ‘Guinea’ Dixon, the former Norwood champion wingman.
Hugo was studying medical gymnastics and massage in Europe in 1891 and 1892. On his return home he found the Adelaide club on the verge of collapse and appears to have ended his playing career at Norwood . Records are thin but a Leschen played at least one game for Norwood, kicking a goal against Hugo's old team at Kensington Oval on 9 September 1893 - the day ‘Bos’ Daly bagged a record 23 goals. Norwood won 29.12 to 2.4. Hugo played for South Adelaide in 1894.
Hugo was born in Adelaide on 14 November 1868, the fourth of five sons of the pioneer South Australian gymnastics instructor Adolph Leschen and his wife Johanna, née Dittmar. Hugo’s brothers were Heinrich, Wilhelm, Carl and Waldemar. Their Polish-born grandfather had changed his name from Leszczynski to Leschen and become a naturalised Dane, but that did not save Heinrich, an eminent physician, and Carl, a bank manager, from anti-German sentiment in Perth during World War I.
Hugo was a social dynamo. After he left Prince Alfred College he entered the gymnasium business with zest. Thousands of schoolchildren were among those who received physical instruction from him. He represented South Australia in football, rifle shooting and equestrian competitions. In 1899 he founded the first military cadet corps and rose to the rank of major as commanding officer for the University of Adelaide and all the colleges. He initiated a women’s rifle club. He was unrivalled in organising children’s pageants which benefited many charities. He founded the Australian Massage Association. He was an Esperanto enthusiast and organised a big congress in Adelaide. He was sole adjudicator at the South Street (Ballarat) competitions for many years in calisthenics, physical culture, action songs and national folk dances.
Hugo married Jeanie Way Beach at Prospect in 1896. He was 57 when he died in Melbourne on 22 or 23 October 1926, survived by his widow and children Herbert, Wilfred (Jack) and Phyllis, later Mrs J. L. Hawkes.
P Robins, T Gyss, D Cox, G Adams August 2020