Stead, Christina (1902–1983)

Christina Ellen Stead, born in Sydney on 17 July 1902, was an Australian novelist, short story writer, journalist and translator. Her fictional works, often bitingly parodic and politically astute, increasingly reflected her Marxist leanings, honed over forty-two years of writing, and her affiliations with sympathetic left-wing institutes. Her two Paris-centred novels, The Beauties and Furies (1936) and House of All Nations (1938), stamped with personal opinion and political insight, remain weighty critiques of the historic and social upheavals of 1930s France and Europe.

Spurred by an unhappy childhood that was marred by the death of her mother in 1904, a domineering father, poverty and two successive stepmothers she disliked, Stead left Australia in 1928 to forge an independent life. But the memories of the past lingered and inspired two of her most acclaimed novels: Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) and The Man Who Loved Children (1940). By then she was practising what she called ‘the novel of strife’ in which characters in conflict are variously the victims of social injustice, human frailty, unwise moral choices and the unkindness of fate.

Following her arrival in London in 1928, Stead joined a company of grain merchants where she met and fell in love with William Blake (formerly Wilhelm Blech), a brilliant economist, broker, novelist and journalist. In 1929 they moved to Paris where she took up a secretarial post and Blake a senior administrative position in the company’s American Travelers’ Bank.  Their affair heralded a lifelong partnership and an itinerant lifestyle as they moved between Europe and America while establishing themselves as cosmopolitan authors. All Stead’s twelve novels relate to places in which she lived, observed and fictionally judged. Verbally brilliant, intellectually sharp, digressive and psychologically profound, they make demands on the reader, but they cast penetrating light on moments in history that changed both society at large and individuals caught up in its flux.

In 1929 Stead and Blake moved to Paris where they resided until 1935. There, opportunely, Stead’s secretarial position in the Travelers Bank gave her inside knowledge of the vagaries of the 1930s financial world, triggered by the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the economic calamities it unleashed. Largely set in a fictitious bank when France was in reality in the throes of stock market volatility, the privations of the Great Depression and the threat of Hitler’s escalating might, House of All Nations offers on a broad canvas a damning assessment of the capitalist system and, via its cavalcade of characters, the nature of speculatory frenzy and the corrupt human responses it generates. Most of those who work for the novel’s bank are opportunists, profiteers and egotists: wily managers, scheming middlemen, manipulative agents and ruthless arrivistes, who dupe the unwary investor, cheat the gullible client and reap the monetary benefits. For Stead they are the exemplars of those the Marxist theorist castigates: the affluent minority who exploit the poor and the working class to further their own status, social advantage and wealth. As the book unfolds, Stead broadens her scope: the ‘house of all nations’ represents the crumbling political and financial edifices of European nations at risk. In its closing chapters she traces the demise of the major players and the bank’s inexorable and ultimate collapse, even as, in parallel, Europe floundered in the grip of oppressive leaders, economic instability and unstable governments. Stead’s invented scenarios were thus not unlike those she witnessed at the time. The outbreak of the Second War in 1939 would plunge ‘all nations’ into crisis, shattering the false utopias of the 1930s to which so many had unguardedly clung.

In The Beauties and Furies, as in House of All Nations, Stead takes the heedlessness of the 1930s unremittingly to task: its characters – acquisitive, self-serving, profligate – belong to a world of human unconcern and predatoriness. Yet the novel is less a critique of an era’s capitalist bodies than a scathing portrait of post-war and post-Crash social types. The male protagonist, a pretentious, shallow student, who is in Paris to advance his research, proves as intellectually expedient as he is fickle in his amorous entanglements. This is particularly the case with his English lover, a bored housewife, come abroad to seek pleasure until the novelty of foreign surroundings and the excitement of a romantic fling wear off. Stead draws on the clichéd perception of Paris as the city of glamour and promiscuousness to expose the folly of her protagonists as they pursue false ideals and an illusory happiness. There is a common ideological edge to Stead’s fictional works. The Beauties and Furies is, in essence, a study of class. Her male and female protagonists are smug bourgeois. One is committed to self-advancement; the other unready to forego her home with its chattels and material comforts. The Paris venture, it transpires, is a failure; the travellers remain unchanged by their experience.

Stead’s role in left-wing organisations complemented her ideologically driven literary output. In 1935 in Paris, while Fascist Germany was burning books deemed degenerate, she attended the First International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture, an anti-fascist writers’ lobby that included literary notables such as André Gide, Louis Aragon and André Malraux. In her role as the delegation’s unofficial British secretary, she recorded the event’s political thrust: how best to address the deficiencies of the capitalist paradigm and resist the emerging menace of Europe’s dictatorships. Yet, Stead was never a propagandist or proletarian writer like the group’s predominantly communist participants; rather her leftist leanings encouraged her to denounce all forms of hypocrisy, injustice and dishonesty in all political arenas. In the rich ferment of 1930s events and ideologies, she remained open-minded and judiciously evaluated the impact of theorists like Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud. Again, although she never identified as a feminist, successive novels explored the patriarchal hegemony and the nature of feminine passions, ambitions, travails and regrets. This was acknowledged, if tardily, in the 1980s when London’s Virago Press reissued those of her novels that most representatively critiqued the contemporary feminine lot.

In 1935 and 1936 Stead and Blake travelled between Europe, England and the United States. In July 1937, they re-embarked for America. There, they contributed articles to the communist weekly journal New Masses. At the same time, they branched out: in 1938 Stead was reviewing Australian novels for the New York Times Book Review. Between 1942 and 1943 both she and Blake worked as screenwriters for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood, as well as co-editing the anthology Modern Women in Love: Sixty Twentieth-Century Masterpieces of Fiction. In 1946, fearful of burgeoning American anti-communist sentiment, they returned to a peripatetic life in Europe. This period was marked by a flurry of literary works, although Stead’s true success as an author eluded her until late in life. In 1947 they resettled in England, living in considerable poverty despite Blake’s role as a researcher and scripter for a German film studio and the relative success of his works. In 1952 they married, Blake having finally secured a divorce from his first wife. Upon his death in 1968 Stead took up a short-term visiting fellowship at the Australian National University in Canberra; it encouraged her to return to Australia in 1974 where she remained until her death in Sydney on 31 March 1983.

Literary success in Australia came late for Stead, largely because she was perceived as an expatriate writer of cosmopolitan works, some of which, moreover, were judged obscene. However, increased fame abroad and the US republication in 1967 of The Man Who Loved Children kindled recognition in her homeland. In 1974 she was the recipient of the inaugural Patrick White Literary Award, bestowed for the lifetime achievement of older writers. Posthumous fame followed, notably with the publications of Ocean of Story: The Uncollected Stories of Christina Stead in 1985 and I’m Dying Laughing: The Humourist (1986). In their wake, translations of her works into numerous languages continue to broaden her repute. In 1988 The Man Who Loved Children was published in France as L’Homme qui aimait les enfants, and in 2018 The Beauties and Furies appeared as Splendeurs et fureurs.

Christina Stead, ca. 1938
C.S. Daley photograph collection
National Gallery of Australia, nla.obj-144459442

Rosemary Lancaster, University of Western Australia, September 2021.


Ackland, Michael, Christina Stead and the Socialist Heritage, New York, Cambria Press, 2016

Geering, R. G. (ed.), new edition, Christina Stead, A Web of Friendship: Selected Letters, 1928–1973, Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 2017 (first published 1992)

Geering, R. G. (ed)., Christina Stead, Talking into the Typewriter: Selected Letters, 1973–1983, Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 2018 (first published 1992)

Gribble, Diane, Christina Stead, Oxford University Press, 1994

Lancaster, Rosemary, ‘All That Glitters: Illusory Worlds in Christina Stead’s The Beauties and Furies (1936) and House of All Nations (1938)’, in Je Suis Australienne: Remarkable Women in France, 1880–1945, 2008, pp. 124–150

Lidoff, Joan, Christina Stead, New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1982

Rowley, Hazel, Christina Stead: A Biography, rev. ed., Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 2007 (first published 1993)

Rowley, Hazel, ‘Politics and Literature in the Radical Years, 1935–1942’, Meridian, vol. 8, no. 2, 1989, pp. 149-159

Christina Stead, writer, Paris, 1930s, Marxism, Sydney

Freycinet, Louis-Claude de Saulces de (1779–1842)

Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet, also known as Louis de Freycinet or Louis Freycinet, was a naval officer, maritime explorer and member of the Académie des Sciences. He played a prominent role in the Australian expedition led by Nicolas Baudin (1800–1804) and later commanded his own scientific voyage around the world, 1817–1820.

Freycinet was born on 7 August 1779 at Montélimar (Drôme). He was the second son of Louis de Saulces de Freycinet, merchant, and Elisabeth Armand, daughter of the Prince of Monaco’s intendant general. Freycinet joined the navy alongside his older brother, Henri, in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.

The Revolutionary Wars provided Freycinet with ample opportunity to develop naval experience and skills. By 1796, he had participated in three battles against the English and risen from 5th– to 2nd-class midshipman. In 1797 he resisted a promotion to the rank of sub-lieutenant, believing that it was based on favour not merit, but the decision could not be repealed.

In July 1800, Louis and Henri joined the Baudin expedition: Henri, aboard the Géographe and Louis, on the consort vessel, the Naturaliste, with Commander Emmanuel Hamelin. The expedition set sail on 19 October 1800 to chart the southern, Tasmanian, western, north-western and northern coastlines of Australia, as well as to study the natural history and human inhabitants of those regions. It is believed that Baudin named Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania after Louis; however, the sources are unclear: it may have been in honour of either Louis or Henri, or both brothers.

At Timor, Louis was promoted to acting lieutenant and, in Sydney, he was given command of a new vessel, the Casuarina. The Casuarina replaced the Naturaliste, which returned to France with the expedition’s natural history collection. After leaving Sydney, Louis travelled along the southern and western coasts of Australia, leading geographic and cartographic studies of the Hunter Islands Group, the Spencer and St Vincent Gulfs, King George Sound, Cape Leeuwin, Nuyts Archipelago, Edel Land and De Witt Land.

By the time the expedition arrived at Lorient, 25 March 1804, Freycinet had developed a devotion to maritime exploration. He took responsibility for publishing the expedition’s hydrographic atlas (1811), which included the first full map of Australia, and the geography and navigation volume (1815). He also completed the second history volume of the Voyage de découvertes, begun by François Péron (1816).

