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Despeissis, Jean Marie Adrian (1860–1927)

by P. E. Maskell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Jean Marie Adrian Despeissis (1860-1927), agricultural expert, was born on 28 December 1860 on the estate of his French sugar-planter family at Mapou, Mauritius, son of Marie Augustin Despeissis and his wife Jeanne Marie Emilie, née Daunty. He studied medicine at the Royal College at Port-Louis, but left without qualifying when sent to India by the government to investigate methods by which beet-sugar importers from Germany were competing for the local market against Mauritian cane sugar.

On his return in 1886 Despeissis became the island's executive commissioner at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London. He then studied for three years at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. He graduated with honours and became a member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (1889). Despeissis next trained at the Institut National Agronomique and the Institut Pasteur in Paris; at the latter he carried out research on experimental fermentation. He furthered his practical experience in vine-growing and wine-making at W. & A. Gilbey's Medoc vineyards and at Montpellier.

Adrian's father was now an adviser on refining processes to the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. in Sydney. In 1890 Adrian Despeissis became consulting viticulturist and inspector of agriculture for the government of New South Wales. In 1894 he went to Western Australia for nine months to help establish the Bureau of Agriculture, which he joined that year as a viticultural and horticultural expert and inspector. He was an early advocate of cotton-growing in the north and the first to warn of soil erosion on the Kimberley river-frontages (1905-08). He travelled extensively within the State and in 1906 was sent to Algeria, Spain and Portugal to study viticulture. On returning next year he became under-secretary and acting director of agriculture and in 1910 investigated tropical agriculture in Queensland, Malaya, Singapore and Java. After being commissioner of tropical agriculture for the North-West of Western Australia in 1910-12, he retired.

Despeissis established the Santa Rosa Wine & Distilleries Ltd at Guildford with J. L. Nanson and L. Lindley-Cowen, and managed it. From 1923 he served a term as director of agriculture in Fiji, then retired again to Guildford. (Sir) John Northmore bought his share in Santa Rosa and the name was changed to Valencia Vineyards Ltd. In 1927 Despeissis briefly advised the State government on the establishment of introduced pastures and fodder plants around Wyndham. While in the area preparing for this work he caught pneumonia and died in the town on 2 May. On 20 April 1901 at Claremont, he had married Laetitia Ellen Wyndham, granddaughter of George Wyndham; she and their only child, a son, survived him. He was buried in the local cemetery.

An intrepid traveller, regarded as an official of 'unfailing integrity and courtesy', Despeissis wrote extensively in scientific journals. His major work was the Handbook of Horticulture & Viticulture of Western Australia (1895). He was sometime chairman of the Soldier Settlement Scheme and a member of the Railway Advisory Board and the Land Purchase Board.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • Western Mail (Perth), 22 Apr 1911, 9 Mar 1912
  • West Australian, 7 May 1927
  • private information.

Citation details

P. E. Maskell, 'Despeissis, Jean Marie Adrian (1860–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/despeissis-jean-marie-adrian-5964/text10177, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 August 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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