002 - Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souëf

Date Range1828 - 1902

Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souëf was born on 17 April 1828 at Sandgate, Kent England. The fourth son of William Le Souëf, later Protector of the Aborigines on the Goulburn River and his wife Ann, nee Wales, the family descended from Huguenots who settled in Kent in the seventeenth century. Their family crest bears the motto Souëf san foyblesse (Souëf without weakness).

Educated privately and at the Moravian Mission School in Neuwied, Germany, Albert arrived at Melbourne accompanied by his mother and brother, Dudley in September 1840 on the barge Eagle. William Le Souëf had emigrated to Australia two years earlier, following his eldest son, Charles Henry who settled in Sydney. In 1841 Albert traveled with his tutor by bullock-dray to the protectorate station on the Goulburn where he spent the next three years. It would prove an unorthodox and formative education as Albert gained an enduring knowledge of the Aborigines and their bushcraft. The youthful experiences shaped his intense appreciation of nature and an ambivalent combination of affection and fear of the Aboriginal community. Albert in later life observed that the Aborigines possessed a "singular mix of ferocity and kindness."

In 1847 he returned briefly to Melbourne to farewell his brother, Dudley who had decided that the prospects were better in England. Albert had no such compunction and embarked on an adventurous and varied career in the bush. He became overseer on Reedy Lake, Quambatook and Swan Hill stations, ran sheep and cattle in the north-east of Victoria and on Seven Creeks and Euroa stations, and overlanded stock to the Riverina, Tallygaroopna and Melbourne. During the height of the gold rush period, Albert briefly contemplated selling cattle to the gold diggers in Bendigo, until he viewed their conditions and behavior with horror and abandoned the idea. By 1851 Albert began to reconsider his options and assured his mother who was returning to England, that he would follow her in the following year.

Chance intervened when Albert obtained charge of a Victorian property at Seven Creeks and met his future wife, Caroline Cotton. Born on 15 July 1834 in Barnstaple, Devon, England, Caroline was the fourth of ten children of the artist and naturalist John Cotton (1801-1849). The family emigrated to Victoria in 1843 and took over Doogalook Station on the Goulburn River. As a youngster, Caroline was educated at home and received training from the artist George Alexander Gilbert. Albert and Caroline married on 9 August 1853 in St. Kilda and had five sons and five daughters. The couple shared an intense interest in the Aboriginal culture and Caroline throughout her marriage produced paintings with Aboriginal themes, maintained sketchbooks and journals. There is, however, some debate regarding her work and whether the pictures are based on first hand experiences, or from the accounts of her husband and her father.

When the family moved to Melbourne in 1863, Albert was appointed Usher of the Black Rod in the Victorian Legislative Council, a position he held for the next thirty years. As the duties of the office occupied only half the year, Albert pursued other commitments. He continued to be an active member of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines and ruefully estimated that in 1848 the number of indigenous people in the Goulburn area amounted to over 3000 but by 1896 were reduced to 60. In 1870 Albert Le Souëf was appointed honorary secretary to the Acclimatization Society and in 1882 Director of the Zoological Gardens at Royal Park on 300 pounds a year.

Under Albert's stalwart and impressive control, the Melbourne Zoological Gardens emerged as a Zoo of international repute. He became acutely aware of his lack of formal knowledge in the conduct of his growing enterprise and in 1880, he embarked on a lengthy trip to Europe, largely at his own expense. While overseas Albert studied Zoological Gardens, purchased animals and secured flora specimens. The principal impression he gained from the trip was that an admission charge should be enforced and it was duly introduced on his return.

During the first decade of his appointment Albert never abandoned the acclimatization movement and the liberation of animals, fish and birds throughout the country and the establishment of a game reserve at Gembrook were achieved. The region became somewhat of an obsession for Albert and he moved the family there. Farming, however, proved a precarious investment and the Le Souëf's returned and settled at Royal Park.

A.A.C. Le Souëf also began to respond to the demand that a zoological collection should interest and educate the community. His efforts were successful. Despite the lack of financial support, the collection grew from 285 animals in 1870 to 1300 by 1893, the grounds were markedly improved and Albert's daily tour of inspection reflected his prevailing interest and concern. The foundations of a modern zoo were firmly established.

On 7 May 1902, Albert Le Souëf died at Royal Park and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. Caroline Le Souëf died on 8 March 1915. She was survived by four daughters and five sons, three of whom would continue the family's association with Australian zoological gardens as directors.

ReferencesDe Courcy, Catherine, The Zoo Story, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1995.
Le Souëf, A.A.C. Personal Recollections of Early Victoria, 1896.
Le Souëf, A.A.C. Notebook with newspaper clippings, A081.
Le Souëf, J. Cecil, Address titled "The Development of A Zoological Garden at Royal Park", 19 November 1963.
Le Souëf, Ivan, "The Le Souëf Family in France and Australia", 1975.
McEvey, Allan, Australian Dictionary of Biography 1851-1890.
MacKenzie, Alexander Kenneth, memoirs, undated.

Published by the The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre, January 2008
With support from Friends of the Zoos and Royal Melbourne Zoological Gardens
Listed by Gavan McCarthy, Andrea Barnes and other Austehc staff
HTML edition Ailie Smith
Updated 27 November 2008

The template for this finding aid is part of the Heritage Documentation Management System

[ Top of Page | Home | Series | Provenance | Search | Index ]