That same year, Freycinet put forward a proposal for a voyage which was accepted by Louis XVIII. Marking a turning point in maritime exploration, the focus of this voyage was not to be discovery or hydrography, but scientific research. As directed by a committee formed within the Academy of Sciences, the voyagers were to conduct measurements of the globe’s southern hemisphere, observations of magnetic and meteorological phenomena, experiments relating to air pressure and sea temperature, and studies in natural history and anthropology. Freycinet was given command of the expedition and his choice of officers and crew members. He manned the Uranie with care, by forming a crew largely of men who were labourers as well as sailors, and choosing, instead of civilian scientists, three naval surgeons to carry the main responsibility for natural history and anthropological research. He was accompanied, although it was against all the rules, by his wife Rose, initially disguised as a man. The Uranie set sail from Toulon on 17 September 1817 and reached Oceania, where the bulk of its observations were conducted, one year later. Between Shark Bay, on Australia’s west coast, and colonial Sydney-Town, on its east, the Frenchmen explored Timor, the Papuan, Caroline, and Marianna Islands, and Hawaii. The smooth voyage was subsequently marred by shipwreck at the Falkland Islands; however, both the men and the products of their research made it ashore, and Freycinet obtained a new ship, renamed the Physicienne. Back in France from 13 September 1820, he was not blamed for the shipwreck, nor disciplined for smuggling his wife Rose onto the expedition, but was promoted from commander to post-captain.

Freycinet thereafter concentrated on voyage publications and the field of geography. He co-founded the Paris Geographical Society, became a member of the Academy of Sciences (geography and navigation section), and gained a place on the Bureau of Longitude. He was named Knight of the Order of Saint-Louis and a member of the Legion of Honour. He also published a second edition of the Baudin expedition’s historical account (1824) and, with certain of his co-voyagers from the Uranie, completed the Voyage autour du monde (1824–1844). Freycinet died of a heart attack on the family estate at Saulces-sur-Rhône, 18 August 1842.

Image: Leroy, Sébastien, Portrait of Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet, ca. 1812 , National Library of Australia.

Author: Nicole Starbuck Adjunct Academic, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, 1 June 2021.


French Sources

Freycinet, Louis-Claude, 1812–1824, Voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes, exécuté par ordre de Sa Majesté l’Empereur et Roi, sur les corvettes le Géographe et le Naturaliste; et la goélette le Casuarina, pendant les années 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, et 1804, Paris: Imprimérie Impériale, comprising the following volumes:
Atlas, Historique, deuxième partie, 1812.
Navigation et géographie, 1815.
Historique, tome 2, by F. Péron, continued by L. Freycinet, 1816.
Historique, 2ème edn, tomes 1–4, 1824.

Freycinet, Louis-Claude, 1825–1839, Voyage autour du monde, entrepris par ordre du Roi, Exécuté sur les corvettes de S.M. l’Uranie et la Physicienne, pendant les années 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820, Paris, Imprimérie Royale, comprising the following volumes :
Historique, tomes 1–3, 1825–1839.
Navigation et hydrographie, 1826.
Observations du Pendule, 1826.
Magnétisme Terrestre, 1842.
Météorologie, 1844.

Mourral, Alphonse, 1936, ‘Notice sur les expéditions scientifiques de Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet 1779–1842’, Bulletin de l’Académie delphinale, 6, no. 7: 229–244.

Roquette, D., de la, 1843, ‘Notices historiques sur MM. Henri et Louis de Freycinet’, Bulletin de la Société de géographie, 20, no 2: 501–539.

English Sources

Douglas, Bronwen, 2014, Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania, 1511–1850, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Dunmore, John, 1969, French Explorers in the Pacific, volume II, The Nineteenth Century, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Fornasiero, Jean, Peter Monteath, and John West-Sooby, 2004, Encountering Terra Australis: The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, Kent Town, Wakefield Press.

Starbuck, Nicole, 2013, Baudin, Napoleon, and the Exploration of Australia, London, Pickering and Chatto.

Starbuck, Nicole, 2013, ‘“Primitive Race”, “Pure Race”, “Brown Race”, “Every Race”: Freycinet’s Understanding of Human Difference in Oceania’, in Discovery and Empire: the French in the South Seas, ed. John West-Sooby, 215–244. Adelaide, University of Adelaide Press.

Keywords: Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet, scientific voyages, Oceania, Australia, exploration, Uranie, French navy.

Bowen, Stella (1893–1947)

Esther (Stella) Gwendolyn Bowen was a painter who became an official Australian war artist in Britain during the Second World War. She was born in North Adelaide in 1893. After passing South Australia’s Senior Public Examination at Tormore House School, she pursued her early love of drawing by enrolling in the art classes of Rose MacPherson (later Margaret Preston). But it was her travels in Europe and America between 1914 and 1947 that proved crucial to her artistic development as a professional portraitist, a talent that secured her wartime commission in 1944.

Bowen’s childhood education hardly anticipated the professional ambitions and lifestyle she later assumed. Under the watchful eye of her widowed mother, a devout Christian of staid middle-class ideals, she was conservatively femininely raised. But upon her mother’s death in 1914 and armed with an inherited annuity of £200 she was free to leave Australia to seek artistic tuition abroad. On arrival in London she joined Walter Sickert’s reputed art academy, encountering and mixing with some of the city’s most adventurous artistic and literary avant-garde. It was through the poet Ezra Pound that she met the much older critic and novelist Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939), initiating a partnership that was to endure for nine years. It was a match that, although it became latterly emotionally fraught, emboldened the couple to settle in Paris’s culturally vibrant Left Bank in 1922, with their child Julie, who, born in England, was then two.

Early twentieth-century Paris was a mecca for Australian women artists. Dorrit Black, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Kathleen O’Connor, Bessie Davidson and Grace Crowley were all drawn to a city whose impressionist and modernist pioneers had taken the world by storm, although only the potter Anne Dangar and Bowen did not return to Australia. Moreover, for Ford and Bowen the timing was opportune: the postwar French exchange rate was advantageous for visitors and the restrictions imposed by Prohibition and censorship laws in America drew its more progressive writers and artists to Paris for inspiration and contact with the Left Bank’s thriving artistic milieux. It was in the Latin Quarter that Bowen, engagingly gregarious, met and befriended the young Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, American poet Raymond Guthrie and writer and august salonnière Gertrude Stein. In 1924, in support of the era’s literati and Ford’s burgeoning career, Bowen helped fund and host a weekly ‘at home’ reception for the latter’s short-lived journal, the Transatlantic Review.

In 1941, six years before she died, Bowen published her memoir Drawn from Life, an illuminating recapitulation of her progress from her Australian roots to her gradual and hard-fought rise to professional success and personal independence following her separation from Ford in 1927. Within its pages, frankly and movingly written, she pays special homage to the Paris years. This riveting memoir, both social document and personal review, plots her path to artistic maturity alongside lively evocations of 1920s post-war gaiety, optimism and intellectual experimentation and exchange. Accounts of parties, dances and café encounters vie with reflections on the artistic principles she progressively espoused. Her narrative reveals a woman of quiet achievement: steadfast in her belief in her abilities, discreetly feminist and increasingly resolved to be released from the strain incurred by Ford’s infidelities and domestic demands.

Bowen claims that a visit she made with the Pounds to Tuscany in the spring of 1923 deeply influenced her painting style. On viewing the works of the Proto-Renaissance artists, especially Giotto and Fra Angelico, she was struck by the beauty of their formal composition, the layering of paint, flattening of shapes and attention to decorative detail. These were techniques she adopted and refined, albeit against the grain of the modernist and abstractionist art in vogue. The title of her memoir refers both to its biographical purpose and her dedication to portraiture. Capturing a likeness of people was a gift at which she marvelled and in which she excelled. Those she painted or sketched in Paris are representative of the 1920s circles in which she moved: Edith Sitwell, T. S. Eliot, Raymond Guthrie, Gertrude Stein; more intimately, Ford playing solitaire, herself in a painter’s smock, her daughter Julie in plaits in three-quarter profile. In contrast, a work of 1927 depicts the faces of the patrons and waitresses of Au Nègre de Toulouse (a Left Bank restaurant) clustered around the canvas like Fra Angelico cherubs, each one meticulously delineated and individually portrayed. Group paintings henceforth became a forte. After her separation from Ford and in the wake of the calamitous Wall Street Crash of 1929, Bowen, still in Paris and reeling from the devaluation of the French franc, the onset of the Depression and the resulting paucity of commissions, accepted Ramon Guthrie’s invitation in 1932 to paint portraits, mainly of family groups and their children, in Boston, Vermont and New Jersey. Yet despite the success of the venture, the proceeds were insufficient to sustain her on her return and, with Julie, she left France for London in 1933.

In England, struggling to survive, Bowen led a peripatetic life, successively supplementing her artwork with teaching, a brief position as an art reviewer for the News Chronicle and a small remuneration upon the publication of her memoir. A six-week holiday with generous friends in 1936 produced four works, notably the masterful Provençal Conversation (gifted to the National Gallery of Australia in 2013). It was, however, her appointment as a war artist by the Australian War Memorial in 1944 that produced the body of work that was to be her greatest legacy.

Bowen’s brief, to depict the members of the Royal Australian Air Force stationed in Britain, took her to military encampments around the country, north to Scotland, west to Wales and south to Essex, her last abode. It was on such sites that her skills as a portraitist served her well as she captured the strikingly youthful faces of those who served the Allied cause. Paintings such as Bomber Crew (1944), Halifax Crew, Driffield (1945), and A Sunderland Crew Comes Ashore at Pembroke Dock (1945), all group studies, depict military commitment and solidarity. The men are typically portrayed in their wartime gear: variously badges, caps, gloves, gas masks, parachute tackle, rugs, leather jackets, safety buckles and earphones; some are surrounded by symbolic cameos of doves, planes, logbooks, panel instruments, or hands at work. Poignantly, Bomber Crew was finished using photos when the men failed to return from combat. Single portraits of officers and commanders include Air Chief Marshal Charles Burnett (1944) and Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin (1944), reminders for posterity of Australia’s wartime leadership abroad. Pleased with her work, the Australian War Memorial extended her appointment in 1945 to paint and commemorate Australian soldiers who had survived the war: POWs (for example Repatriated Prisoner of War is Processed, 1945) and the hospitalised wounded, many severely maimed. In 1946, her war commission over, Bowen planned to return to Australia but her repatriation and pension rights were denied. She died of cancer on 30 October 1947.

Today the Australian War Memorial holds the forty-six oils and drawings she executed during the war, the largest collection of her work in the world. Her self-portrait of 1928 is in the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, and another, c. 1934, in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The former, in particular, donated to the gallery by Bowen’s niece in 1979, attests to her gift for portraiture, nurtured in the Paris years. The aspiring artist who had left Adelaide not knowing what lay ahead had returned ‘home’ as one who had fulfilled her earliest goals.

In recognition of her accomplishments as an Australian artist in France and abroad, a retrospective exhibition, entitled Art, Love and War, was held at the Australian War Memorial in 2002.

Image Stella Bowen, Self-portrait c.1934, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia.

Author Rosemary Lancaster, University of Western Australia, August 2021.


Australian War Memorial, 2002, ‘Stella Bowen: Art, Love and War’,,au/visit/exhibition/stella.

Bowen, Stella, 1999 (first published 1941), Drawn from Life: A Memoir, Sydney, Picador Pan MacMillan.

Lancaster, Rosemary, 2008, Je Suis Australienne: Remarkable Women in France, 1880–1945, ch. 4: ‘Stella Bowen’s “education of another sort”’, Crawley WA, University of Western Australia Press.

