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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Le Souef, Albert Alexander (1828–1902)

by Allan McEvey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souef (1828-1902), pioneer and director of the Zoological Gardens, Melbourne, was born on 17 April 1828 at Sandgate, Kent, England, the fourth son of William Le Souef, later protector of Aborigines on the Goulburn River, and his wife Ann, née Wales. His family, descended from Huguenots who settled in Kent in the seventeenth century, bears the motto Souef sans foyblesse.

Educated at the Moravian Mission School in Neuwied, Germany, and privately, Albert arrived at Melbourne in 1840 in the Eagle. In 1841 he travelled with his tutor by bullock-dray to the protectorate station on the Goulburn where he spent three years, gained a lasting knowledge of the Aboriginals and learned bushcraft from them. His pastoral pursuits began about 1845 when he walked some eighty miles (129 km) from Melbourne to Glenhope. 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. His 'Personal Recollections of Early Victoria' reflect the hardship and danger he encountered; for example, he crossed the flooded flats of the Ovens on the day Joseph Docker's son drowned there. Occasionally the whimsical emerges, as in his impromptu employment of Bogong Jack the horse thief to care for his horses, and his experience with bullocks in mud, south of the Lachlan, that would 'bog a crow' and literally did. His interest in native fauna is shown in his recollections of local birds on the Yarra and of his first sight of bird species of the inland and the Murray River though he published only 'Notes on the fauna of Australia' in A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis Past and Present, vol 2 (Melbourne, 1888), and 'A Crow's Camp', Australasian, 6 June 1896. In 1863-93 he was usher of the Black Rod in the Legislative Council of Victoria. He gave long service to the Aborigines Protection Board, was a member of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science from 1888, and a corresponding member of the Zoological Society, London. In 1870 he became secretary and in 1882-1902 director of the Zoological Gardens (Zoological and Acclimatisation Society) at Royal Park at £300 a year.

Le Souef's appointment as director came at a time when, in contrast to his own and the society's aim to acclimatize animals, the need for a zoological collection to interest and educate the community was becoming recognized. His thirty-two years of administration achieved much in this direction. In 1880 he had toured Europe largely at his own expense to study zoological gardens and to gather specimens, and was inspired to make the collection in Melbourne of world standing. In 1870 the collection stood at 285 animals but by 1893 it had risen to about 1300 and the press justly claimed that his goal was being reached. Improved appearance of the grounds also emanated from his directorship, and his daily tour of inspection reflected his concern for his charges, a concern made more real by the continuing lack of financial support. He gave devoted interest, practical administrative ability and enthusiasm to the pursuit of his worthy and patriotic aim.

In 1853 Le Souef had married Caroline, the fourth daughter of John Cotton; born on 15 July 1834 in Barnstaple, Devon, she died at Royal Park, Melbourne, on 8 March 1915. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, Le Souef died at Royal Park on 7 May 1902 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. He was survived by four daughters and five sons, three of whom were associated with Australian zoological gardens.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina (Melb, 1936)
  • H. M. Whittell, The Literature of Australian Birds (Perth, 1954)
  • Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria, Annual Report, 1902
  • Table Talk, 31 Mar 1893, 30 Jan 1902
  • Australasian, 10, 17 May 1902
  • J. Seekamp, Some Anecdotes from the Past and Present (Melbourne Zoological Gardens)
  • family papers and scrapbook (privately held).

Citation details

Allan McEvey, 'Le Souef, Albert Alexander (1828–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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