James Eli Webb was born in Pyrmont in 1887. He was educated at Sydney Boys High and graduated from Sydney University with an M.B. in 1913 and a ChM (Master of Surgery) in 1921.
Residents of the Mortdale District presented Dr Webb with a hand painted illuminated address to thank him for his self-less assistance during the Spanish Influenza outbreak. The address was designed by Mortdale artist Mr J.H.Leonard and included sketches of local scenes, a photo of Dr Webb, drawings of a sick room, a car shining its light into the darkness and angels hovering over.
The inscription reads:
To Dr Eli Webb
The residents of Mortdale and District respectfully beg to herewith place on record their deep appreciation of your professional services during the recent epidemic of Pneumonic Influenza in our midst.
For months you nobly strode to combat the scourge with which we were severely stricken & it is a source of much gratification to reflect that your heroic labours were as successful as they were unceasing. Your great skill combined with your unfailing kindness bought hope and happiness to homes innumerable and & your ready response at all hours to calls on your valuable time will ever be gratefully remembered by the community among whom you provided yourself such a self-sacrificing humanitarian
We feel had not been for your care & attention the shadow of the Angel of Death would have been cast over many more homes during the epidemic.
We trust this district may enjoy the benefit of your invaluable services for many years to come.
Signed on behalf of the Citizens of Mortdale & District.”
Details of artist Mr J.H Leonard’s paintings on the illuminated address
As well as being the family doctor, Dr Webb was actively involved in the development of the Mortdale community. Dr Webb was chairman Municipality of the Mortdale committee in 1921 for a separate Mortdale Council, as he felt the area was neglected, with only a small portion of expenditure in Peakhurst Ward. When the bid for a separate council failed Dr Webb was nominated in 1925 for Hurstville Council. He was successful and in December 1926, Dr Webb was elected Mayor for one year. Dr Webb was also elected a member of the St George County Council Board and a Director and honorary surgeon at St George District Hospital. He did not stand in the 1928 elections but renominated and was elected an Alderman for Peakhurst Ward in the 1932 Hurstville Council Elections.
Dr Webb built a two storey home at 56 Pitt Street and moved his practice there in 1925 with two extra doctors assisting with consultations. He married Thelma Huxley in 1926 and they had a son and daughter.
His interest in politics for the advancement and betterment of the district grew and he stood for the State seat of Oatley in 1927 and Hurstville in 1930 as a National Candidate but was not elected. After the dismissal of the Lang Labor Government in 1932, Dr Webb became the United Australia Party candidate for the seat of Hurstville during the Depression. Dr Webb was elected and remained State member for Hurstville until his death in 1939. During this time he had also continued as an Alderman until the end of his term in 1934.
During his term as Member for Hurstville Dr Webb advocated for the duplication and electrification of the East Hills Railway Line past Kingsgrove, unemployment relief work in the electorate and a new infants school at Bexley. While in Parliament he spoke with knowledge and care on issues such as housing and slums, medical issues including malnutrition and the Medical Practitioners Act.
Before his death, Dr Webb took a break from politics and medical duties and travelled to the Philippines with his wife. The ship they were travelling on had to be repaired in Hong Kong where Dr Webb and his wife witnessed the devastation of famine, illness and a tragic refugee situation as a result of the war between China and Japan. Dr Webb was treated for Cholera while there and soon after his return to Australia he was admitted for surgery in a private hospital in Bexley. He died a few days later on 13th February, 1939, aged 51.
Dr Webb’s funeral was one of the largest ever held in the St George area. A service was conducted at his home by the local Church of England Minister and attended by the Premier, all Members of the State Cabinet and many Members of The Legislative Assembly, medical community, municipal councils, sporting clubs including St George Rugby Union and Cricket Club and the Masonic Returned Soldier organisations. As a sign of respect, shops in Mortdale closed and staff lined the street with local residents as the funeral procession passed through from his home to the cemetery. A Masonic Service was conducted by Officers of Lodge Woronora at his internment at Gore Hill Cemetery with a tribute from the Premier, Mr Stevens.
A fitting and respectful farewell to a noble and public spirited man who gave his best for his family and community.