Modjeska, Drusilla, 1999, Stravinsky’s Lunch, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia.


Stella Bowen, Paris, portraitist, official war artist, Second World War.

Wake, Nancy (1912–2011)

Nancy Wake, a New Zealand-born Australian, was a heroic resistance fighter in the Second World War, notably serving alongside Maquis groups in the centre and south of France. On 29 February 1944, with France under German occupation, she was parachuted into the Allier department of the hilly French Auvergne. She was thirty-one and a British secret agent, sent to support French resisters to combat the Nazi peril. It was to mark her greatest contribution to the Allied cause, embarked on in 1940 and maintained until 1944.

Wake, born in Wellington on 30 August 1912, moved to Sydney with her family in 1914. Her childhood was marked by poverty but an unexpected inheritance from an aunt enabled her to leave Australia in 1932. After travelling to Vancouver and New York, she moved to London where she enrolled in Queen’s College of Journalism; in 1934, domiciled in Paris, she secured a post as a freelance reporter in the French office of Hearst’s American newspaper. Her assignations in Europe exposed her to Nazi oppression and Hitler’s expansionist programme that culminated in the invasion of Poland in September 1939, prompting a declaration of war by France and Britain. In November she married wealthy industrialist Henri Fiocca in Marseille. Only after the war did she learn that he had died, having been arrested, tortured and executed by the Gestapo for refusing to reveal her whereabouts and identity. By then the Germans had dubbed her ‘The White Mouse’ due to her baffling ability to elude notice and avoid capture. The name was used in the title of her 1985 autobiography, largely devoted to recounting her wartime activities.

After serving as a volunteer ambulance driver following the German invasion of northern France in 1940, Wake went south, initially participating in resistance activities as a clandestine courier. It led her to join the Pat O’Leary Line, an undercover circuit that escorted escapers, notably Jews, downed airmen and evaders of German labour recruitment, along the south coast via safe houses to neutral Spain. Wake’s role was highly risky: posing as a wealthy woman given to travel and holidays, she carried and delivered secret mail, harboured those on the run in her Alpine chalet and accompanied fugitives along the Line. In November 1942 the Nazis occupied France’s previously free South Zone, making the O’Leary operations increasingly dangerous, and when Wake’s phone was tapped by the Gestapo and the Line betrayed, she was forced to flee. After six abortive attempts and a series of hair-raising escapades she, with six others, crossed the Pyrenees led by sympathetic local guides. By the time she reached London in June 1943 she had helped bring some 1,037 fugitives to safety.

Anxious to resume her resistance activities, Wake enrolled in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British intelligence organisation masterminded by Churchill to provide the means, material and intelligence staff to European resistance cells. The sixteen-week training period, in which Wake reputedly excelled, included tuition in unarmed combat, demolition and survival techniques and aptitude in code-breaking, impersonation and disguise. On arrival in France and bearing the code-name Hélène, Wake joined the regional Maquis—one of the rural guerrilla bands of the French Resistance—liaising with London, receiving nocturnal parachute drops, distributing the contents (money, equipment and arms) to the resisters, and assembling weaponry. Thanks to her training and fluency in French she was a proficient instructor, an adept markswoman and a knowledgeable spy.

Remarkably, Wake moved easily in the company of her male co-fighters, invariably sleeping alongside them on forest floors in between skirmishes and covert forays. Her stamina, good humour and courage earned the admiration and trust of the men, cemented when she accomplished the now much-cited ‘bike ride’ (for which she was awarded the British George Medal in 1945): motivated by the loss of the group’s radio, which her radio transmitter had had to bury and abandon in a hurried retreat, she cycled north on a round trip of 500 kilometres in seventy-two hours, dodging German road patrols by heading over open fields, finding a secret contact with a radio and alerting London headquarters. On her return, hailed by her comrades, she learned that a new radio, along with an operator, had indeed arrived.

In the latter stages of the war, Wake joined the Maquis group of Henri Tardivat with whom she carried out ambushes, raids and sabotage in line with Churchill’s Operation Overlord. His strategy was to distract the Germans by concerted retaliations to the north and east while executing his surreptitious D-Day assault on the Normandy coast and subsequent invasion of occupied territory. It saw her assume her most militant role as she assisted Tardivat in blowing up bridges and enemy vehicles, distributing arms in the midst of battle and, on one occasion, leading an assault and rescuing two American officers. Such events, highly perilous and crucial to the success of the Allied cause, reveal the unique strengths of Wake’s character: daring, determination and an ability to respond to dangerous situations with ingenuity, courage and unhesitating speed. Indeed, her commitment to action and her indomitable spirit rank her as one of the most heroic women fighters of the Second World War.

After the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, SOE agents in France were recalled even though fighting continued until the German surrender in May 1945. Her role over, Wake arrived in London on 16 October 1944, but, in one of her proudest moments before the war’s end, she returned to France accompanied by Colonel Buckmaster, the head of the SOE, on a tour of honour of Allier and the Auvergne.

In 1949 Wake returned to Sydney where she ran as a Liberal candidate, albeit unsuccessfully, in the 1949 and 1951 federal elections, but she failed to settle down after her dramatic life abroad and left for England in 1951. She joined the Air Ministry, lecturing on evasion and survival methods, for which she wrote a manual; she then helped prepare the United Nations interrogation reports on POWs who had survived the Korean War. In 1957 she married John Forward, a former RAF bomber pilot, and lived with him in Malta until 1959, then in New South Wales. After Forward’s death in 1997, she returned to England in 2001, initially residing in the Stafford Hotel in St James’s Place, near Piccadilly. In 2003 she moved to the Royal Star and Garter House for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women, Richmond, London, where she stayed until her death in Kingston Hospital on 7 August 2011. As was her wish, her ashes were strewn in the Auvergne where she had courageously served and made so many friends.

In her lifetime Wake received numerous awards for her wartime bravery: notably, and in addition to the George Medal, the Croix de Guerre with Palm and Bar; the Croix de Guerre with Star; the Médaille de la Résistance; the American Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm; Chevalier and, later, Officier de la Légion d’honneur; latterly, the Companion of the Order of Australia (2004) and New Zealand’s RSA Badge in Gold (2006). Her medals are currently on display in the Second World War gallery of the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra. In 2010, the year before she died, a heritage pylon was unveiled in her honour in Wellington, near where she was born.


Studio Portrait of Nancy Wake, 1945, Australian War Memorial


Rosemary Lancaster, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Western Australia, June 2021


Australian War Memorial:

Wake, Nancy, The White Mouse, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, Australia, 1997 (first published 1985).

Braddon, Russell, Nancy Wake, Pan Books, London and Sydney, 1956; republished as Braddon, Russell, Nancy Wake: SOE’s Greatest Heroine, Sutton Publishing Ltd., Stroud, UK., 2005.

Cunningham, Cyril, Beaulieu: The Finishing School for Secret Agents, Pen and Sword Books, South Yorkshire, 1998.

Fitzsimons, Peter, Nancy Wake: A Biography of our Greatest War Heroine, Harper Collins, Australia, 2001.

Lancaster, Rosemary, Je Suis Australienne: Remarkable Women in France, 1880–1945, ch.6: ‘“No Time to be Frail”: Nancy Wake, Resistance Heroine’, first published University of Western Australia Press, 2008.

Wake, Nancy, The White Mouse: The autobiography of the woman the Gestapo called the White Mouse, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1985.


Nancy Wake, World War 2, French Resistance, Auvergne, SOE

Macarthur, Hon. Sir William (1800–1882)

William Macarthur was an Australian pioneer, politician, horticulturalist and vigneron who drew on his knowledge of French viniculture to develop the commercial wine industry in Australia and promoted Australian wine and other products at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855. The fifth son of John Macarthur, acclaimed by many as the founder of the Australian wool industry, and his wife Elizabeth, William was born at Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta on 15 December 1800. With his elder brother James, he was tutored in Sydney by Gabriel Huon de Kerilleau, a French émigré who had served in the New South Wales Corps with their father. From 1809, both boys attended Rugby School in England.

In 1815, William and James were taken by their father to Paris and then travelled to the Canton de Vaud, an important wine-growing area of Switzerland. In February 1816, they travelled with two Swiss vinedressers to Marseilles and Paris and reached England in August 1816. The three Macarthurs boarded the East Indiaman ‘Lord Eldon’, which left England on 9 April 1817, reaching Sydney on 30 September 1817. William Macarthur henceforth devoted himself principally to his agricultural, horticultural and vigneron activities, including helping his father manage Camden Park Estate. He was close to his brother James and spent most of his life living with James and his family at Camden Park, where he had his own bachelor wing. He never married.

William Macarthur, along with other family members, acquired extensive grazing properties, mainly in the southern highlands and central west of New South Wales, particularly along the Murrumbidgee River. In 1825, they had convicts assigned to their employ. In 1838, William, James and their brother Edward borrowed £10,000 to buy the Belmont estate at Camden, where they built an inn, twenty cottages for selected English migrants, and an Anglican church (St John’s Anglican Church, which still operates to this day).

At Camden, William Macarthur carried on horse-breeding and important horticultural activities. He was a competent horticulturalist who experimented with seed propagation and irrigation. He also sent plants to London. He was particularly interested in camellias of which he developed more than sixty new varieties, one of which, named Camellia japonica ‘Aspasia macarthur’ in 1831, was possibly the first Australian cultivar of the camellia. He also grew other flowers, as well as fruit and vegetables. He is commemorated in the genus Macarthuria and the species Cyathea macarthurii and Ptychosperma macarthurii. He built a heated hothouse for the growing of imported orchids. In 1843, 1845, 1850 and 1857, he published extensive catalogues of the plants grown at Camden Park, where he also introduced dairying.

Drawing on knowledge obtained in France and Switzerland, Macarthur developed the first commercial vineyard in Australia, establishing important vineyards and cellars at Camden in 1820. In July 1830, he provided a large quantity of grapevine cuttings to the Sydney Botanic Gardens for distribution, to encourage plantings in the colonies. He undertook wine making, importing several families of German vineyard workers, and by 1849 his 10 hectare vineyard produced over 73,000 litres of red and white table wines, as well as brandies. In addition, there were 130,000 litres of wine in storage. He won many prizes for his wines, including in Paris, and also judged wines in local competitions.

On 30 October 1839, William and James petitioned the Governor, seeking to avoid any interference with the right of Australian vintners to distil from the juice of the grape. They wrote that ‘for more than twenty years past [we] have been engaged in a series of experiments with a view ultimately to establish the cultivation of the vine upon an extensive scale’. They argued that wine is a ‘cheap and wholesome beverage’ and a most effective check upon the consumption of ‘ardent spirits’. In May 1840, William and James again petitioned the Governor along the same lines, this time also advocating procuring the services of German vinedressers until local workers were trained.

William Macarthur gave advice freely and published ‘Letters on the Culture of the Vine, Fermentation, and the Management of Wine in the Cellar’ (1844), first published in the Australian (1842-1844), under the nom de plume of ‘Maro’. He also published ‘Some Account of the Vineyards at Camden’ (1849). As President of the New South Wales Vineyard Association, he continued to publish informative material regarding vineyard management and wine making. He also published on fruit growing and preserving, notably strawberries, and wheat diseases.

In 1822, Governor Brisbane proposed offering a magistracy to John Macarthur. However, this proposal aroused so much opposition that Brisbane was forced to withdraw his offer. A magistracy was then offered to James and William, who both declined. However, both men were made Justices of the Peace on 9 February 1825, their appointments renewed on 21 June 1827. William Macarthur’s appointment was further renewed on 7 January 1830.

In July 1840, he helped organize an association for promoting assisted immigration. In 1845, he declined an invitation to nominate for the seat of Camden in the New South Wales Parliament and, in 1848, he stood unsuccessfully for the seat of Parramatta. Although never a keen politician, in March 1849 he was elected to represent the Port Phillip district in the first Legislative Council. He was in favour of the separation of the Port Phillip district from the remainder of the colony of New South Wales, separation that took place in 1851. He considered that the evils of the convict system were due principally to bad masters and negligent or corrupt officials rather than to bad conduct by most convicts. On 1 September 1851 he was appointed an Elective Member of the Legislative Council until 31 January 1855. He was a Life Appointment to the Legislative Council, under the Constitution Act, from 26 October 1864 until 22 August 1882, when his seat lapsed due to non-attendance.

In 1854, Macarthur was appointed Commissioner representing New South Wales to prepare products from the Colony for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855. He resigned his seat in Parliament and went to Paris at his own expense with the exhibits. These included wools, wines and native woods, of which he had 130 different kinds from the Illawarra alone. The NSW exhibit was voted a credit of £1500, of which £900 was spent on salaries – Macarthur was not paid – leaving only £600 for all other expenses. Hence, various articles of furniture and veneers made from Australian woods were sold off following the Exposition, producing a ‘trifling credit.’ His command of French was useful in Paris when he remonstrated successfully with French officials regarding the New South Wales exhibit. Macarthur complained that the space was much smaller than requested and that the transport of the exhibit materials was very slow. He succeeded in securing ‘300 superficial feet in one of the very best situations in the Palais d’Industrie’, according to The Maitland Mercury and Hunger River General Advertiser. During the Exposition¸ Queen Victoria, accompanied by Emperor Louis Napoléon, visited the NSW exhibit; the latter pointed out the NSW wines as having received high honours. Macarthur became chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by imperial decree dated 28 September 1855, apparently the first such award to an Australian, and was knighted by Queen Victoria on 12 March 1856. In 1855 and 1856, he toured European vineyards, before returning to Sydney on 17 November 1857.

In 1861, he collected items for the Great London Exhibition of 1862 and travelled to London. He was invited to be the Second Commissioner, but declined, believing the success of his former service entitled him to the chief position. He returned to Sydney in March 1864 and was appointed to the Legislative Council later that year. In January 1879, he resigned as a commissioner from the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, citing infirmity.

Macarthur played an important part in the intellectual life of Sydney, being on the committee of the Australian Museum from 1836 and a trustee from 1853. He was vice‑president of the newly founded Acclimatisation Society of NSW in 1860, and president, then senior vice-president, of the Agricultural Society of NSW. He was a member of the Senate of the University of Sydney (1860‑1880). In February 1861, he was made an honorary member of the Société Impériale Zoologique d’Acclimatation. He became a trustee of the Free Public Library in 1870 and, in the same year, was elected vice‑president of the Australian Club, later becoming president (1879-1882). He was regarded as an important amateur photographer, as evidenced by albums of 1850s photographs collected at Camden Park. Although closer inspection of these suggests that other photographers were mainly responsible, the informal photographs of family groups at Camden Park are probably by Macarthur.

In his declining years, Macarthur suffered from deafness and paralysis of the legs. He also had disagreements with his brother Edward, regarding his stewardship of Edward’s properties. He died on 29 October 1882 and was interred in the family vault at Camden. His estate of £38,000 was left to his niece, Elizabeth.

Image: Australian Town & Country Journal, 4 November 1882, p.17

Author: William Land, Sydney, June 2021


Conway, Jill, ‘Macarthur, Elizabeth (1766-1850)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1967, 2, 144-147.

Gippsland Guardian, 11 July 1856, 2.

Heydon, J.D., ‘Macarthur, James (1798-1867)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography¸ Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1967, 2, 149-153.

Hill, A.J., ‘Macarthur, Sir Edward (1789-1872)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1974, 5, 122-123.

Parliament of New South Wales, Former Members,, accessed 4 June 2021.

Service des décorations, Ordres nationaux décernés aux étrangers¸ 1 October 2019.  

Steven, Margaret, ‘Macarthur, John (1767-1834)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1967, 2, 153-159.

Sydney Mail, 7 April 1866, 8.

Sydney Morning Herald, 22 November 1855, 2; 17 June 1856, 4; 6 March 1866, 2; 15 September 1870, 5.

Teale, Ruth, ‘Macarthur, Sir Macarthur (1800-1882)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography¸ Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1974, 5, 124-125.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 13 October 1855.

The Empire, 5 January 1857, 4.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 February 1825, 1.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 2 January 1875, 5.

The Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review, 16 January 1845, 6.

Tucker, Michelle Scott, ’Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World’, 2018, Melbourne, Text Publishing, 333-334.

Willis, Anne-Marie, ‘Sir William Macarthur’, Design & Art Australia Online,, accessed 4 June 2021.


camellias; horticulture; Légion d’Honneur; Legislative Council; Macarthur family; Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855; vineyards; wine making.

Laure, Louis Thomas (1831–1912)

For thirty-two years Louis Thomas Laure was a leading medical practitioner and a very active member of the local French community in late nineteenth century Sydney. He was born on 7 March 1831 at Toulon (Var), the son of François André Laure, medical practitioner, and his wife Claire Antoinette Reboul (born 1802), whose marriage took place on 8 June 1817. Laure senior was born on 23 January 1795 and died of cholera at Toulon during the epidemic of 1835.

Laure received the degree of bachelier ès lettres (Aix-en-Provence) on 3 August 1849 and that of bachelier ès sciences (Marseille) in 1851; in the past this has been reported as 1861, but is unlikely given the other biographical elements, and was probably a misprint for 1851. Graduating from the École de médecine navale (School of Naval Medicine), Laure was appointed 3rd class Naval surgeon on 7 June 1852, and was advanced to 2nd class surgeon on 7 May 1856. He was awarded the degrees of Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Surgery of the University of Paris in 1861 for a thesis entitled ‘De l’ulcère contagieux de Mozambique chez les Cafres et de son traitement’.

He reached the island of La Réunion in 1853, where his conduct was later described by Petit, the chief surgeon, as ‘excellent’ and his service ‘capable’. The Governor, Baron Darricau, reported in 1858 that Laure had been restricted to the island’s lazaret three times during a six‑month period, caring for smallpox patients among immigrants from the Comoro Islands, of whom 1400 died. To recognise this service, the Governor proposed Laure for the Légion d’honneur, but without success. The following year, Laure gained further praise for his conduct during the two cholera epidemics that ravaged the island, the first starting on 6 March 1859.

On the recommendation of Governor Darricau, Laure was appointed chevalier of the Légion d’honneur on 15 March 1860 for his services during the cholera outbreaks on La Réunion in 1859. This award came with an annual traitement of 250 francs. He married Mlle Adélaïde Mélanie Crémazy (1840–1914), the daughter of a Réunionnais shipowner, on 4 November 1859 at Sainte-Suzanne on the island; she brought a dowry of 25,000 francs.

Due to a number of problems, including personal health problems – he suffered from hepatitis and anaemia contracted in La Réunion – Laure resigned his appointment in August 1861 and returned to France with his wife and child.

Nevertheless, he returned to La Réunion and practiced medicine as a civilian for seven years. However, the island’s economy, based on agriculture, especially sugarcane, deteriorated and, in early 1868, acting ‘on the advice of a few friends’ (Le Courrier australien, 3.11.1900) he travelled alone on board the barque Félix Bernabo, reaching Sydney on 28 February 1868, his family apparently arriving later. The NSW Government Gazette of 7 January 1879 confirms the date of his first medical registration as 7 April 1868. He was authorised, by a decree of the President of the Republic, dated 7 April 1874, to reside in Sydney.

In 1874, he joined the staff of St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, as a visiting physician. He also set up in practice at 131 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, where he was burgled on 3 June 1870; two cases of surgical instruments, of a value of £20, were stolen. The burglar, James Gordon, was arrested and the instruments recovered. At one time, Laure also practiced at 47 Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

In October 1884, Laure was among a group of about 10 doctors who resigned from St Vincent’s Hospital in protest at the appointment of one Dr Charles William MacCarthy.  MacCarthy had recently arrived in Sydney from Ireland and was appointed to the hospital in spite of his unsatisfactory medical qualifications following pressure from Archbishop Moran, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.

Laure was a very active member of the French community in Sydney, regularly attending social events and the 14 July celebrations. When the French Association of New South Wales gave a Soirée littéraire et musicale in homage to the memory of Victor Hugo on 3 September 1885, Laure took a prominent part in the proceedings, giving a lecture on Victor Hugo, his life and his works, and performing one of Hugo’s balads “Le Géant”. At functions, he often performed music, accompanied by his wife. Such an occasion was a dinner party and reception given in July 1893 at the French Consulate-General for the captain and officers of the French cruiser Duguay-Trouin (Illustrated Sydney News, July 1893). His love of music was reflected in his association with the Sydney Orchestral Society from its foundation in 1892. At the Orchestral Society’s concert held in the Town Hall on 4 October 1900, Laure was presented with the gold badge of the Society in recognition of his efforts to promote the cultivation of fine music.

Louis Laure also played a major part in The Sydney French Club. He was its founding president when the club was created as the ‘French Association of New South Wales at Sydney’ in 1885, and was also president in 1886 when the Club was renamed. He often sang at the Club’s dinners. The membership was strongly middle class and the Club closed in 1893. He had organised the first known 14 July celebrations in 1885. French Consul Julien Decourt encouraged the founders of the Association, including Laure, to assist Frenchmen to achieve a safe position in Australia. The Club, although primarily a gentleman’s club, also had a charitable role. It helped Frenchmen, including those of lower socio-economic status.

In 1891, Laure, along with other members of the French community, was one of the founders of the Société française de bienfaisance, and served as its president and honorary physician for many years. The Société continued for approximately 120 years, with much support from local French businesses, and provided help, often financial, and advice to distressed French men and women, including prisoners. It collapsed in 2012 due, in large part, to lack of financial support by many French companies which had their charitable activities determined in France. In January 2013, Le Secours français de Nouvelle-Galles du Sud/French Assist was founded to replace the Société française de bienfaisance.

Laure and his wife had three daughters: Louisa Marie Martha, who died, aged 13 months, of ‘convulsions from dentition’ on 31 August 1873; Antoinette Clare Mélanie, who married Jules William Bruggmann, a Parisian merchant, in Sydney on 10 October 1882, aged 22, and Anna Andrée, who married Alfred Charles van Rompaey, Consul for Belgium, on 21 February 1883, aged 20.

After thirty-two years’ service in Sydney, Laure decided to return to France at the urging of his children, and to settle in Marseille. On 27 October 1900, before his return to France, Dr Laure was entertained at a banquet d’adieu held at the fashionable ‘Paris House’ restaurant organised by his colleague, Dr Emile Rougier, the representative in Sydney of the Pasteur Institute. The banquet was presided by Louis Vossion, Consul in charge of the Consulate‑General. The long-standing Consul-General, Georges Biard d’Aunet, was absent in France. A large number of French and Australian friends attended, although no women were present. It was reported to be ‘one of the most representative gatherings of French residents that have taken place in Sydney’ (Le Courrier Australien, 3.11.1900). Aside from Louis Vossion, other attendees included Dr Henry MacClaurin (MLC), T. Slattery (MLC), R.B. Wise (Attorney-General), Judge Backhouse, as well as the Consuls for Denmark, Italy, Russia and Spain. M. Georges Playoust (President of the French Chamber of Commerce) presented Dr Laure with an illuminated address on behalf of the French community. In his speech, Louis Vossion declared that Dr Laure displayed the best qualities of his countrymen: ‘la franchise, la bonne humeur, l’amour des beaux-arts, le regard loyal et la main largement tendue’. Successive speakers praised his courage and devotion to his patients, rich or poor, his charity work and his central place in the life of the French community, a place that many felt would be difficult to fill. The ceremony and the address declared him to be one of the most popular personalities in the French community in Sydney, highly regarded both as a citizen of his own country and a friend of Australia.

In retirement, Dr Laure was living at 141 rue Consolat, Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône). He died there on 25 March 1912, aged 81.

Image: Le Courrier Australien, 3 November 1900.

Author: William Land, Sydney, October 2020.

References (accessed 23 July 2020)

Barko, Ivan, 2008, ‘Félicité Cochard and the Foundation of the Sydney French Benevolent Society’, Explorations, 44, 2008, 53–55.

Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 16 September 1886, 4.

Evening News, Sydney, 9 September 1876, 5.

Hickie, John B, 2000, “The Thinkers: A History of the Physicians and the Development of Scientific Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney 1857–1997’, Sydney, Playwright Publishing Pty Ltd, 44, 61–73, 91–92,

Hetherington, Les, 2015, ‘The Sydney French Club, 1885 to 1893’, The French Australian Review, 58, 30-46.

Illustrated Sydney News, 16 August 1890, 18; 22 July 1893, 7; 25 November 1893, 7.

Le Courrier Australien, 3 November 1900, 2-3.

NSW Government Gazette, 7 January 1879, 117.

Register of Births, Deaths, Marriages, NSW: 1185/1873; 1504/1882; 324/1883.

Service historique de la défense (Vincennes, France), MV CC7 ALPHA 1395-0

Sydney Morning Herald, 27 March 1868, 11; 29 October 1900, 5; 10 May 1912, 8.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 February 1894, 325.



French Navy, La Réunion, cholera, smallpox, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Legion of Honour, Victor Hugo, Sydney Amateur Orchestral Society

Maistre, Paul (1851–1932)

Paul (Louis Paul) Maistre, journalist and author, was born on 17 May 1851 at Cluny in Burgundy, son of Claude Paul Maistre (b. 1819), a liberal in the tradition of the 1848 revolution, and Marguerite Deligny (b. 1825). Cluny would remain his base in France throughout his consular career and beyond.

Paul Maistre was one of France’s longest-serving consular representatives in Australia, although, in the end, not one of the most successful. The bulk of his career in the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères turned around the consular post of Melbourne. His rise in the hierarchy, slow and painful, was hindered by his socio-economic background and his family circumstances. When, in his late fifties, he finally reached the position of consul 2ème classe in charge of the vice-consulate of Melbourne, he unexpectedly encountered the implacable opposition of a small group of members of the Melbourne establishment who obtained his recall by the Quai d’Orsay, thus putting an end to his career in Australia.

Having attended the Lycée Lamartine at Mâcon, Paul Maistre served as a volunteer during the 1870 war. Like his father, he was attracted to the art of writing and at first journalism. His first job was contributing to Le Matin (Paris), Le Phare de la Loire (Nantes) and L’Union républicaine (Mâcon) as their London correspondent. He also gave private lessons in French and German. The English connection probably went back to his father’s exile from France under the Second Empire. In 1873 he married Charlotte Allen, an English orphan from Warwickshire. They had six children and no expectations from either side of the family. Most of their married life was a constant struggle for financial survival.

From 1879 Paul’s father was employed by the French Consulate-General and then the French Embassy in London successively as commis auxiliaire, commis de chancellerie, chancelier and secrétaire-archiviste. In 1881 he persuaded the Quai d’Orsay to employ his son in the same capacity and for a short time father and son worked together as commis de chancellerie in London. Paul was bilingual in French and English, proficient in German and knew some Italian.

In 1885 he was appointed chancelier 3ème classe and in the following year he took up his new staff appointment at the French Consulate in Melbourne.  He served in that post in different capacities until February 1909, with only a single two-year break, from 1898 to the beginning of 1901, in Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). In 1887 Léon Dejardin was appointed consul to Melbourne, then consul-general in 1891, and Maistre served under him for twelve years. He himself progressed to vice-consul in 1892, and in 1905 was promoted to consul 2ème classe.

During his first Melbourne term (1886–1898) Maistre was at times in charge of the consulate or consulate-general, and in 1888 he acted as deputy commissioner of the French Section at the Melbourne International Exhibition.  During this period he also continued his literary and journalistic writing activities, contributing to the Nouvelle Revue Internationale and the Revue Universelle. Oscar Comettant, in Au pays des kangourous et des mines d’or (1890), describes Maistre as ‘un érudit, un écrivain et un poète quand il lui plaît de l’être’. Léon Dejardin was far less enthusiastic. He saw Maistre as a superior clerk rather than as an author or a potential diplomat. He praised, however, the quality of his report writing and year after year recommended his promotion, realising how difficult Maistre found it to support his wife and his six children on his modest salary: according to Dejardin he had become ‘embittered’, even ‘desperate’. The Consul-General supported Maistre’s repeated requests for a move to a European posting, which would have facilitated his children’s education in France. This eventually occurred in 1898. From Dejardin’s point of view such a transfer was the ideal solution: he was reluctant to send negative reports on his Vice-Consul, but ‘after ten years of tête-à-tête with Maistre’, as he put it, he wanted him to go. He cabled the Quai d’Orsay that under no circumstances should they allow him to return to Melbourne.

Dejardin’s last wish was not to be fulfilled. On the proclamation of Federation, the French consular services in Australia were reorganised and the Melbourne post was downgraded to vice-consulate. Dejardin retired to France and the vice-consulate was placed under the control of his rival, Georges Biard d’Aunet, previously ‘Consul-General of France in Sydney’, now titled ‘in Australia’. In February 1901 the original appointee to the newly downgraded post (a certain M. Monnet) came, looked at the situation and refused to take up the post, returning to France on the very same ship which brought him to Australia. Maistre was then offered the vacancy, returning to Melbourne in April after his term in Wales.

Maistre’s second Melbourne term (1901–1909) was far more dramatic than the first. He was now head of the post, at first with the rank of vice-consul and then, from 1905, as consul 2ème classe. However, he was not his own master: he was responsible to the Consul-General in Sydney (Georges Biard d’Aunet until 1905, and Albert Pinard from 1905 until the death in office of the latter in January 1909, just a few weeks before Maistre’s own departure).

During his new term in Melbourne a great deal of Maistre’s time was dedicated to the reform of the Alliance Française de Victoria, very much along the lines that Biard d’Aunet had imposed on the more recently founded Sydney Alliance, focusing on its educational and cultural mission, rather than on social functions.  One would therefore have expected a good understanding between the local vice-consul and the remote consul-general, especially given the tension between Maistre and the now departed Dejardin. This, however, is not what occurred. Biard d’Aunet also recognised that Maistre was hard-working and conscientious and had a thorough knowledge of the consular system, but he found him reserved, excessively shy and difficult to communicate with, presumably on account of what he called his ‘honourable but modest’ background. Consul-General Biard d’Aunet deplored that due to his financial circumstances Maistre was not in a position to invite important people to his home, and, not being an ‘homme du monde’, did not mix easily with them. Both Biard d’Aunet and his successor Albert Pinard found that the rapport between the consulate- general in Sydney and the Melbourne vice-consulate left a lot to be desired, blaming Maistre’s personality for this. Biard d’Aunet further suggested that Maistre had served in Melbourne in a subordinate position for far too long to be able to command the moral authority required for his new role.

Although he appeared ‘to have been a gregarious personality with a wide circle of friends’ (Thornton-Smith 1994, 4), Maistre might have had a problem relating to his superiors, as well as to the women in the Melbourne establishment.

Although the Alliance française de Victoria was founded by Mme Mouchette, a teacher and native speaker of French, it gradually lost sight of its original purpose and became a pretext for social gatherings for a small group of society women, predominantly English-speaking but professing a love of the French language and French culture. Pedagogical pursuits were neglected and the main activities were teas, dances and evenings of light entertainment. Once in charge of the vice-consulate, Maistre was determined to restore the Alliance to its primary objective and re-establish its links with France, the Paris head office, the local French community and the teaching profession. Having consulted in person with the Paris headquarters of the Alliance during his 1906 leave in France, Maistre felt emboldened to assert his demands. On his return he wrote a document entitled ‘Notes sur l’Alliance Française de Victoria : sa fondation, ses statuts ; son but et ses moyens d’action’, which defined his principal objectives. The most important was the promotion of the French language by means of lectures, talks, exhibitions, publications, competitions, examinations, prizes and scholarships. Maistre further advocated the observance by the Alliance committee of its own constitution and of the Paris regulations governing local branches. He also suggested that the committee include more native speakers of French, a better gender balance and some men with business experience. All the changes put forward by Maistre were opposed and indeed sabotaged by the core of the old committee. When the Secretary-General of the Paris Alliance, Léon Defourmantelle, confirmed the organisation’s total support of the Consul’s proposals, Maistre’s opponents resigned and a new committee, predominantly of native speakers, was set up, with Maistre as president.

However, the opponents, led by the former president Lady Holroyd and the former French co-president Mme Crivelli, a long-established expatriate who identified herself with the local establishment, sought to put an end to the Consul’s appointment to Melbourne. They used their connections with the Foreign Office in London to request that the British Ambassador in Paris demand Maistre’s recall. This was four years after the signature of the Entente cordiale and Stephen Pichon, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, yielded to the British pressure. Without giving Maistre the right of reply and in spite of the support Maistre received from the Melbourne French community, as well as from the Australian public and officials and the press, the Quai d’Orsay ordered him home. He sailed back to France on 25 February 1909.

This recall also put an end to Maistre’s other duties in Melbourne. At different times Paul Maistre represented Imperial Russia and Italy as acting consul for the former and acting consul-general for the latter, which earned him the title of Commander in the Order of St Stanislaus (1908) and also a royal decoration from the Italian government. At the time of his recall the only French honour he had received was his appointment as Officier d’Académie in 1889.

Although there is no evidence that the Quai d’Orsay ever apologised to Paul Maistre for the way he was treated in the last year of his Melbourne posting, almost immediately after his return to France he was appointed consul 1ère classe in charge of the French Consulate at Santiago de Cuba (decree of 3 April 1909). Maistre embarked for Cuba on 21 June to take up his new post, but, by mid-September, he realised that his health, already adversely affected by his Melbourne experience, would not stand up to the climate of Cuba. His application for early retirement was approved, and on 31 December 1909 he was awarded the Légion d’honneur.

We have no trace of Maistre’s activities between his retirement and his death in 1932 in his birth town of Cluny other than producing two monographs.

His work as a writer was never given any weight by his superiors, although the reports he produced during his first term in Melbourne were duly praised by Consul-General Léon Dejardin. Most of his writings are about Australia. His articles (in French) in the Melbourne weekly Table Talk, under the well-chosen nom de plume Paul Le Franc, his five ‘semi-fictional’ short stories, as C. B. Thornton-Smith characterised his ‘Scènes de la vie australienne’ published  in the Nouvelle Revue Internationale between 1894 and 1897, also under the nom de plume Paul Le Franc, and Dans la brousse australienne, a first-person account of a hunting trip with a group of French and Australian friends to Gippsland, as well as a more formal book on the Commonwealth of Australia (1913), all portray different facets of Australian life.

His attitude to his host country was complex and not devoid of contradictions. Although married to an English woman and having spent some of his formative years in London, he was critical of Australia’s close copying of English customs and institutions. Generally sympathetic to ‘ordinary Australians’, with a preference for bushmen above urban dwellers, he showed a definite prejudice against Protestants, Scots and their attitude to business as he perceived it. (This was probably motivated by the anti-French sentiments and policies of some of Victoria’s Protestant politicians.) When it came to comparing Continental Europeans (especially Germans and the French) with Australians of English background, his preference clearly went to the former. However, he admired Australia’s younger generations, their healthy attitude to life, their openness and dynamism, their love of sport and their growing interest in music, literature and the arts.

Maistre was aware of Australia’s limitations as a continent, especially the harsh interior, but in Dans la brousse australienne he revealed a deep love of the bush and a sensitivity to its beauty and grandeur, and what he called its ‘magic’.

Although sharing his white contemporaries’ low opinion of the level of civilisation attained by Aboriginal Australians, he readily acknowledged that the wretched state of many of the original inhabitants had been brought about by the presence of the colonisers and he strongly condemned their ill-treatment by the latter. Like many of his contemporaries, he believed that Aboriginal Australians were unsuited for work in white man’s society and were bound to decay and die out.

Maistre acknowledged Australia’s rapid progress, especially in its urban centres (which, incidentally, he found ‘artificial’) but he attributed it to exceptionally favourable circumstances such as auspicious geography, plentiful natural resources, an absence of threat from inside and outside, and, not the least, bountiful support in the form of the provision of capital and skills from the mother country.

Although professionally committed to free trade, he admitted it was protectionism that allowed the inhabitants of the continent to enjoy a high standard of living. Maistre was in two minds about the determination of Australians to limit immigration, even from Britain, but he was openly in favour of the White Australia policy.

While he had reservations about what he saw as the inordinate power of the trade unions and the excessive control of the State in regulating many aspects of life, he could not help but admire the nascent Australian democracy. In Maistre’s opinion, the Constitution of 1901, which invested power in the people, without buffers between the electors and the elected, was ‘one of the most radical political instruments created’. He thought that Federation, having abolished the artificial customs barriers so thoroughly contrary to the interests of all the colonies, would eventually lead to the unity of the Commonwealth and the weakening, and eventually the abolition, of State borders. No doubt, some links to the mother country survived, especially as regards external relations, but they were tenuous and did not affect life within the Commonwealth.

Although his diplomatic career in Australia ended in failure, his writings demonstrate a perceptive and largely sympathetic interest in a country on the cusp of nationhood.

Image: The title page of Paul Maistre’s Commonwealth of Australia (1913).

Author: Ivan Barko, Emeritus Professor, University of Sydney, September 2020

Note: Special thanks to Sibylle Duhautois, French historian and research assistant for ISFAR, who located most of the French sources used for this entry.

Keywords: Paul Maistre, Australia at Federation, Quai d’Orsay, social classes in diplomacy, Melbourne, Alliance Française


Kirsop, Wallace, 2001, ‘Paul Maistre’s First Farewell’, Explorations 31, pp. 37–38.

Maistre, Paul, Personal File, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, La Courneuve.

Maistre, Paul, ‘Scènes de la vie australienne’, in Nouvelle Revue Internationale, Paris-Madrid, (‘Le Squatter’,1894, 1er semestre, pp. 42–49; ‘Le Sélecteur’, 1895, 1er semestre, pp. 198–204, 276–279, 363–368; ‘Les Chercheurs d’or’, 1896, 1er semestre, pp. 273–81, 598–607; ‘De mineur  à ministre’, 1896, 2ème semestre, pp. 781–788; ‘Messieurs les tondeurs’, 1897, 1er semestre, pp. 41–48, 217–226.)

Maistre, Paul, 1901, Notes pratiques à l’usage des consuls et des armateurs : naufrages et avaries ; accidents en mer ; abordages ; jet de marchandises ; emprunts à la grosse ; hypothèques maritimes, etc., Paris, A. Challamet.

Maistre, Paul, 1901, Dans la brousse australienne : scènes de chasse, Paris, Mongrédien et Cie.

Maistre, Paul, 1911, ‘Cuba, étude de géographie économique’, Paris, Librairie Ch. Delagrave.

Maistre, Paul, 1913, Le Commonwealth d’Australie ; étude de géographie physique et économique, Paris, Librairie Ch. Delagrave.

Maistre, Paul, 1997, ‘Scènes de la vie australienne : De mineur à ministre’, translated and introduced by C. B. Thornton-Smith, Explorations 23, pp.13–32.

Thornton-Smith, C. B., 1991, ‘The Australian Semi-Fictions of Paul Maistre’, in Bruce Merry (ed.), Essays in Honour of Keith Val Sinclair, Townsville, James Cook University of North Queensland, pp. 83–99.

Thornton-Smith, C. B., 1994, ‘Paul Maistre, Vice-Consul and Later Consul for France in Victoria, 1886–1898, 1901–1908’, Explorations 17, pp. 3–47.

Trémoulet, Jean (1891–1973)

Jean Trémoulet, Consul-General of France in Australia from 1937 to 1940, was born at Bagnac, a French village in the southern region of Occitanie. His son, also named Jean, believed that Trémoulet thought of himself as Occitanian rather than French, and that the culture and politics of this part of France could well have been formative and ongoing influences. Certainly, military service early in the Great War left its mark, possibly damaging Trémoulet’s psychological health as well as his body. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery in 1914 but sustained a permanently disabling injury to his right hand that also limited the use of his arm. Nevertheless, after graduating in Law at the University of Bordeaux in 1917, he embarked on a career within the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After a series of successful postings, Trémoulet was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1927, and he spent two years as office chief in the central administration of Foreign Affairs before becoming Consul-General for Barcelona in 1934. At this time the city was capital of the autonomous Catalan region within the Second Spanish Republic, and his knowledge of the Catalan language, as well as English, Spanish and Italian, served him well. Early in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) he became frenetically busy. An achievement warmly praised by members of the French colony was his evacuation from Barcelona of French residents, who included thousands of Catholic clergy and members of the bourgeoisie.

Trémoulet’s probity was soon to come under question, however. First, he was accused of charging refugees escape fees for transport that had already been funded by the French government. Then a Paris press campaign linked him with the right-wing nationalist Croix-de-Feu movement. And a little later an incident that is credible in this context came to the attention of Australian intelligence staff. It was claimed that during the Spanish Civil War France’s Socialist Prime Minister Léon Blum had instructed Trémoulet to arrange the escape from Barcelona of a specific group of ten Frenchmen; Trémoulet ignored the order, and the ten (later assumed to have been Socialists) were ‘liquidated’. In December 1936 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled Trémoulet to Paris, declined to allow him to return to Barcelona, and offered him a posting as either Consul-General in Sydney or commercial attaché in London or Milan. He chose the Sydney option.

In mid-1937, when Jean Trémoulet took up his Australian posting, only a few thousand French adults lived in Australia, most of them in urban New South Wales and Victoria. Australian newspapers, government archives, private correspondence and the French weekly journal Le Courrier Australien all bear witness to the new Consul-General’s failure to engage with the expatriate community he might well have been expected to serve. These citizens, many of them associated with the influential Franco-Belgian wool-buyers, had enjoyed warm relations with previous consuls. Trémoulet largely snubbed the local French, choosing at least some of his friends from among diplomatic representatives of Italy and Japan.

In February 1939 the consulate’s newly retired conseiller commercial, Georges Bader, wrote a long, impassioned letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, begging it to remove the Consul-General from his Australian posting. Trémoulet, he claimed, was anti-Semitic as well as anti-British, and capable of pathological spitefulness towards leading members of Sydney’s French colony, including Bader himself. Bader knew about Trémoulet’s tainted service in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War; he was also aware that the man had barely escaped dismissal at the time.

When France fell to the German onslaught in June 1940 and its new leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain, negotiated an armistice with Hitler, Trémoulet further alienated many in the French-Australian community. Complying with orders emanating from Vichy, Pétain’s chosen seat of government, Trémoulet initiated a campaign of intimidation against those who welcomed the call for resistance launched by Charles de Gaulle. His tactics were primarily personal. He circulated damaging rumours about French men and women who joined de Gaulle’s Free French (later called Fighting French) movement. He frightened and confused families by hinting at reprisals against relatives still living in France. He told the sister-in-law of André Brenac, the newly appointed leader of the Free French in Australia, that it would be ‘unwise’ for her to continue her work as secretary of a French-Australian charity. And he punished the editor of the Courrier Australien by withdrawing the consulate’s subsidy for the paper when it included material showing him in a dubious light.

The Consul-General also fell out with two members of his own staff, who resigned in protest against his behaviour. One of them, Roger Loubère, echoed the views of Georges Bader, describing Trémoulet as gifted and highly intelligent but ‘full of bitterness’. Various arms of Australia’s very active spy network found both these witnesses convincing, and their information, together with reams of secret documents, led the government to move against Trémoulet towards the end of 1940.

On 19 November the Australian Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, cabled Whitehall requesting withdrawal of Trémoulet’s exequatur on the grounds of his ‘anti-British attitude’ and activities ‘causing us much concern’. After delays during which he sought, unsuccessfully, to shore up his personal finances, then a couple of days of undignified detention by military police, Trémoulet sailed from Australia early in March 1941. He arrived in France on 15 June of the same year, and in December moved to Portugal. His Australian companion, Cynthia Powell, joined him there, but their relationship petered out and he returned to France a few months later without her.

Meanwhile Trémoulet had been writing lengthy but apparently unconvincing explanations to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding his expulsion from Australia. In a letter written while he was still in Sydney, for example, he complained to Foreign Affairs that it had not shown him the solidarity that was due to an agent who had been struck down by a foreign power on account of his loyalty to the French government. Despite his oath of allegiance to Pétain, he received neither a clear appraisal of his work nor the promise of a further posting. He continued to enjoy good contacts in Barcelona, however. In April 1942, for example, the pro-Franco city council awarded him a medal for his evacuation efforts in 1936. Later in 1942 Trémoulet accepted administrative work offered by the Vichy government, some of it in Vichy itself. He was living in Barcelona, however, when the French Provisional Government called him to Paris in 1945 for a review of his actions and charged him with ‘having shown in Australia sentiments that were clearly hostile to Fighting France’. Trémoulet was purged and forcibly retired in 1947. He spent the rest of his life in Barcelona, where his son Jean was born of his post-war marriage to a German citizen, Ingeborg Thienemann.

Trémoulet died in Barcelona at the age of 82, long after the years in wartime Australia that exposed his true loyalties and triggered the unwinding of his diplomatic career. French, Spanish and Australian archival documents all portray the same Jean Trémoulet: complex, clever and cultivated, but essentially self-serving and unworthy of his calling.

Photograph: Photograph: Jean Trémoulet, wearing his Croix de Guerre decoration (his right hand is visibly misshapen, a legacy of the Great War), Papiers Jean Trémoulet, Courtesy of Trémoulet’s son Jean and his grand-daughter Nadia Trémoulet. Arnau Gonzàlez i Vilalta Archives, Montornès del Vallès


Arnau Gonzàlez i Vilalta, Professor Agregat del Departament d’Història Moderna i Contemporània de la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, February 2020

Margaret Barrett, Sydney, February 2020

References :

AAGV (Arnau Gonzàlez i Vilalta Archives), Papiers Jean Trémoulet, Montornès del Vallès (Barcelona, Spain).

AMAE-P, Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères, La Courneuve, Paris.

Barrett, Margaret, 2011, ‘Jean Trémoulet, the Unloved Consul-General’, Explorations 51, pp. 15–32.

Barrett, Margaret, 2012, Tug of War: The Free French Movement in Australia, 1940–1944. MPhil thesis, University of Sydney.

Le Courrier Australien.

National Archives of Australia, especially documents held by the Department of External Affairs, series A981.


Spanish Civil War, World War II, Vichy, French diplomats in Australia, Free French movement

Cornell, James (1904–1991)

For over three decades, from just before World War II till the end of the 1960s, James (Jim) Cornell championed the cause of French at the University of Adelaide. His influence also extended more broadly to the cultural life of South Australia, through his promotion of the arts. Admired and respected for his deep knowledge of French language and culture, ‘JGC’ or ‘the Prof’, as he came to be known, had a profound impact on his students, many of whom went on to distinguished careers in academe or as school teachers.

James Gladstone Cornell was born in Melbourne on 23 October 1904. From 1918 to 1922, he attended Scotch College, where he showed a gift for the study of language and literature: strong in French, he also earned the title of dux in classics and won the Alexander Morrison Medal for essay writing. In his final year he won an Exhibition and Senior Government Scholarship, which enabled him to continue his education at the University of Melbourne. There, he studied French under the tutelage of Professor Alan Rowland (Alec) Chisholm, the renowned scholar and writer whose teaching spawned a generation of leading figures in Australian French Studies, such as Lloyd Austin, Gardner Davies and James Lawler. As part of Cornell’s studies at the University of Melbourne, he attended tutorials in English at Ormond College, where he was an ‘outpatient’ (i.e. he was not a resident of the college). He was taught there by a young tutor named Helen Martin, who was one year ahead of him. They would later marry (in 1931). After graduating in 1925 with first class honours in French, Cornell was awarded the prestigious Aitchison Travelling Scholarship, which allowed him to undertake further study in France. Helen Martin, who had likewise been awarded a scholarship to study overseas, travelled on the same ship as her future husband, though she travelled in first class while he was in second class, his scholarship being less generous. During his time at the Sorbonne, from 1927 to 1929, he impressed his professors with the quality of his French and his knowledge of French literature, and achieved the feat of being placed first, above all the French students, in the final examination for his Licence ès Lettres (on French literature).

In 1930, following his return to Australia, Jim Cornell was appointed Lecturer in French at the University of Melbourne, working with his mentor Chisholm. While developing his teaching skills, he found time to pursue his interest in the arts. He was very fond of music and was an excellent pianist. He also performed in the theatrical productions of the Alliance Française de Victoria, usually finding himself cast as the jeune premier—as Cléonte in Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1935), for example. He also acted in English translations of French plays for the Melbourne Boys’ High School.

In 1938, Jim Cornell moved to South Australia with his wife and the first two of what would be four daughters to take up the position of Lecturer-in-Charge of French at the University of Adelaide. Six years later, in 1944, he was appointed to the newly created Chair in French Language and Literature, making him the institution’s foundation Professor of French, a position he occupied until his retirement in 1969, when he was granted Emeritus status.

Immediately on arriving at the University of Adelaide, Jim Cornell set about expanding the French curriculum, guided by the dual aims of developing language proficiency and fostering an understanding and appreciation of French literature. In 1939, he introduced an honours degree in French and redesigned the existing courses in second year and third year. The reading course in French II was henceforth devoted to the literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the focus in French III on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Extra work in both cases was required of honours students, again on a specific period or theme (in 1939: ‘Le théâtre comique depuis 1660 jusqu’à la Révolution’). In keeping with the practice established by his predecessor, John Crampton, lectures on literature were delivered in French in second year and third year, and questions on literature in the final examination had to be answered in French. On an informal level, for many years he had lunch with students once a week in the University refectory so that they could practise speaking French in everyday situations.

For honours students, Cornell also introduced two dedicated courses: Old and Middle French I (taken in second year) and Old and Middle French II (third year). This work in philology and pre-modern literature corresponded very much to Cornell’s own interests and expertise. Having established this solid undergraduate curriculum, Cornell then introduced a Master of Arts in French, to be completed either through coursework or by thesis. The first coursework MA was undertaken in 1945, and the first MA by thesis in French was awarded in 1947.

Student and staff numbers in French increased as a result of Cornell’s expanded curriculum but also thanks to the growth of the University more generally following World War II. While on study leave in Paris in 1951, Cornell negotiated a deal with the French government through which officers of the French education system were made available as lecturers abroad for terms of three years, while retaining their rights and privileges in the French system. The first such appointment, Maurice Valuet, remained in the position until 1957—for six years, not three—and had a number of successors.

On a personal level, Jim Cornell was revered by staff and students alike for his kind and courteous manner and for his encyclopaedic knowledge of French. One former student who paid him a visit at his Kensington Gardens home after his retirement recalls him stopping mid-sentence to apologise for using a French word whose origin he had not verified. This was the kind of self-imposed discipline, she concluded, that had contributed to his ‘exquisite assimilation of the French language’. This deep respect did not prevent students from poking fun at his quirks, especially through the dramatic productions of the French Club, in which well-known plays were parodied. Former student and later Professor of French at La Trobe University, Elliott Forsyth, remembered a mediaeval mystery play in which the soul of JGC was ‘condemned to spend eternity writing essays on the non-dramatic poetry of Victor Hugo’. He also recalled a short piece entitled Trois scènes de la vie cornélienne, ‘centred on the theme of the master’s “flexibility” with regard to time, which culminated in the presentation of a huge hour-glass hastily put together by the Physics Department from two laboratory flasks and some odd pieces of wood’. In 1944, Cornell’s appointment to the Chair of French was marked irreverently by an induction ceremony devised by his colleague Hope Crampton, drawing inspiration from the Turkish ‘mamamouchi’ scenes in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. Cornell took this light-hearted mockery in good spirit.

An outstanding scholar, Cornell did not, however, produce any research publications. His only published works were an edited collection of short stories, Cinq maîtres du conte français (1936), which regularly featured as a set text for undergraduate students, and a report on the teaching of modern languages in secondary schools in 1939. As he indicated in a radio interview in 1973, he always considered himself first and foremost to be a teacher and felt that he had ‘no aptitude for research’. He nevertheless expressed regret that he ‘wasn’t able to widen the horizons of knowledge’. Tangible traces of his scholarship are still to be found, however. He had the particular habit of annotating books on French language and literature when they arrived in the Barr Smith Library, adding his corrections and comments. The Cornell Collection within the Barr Smith’s Rare Books and Special Collections contains books from his personal library, similarly annotated, and a number of personal and professional papers donated by the family. Other works from his personal library are held by the Rare Books and Special Collections section of the University of Newcastle’s Auchmuty Library.

Jim Cornell’s service to the University of Adelaide and the South Australian community was widely admired and appreciated. From 1939 to 1960 he was President of the Alliance Française of South Australia and was closely involved with the local French community, as indeed he had been previously in Melbourne. During the war years, he made weekly broadcasts in French on Radio Australia for the French-speaking communities of Asia and the Pacific, in which he discussed current issues and encouraged listeners to rally behind the leaders of Free France. His influential role was recognised by the French government in 1955, through his award as Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. A fervent promoter of the arts, he served as Chairman of the University Theatre Guild from 1952 to 1956. When the Musica Viva Society first presented concerts in Adelaide in 1948, Cornell became President of the local branch committee and continued in that role until 1983. His contribution to the cultural life of the University and the community is commemorated by the Cornell Chapter, the Creative and Performing Arts ‘branch’ of the University of Adelaide’s Alumni Association.

Jim Cornell’s commitment to education was likewise deep and enduring. He served for many years as examiner for the public examinations in French and was the foundation President of the Modern Language Teachers’ Association. He was Chairman of the Council of Girton School, where his daughters were educated, from 1945 to 1965, and a member of the University Council from 1949 to 1971. In retirement, he delivered classes on French literature for the Workers’ Educational Association and taught part-time for two years at both the University of Adelaide and Flinders University. His lifelong dedication to education was recognised by his election as Fellow of the Australian College of Educators. For his distinguished contribution to the teaching of French and the dissemination of French culture within South Australia, he was awarded the Palmes académiques by the French government in 1964, promoted from the rank of Chevalier to that of Officier in 1965, and then to the rank of Commandeur in 1984.

In a radio interview for the ABC’s ‘Now in retirement’ series in 1973, when asked by Lynne Arnold whether he had ever been tempted to take different turnings in his life, Jim Cornell responded: ‘I came to terms with my limitations and I don’t think there were any turnings in which I could have been successful!’ The range of his interests and the success with which he pursued them belie this modest assessment. Jim Cornell certainly remained active in retirement, his intellectual curiosity undiminished. A major operation in the first half of 1990 did not prevent him from setting out only eight weeks later with his daughter Philippa on another visit to Europe, though he was perhaps aware that this would be his last. Jim Cornell died on 13 January 1991 at the age of 86.

Image: James Gladstone Cornell in his study at the University of Adelaide in 1941

Photograph courtesy of Rare Books & Special Collections, Barr Smith Library, The University of Adelaide

Author: John West-Sooby, University of Adelaide, October 2019


——— Transcript of an Interview with James Gladstone Cornell, by Lynne Arnold, 12 February 1973, State Library of South Australia, J. D. Somerville Oral History Collection, OH 561/25 (recording available on CD).

Cornell, J. G., 1936, Cinq maîtres du conte français, Sydney, Shakepeare Press.

Dutton, Kenneth, 1997, ‘The Cornell Collection’, University of Newcastle Library Guides, Rare Books and Special Collections: Cornell Collection,, accessed 30 August 2019.

Edgeloe, Victor A., 1990, French and German in the University of Adelaide during the University’s first hundred years of teaching, 1876–1975: a brief account, Adelaide, University of Adelaide Press.

Fornasiero, Jean & John West-Sooby, 2012, ‘A Tale of Resilience: The History of Modern European Languages at the University of Adelaide’, Nick Harvey, Jean Fornasiero, Greg McCarthy, Clem Macintyre and Carl Crossin (eds), A History of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, University of Adelaide Press, pp. 133–80.

Forsyth, Elliott, 1992, ‘James Gladstone Cornell (1904–1991)’, Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. 29, no 1, 1992, pp. 3–7.

Kirns, Tania (née Collins), unpublished reminiscences of J. G. Cornell.

Nettelbeck, Colin, 1992, ‘Interview with J. G. Cornell, 17 October 1984’, Explorations 12, pp. 3–29.


James (Jim) Cornell, University of Adelaide, French, Musica Viva, Alliance Française of South Australia, Theatre Guild

Sexton, Dr Hannah Mary Helen (1862–1950)

A little known historical figure, Dr Helen Sexton, one of Melbourne’s pioneering medical women, carved for herself a small piece of French-Australian history through her work in the First World War. A highly skilled surgeon, as part of a team of five Australian women, she established and ran the Hôpital Australien in Paris from June to December 1915. Her war work is symbolic of the way in which the tumultuous period of the war gave rise to a new dimension in relations between France and Australia across many sectors of society—the military, bureaucracy, the general public—and on an individual basis.

Helen was born the youngest of five children to Irish migrants Maria Bromwell and Daniel Sexton, an architect and builder. After attending Carlton Ladies’ College, she went on to study a Bachelor of Arts subject at the University of Melbourne (English 2); however her true desire was to study medicine. Barred from the Medical School because of her gender, she joined with a classmate from her Bachelor of Arts course, Lilian Alexander, to lead the hard-fought and ultimately victorious campaign for women’s entry in 1887, and seven women began their medical studies that year. The third of this original group to graduate, Helen received her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1892. Despite limited employment opportunities for female surgeons, Helen became involved in the formation of the Victorian Medical Women’s Society, the Queen Victoria Hospital, and was also the first female surgeon at the Women’s Hospital. Dr Sexton rapidly won for herself a reputation as a skilled surgeon, even being labelled by Punch magazine as ‘the head of the women medical profession in Melbourne’.

At the outbreak of the First World War Helen developed her connection to France. From the beginning of Australia’s entry into the conflict in August 1914, Helen had been a generous supporter of the Allied war effort. However despite being retired from active medical practice, she went further, offering her medical services to the Australian government, specifically to equip and run a hospital as a woman’s unit. The offer was declined, as the Australian military authorities had decreed that no women would be accepted for active military service. Faced with this official rejection, Helen began seeking other channels through which she might serve overseas, and gained the support of elite Melburnians, through letters of recommendation to the British authorities, from notables such as the Chief Justice Sir John Madden, the Governor General’s wife, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, and the Governor of Victoria and his wife.

Eventually Dr Sexton served in France rather than Britain, and joined forces with Mrs William Smith, a nurse from Melbourne, who was also travelling to Europe with the same intention. With the unstinting aid of the Melbourne French community, led by Charlotte Crivelli, and with the logistical support of Crivelli’s sister Suzanne Caubet in Paris, Helen and Mrs Smith were able to get French Government consent to set up their own hospital in the French capital. Affectionately known as the Hôpital Austalien de Paris, it was to operate as a voluntary hospital linked to the French military hospital at Val-de-Grâce. After the signing of the six-month lease for the house at 46 Rue du Docteur Blanche in Auteuil on July 15, the first wounded men arrived just one week later on July 22, 1915.

A remarkable feature of this hospital was that it was almost entirely established and run by women. Dr Sexton managed the medical side of the hospital, with its official record listing her position as ‘Médecin-chef : Dr Sexton, de l’ouverture à la fermeture’. Mrs Smith, herself a trained nurse and also a founding member of the Alliance Française in Melbourne, undertook the management of the staff and the business side of the hospital, as well as acting as matron. Three other Australians assisted them in their tasks: Mrs Smith’s two daughters, Lorna and Alison, served as nurses and undertook domestic duties, and Helen’s close friend Mrs. Robert Blackwood, also worked as a nurse and orderly. Together, these five women were responsible for the upkeep and operation of the hospital, including its finances.

Nevertheless, the hospital was very much under the wing of the French military. An official French administrator, M. de Riensi, was appointed to the hospital, and three male surgeons from the larger Buffon Hospital—where Suzanne Caubet, was a volunteer senior administrator—were appointed to work alongside Helen. Of these three surgeons,  Letulle, Legry and Coudray, it was Coudray who collaborated most closely with Helen and performed some procedures on her patients. The hospital itself was accorded military status and sanctioned by the French War Office. This official status came with personal recognition for Helen, as she received the military rank of Médecin-Majeur de 1er classe (a major within the medical corps), a rank necessary to give her the authority to run the hospital. As part of her military duties, Helen, although a foreigner, was given the honour of presenting a French Corporal, François Philippe, with the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre on the steps of the hospital.

Helen’s medical casebook, recorded during the hospital’s months of operation from July to December 1915, tells the story of the fifty-six patients she treated, the medical work she undertook, and the personal connections she formed with the men, including notes on their harrowing experiences of war. One soldier held for Helen a much closer connection to home; from November to December 1915, she treated Réné Crivelli, a decorated infantryman and son of Melbourne’s Dr. Crivelli and Charlotte Crivelli.

Helen’s unusual position as an Australian female doctor in France provided a subject around which both the French and Australian local communities could share an interest. The Hopîtal Australien figured in the French press, with articles mentioning its opening and inauguration, as well as the gratitude of a nation in strife for the benevolent work of the Australian women who came of their own volition to heal the French wounded. Similarly, even though the Australian military authorities had prevented Dr Sexton from serving with them, there was nevertheless an upwelling of Australian patriotic support for her and the four other Australian women evident in the Australian press. In formal recognition of the gratitude of the French nation for the military work Helen had undertaken, she was awarded the gold level of the Médaille de Reconnaissance française in 1919.

At the end of its six-month tenure, the Hôpital Australien closed its doors to patients in December 1915 and, after a brief appointment at the Hôpital Buffon where she had to take a leave of absence, Dr Sexton returned to Australian soil in October 1916. Throughout the remainder of the war she continued to support the Allied war effort through various charitable activities, including supporting Charlotte Crivelli’s fundraising for the French Red Cross. She left Australia once again in 1922 in the company of Mrs Blackwood, this time permanently, living first in Florence and then London. After a prolonged struggle with arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, Helen died in London on 12 October 1950.

Image: Women medical students, University of Melbourne, 1887. Helen Sexton is in the back row, far left. Available online at the University of Melbourne Archives (1994.0044.00001).

Author: Hannah Steel, University of Melbourne, April 2019


Books and articles

Journal des Débats Politiques et Littéraires, 1915, ‘Échos’, 6 August 1915, p. 2.

Journal Officiel de la République Française, 1919, ‘Ministre des Affaires Étrangères’, 2 April 1919, pp. 3395–96.

Kelly, Farley, 1985, Degrees of Liberation: A Short History of Women in the University of Melbourne, The Women Graduates’ Centenary Committee of the University of Melbourne, Parkville.

Nettelbeck, Colin, 2015, ‘Charlotte Crivelli (1868–1956), Patriot and Fund-Raiser’, E Berti and I Barko (eds), French Lives in Australia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, pp. 338–52.

Neuhaus, Susan, ‘Surgery: No Profession for a Lady’, ANZ Journal of Surgery, vol. 86, no. 1–2, pp. 34-–8.

Olier, François, & Quénec’Hdu, Jean-Luc, 2010, Hôpitaux Militaires dans la Guerre de 1914–1918, vol. 2, Ysec Éditions, Louviers.

Punch, 1909, ‘People We Know’, 18 March 1909, p. 360.

Punch, 1915, ‘The Ladies Letter’, 21 October 1015, p. 32.

Russell, Emma, 1997, Bricks or Spirit? The Queen Victoria Hospital Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne.

Russell, Penny, 1988, ‘Sexton, Hannah Mary Helen (1862–1950)’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11,, accessed 12 April 2019.

Sheard, Heather, & Lee, Ruth, 2019, Women to the front: The extraordinary Australian women doctors of the Great War, Ebury Press, North Sydney.

The Argus, 1899, ‘Women’s Hospital’, 9 September 1899, p. 13.

The Argus, 1914, ‘Funds for the War’, 2 September 1914, p. 12.

The Argus, 1915a, ‘”The Argus” Special Appeal’, 2 March 1915, p. 6.

The Australasian, 1918, ‘Social Notes’, 9 March 1918, p. 37.

The Land, 1928, ‘Work of Dr. Mary Booth’, 10 August 1928, p. 20.

The Mercury, 1915a, ‘Australian Hospital in France: Major Helene [sic] Sexton’, 9 August 1915, p. 6.

The Mercury, 1915b, ‘Hopital Australien de Paris’, 16 October 1915, p. 10.

The Register, 1916, ‘Concerning People’, 13 October 1916, p. 4.

Archival sources

Caubet, Suzanne, 1915, correspondence to Charlotte Crivelli, Crivelli Family Private Collection.

Faculty of Medicine Minutes, June 1876–October 1890, in Faculty of Medicine Minute Books 2 June 1876–18 November 1971, 16 vol., University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne Archives.

Ferguson, Helen Munro, 1915, letter to Dr Helen Sexton, 3 May, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne.

Madden, Sir John, 1915, letter to Sir George, 22 April, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne.

Stanley, G. L., 1915, letter to Arthur Stanley MP, 3 May, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne.

Stanley, Margaret, 1915, letter to Dr Helen Sexton, 3 May, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne.


World War 1, Hôpital Australien de Paris, Australian Hospital, University of Melbourne, female surgeon, 1915