Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Laporte, François Louis Nompar de Caumont (1810–1880)

by G. P. Whitley

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

François Louis Nompar de Caumont Laporte (1810-1880), naturalist and diplomat, was born on 25 December 1810 in London. Travel books by Captain Cook and Le Vaillant were his childhood reading. He studied natural science in Paris under Baron Cuvier, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and other noted zoologists. In 1837-41 he travelled in the United States, Texas and Canada; in 1843-47 he went from Rio de Janeiro to Lima in South America, collecting specimens from the River Amazon. After the 1848 revolution he became French consul at Bahia, Brazil. In 1856-58 he travelled in South Africa and then in Asia. In Siam he was French consul and the first European to study the country's fishes. He arrived at Melbourne in 1862 and became consul-general for France in 1864. He visited Sydney and Brisbane in 1876, was an active member of the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society of Victoria and of the Entomological Society of New South Wales. He died at his home, Apsley Place, East Melbourne, on 4 February 1880.

According to E. Marin la Meslée, for a time his private secretary, the count lived with a Brazilian mistress and her young son. Tall and slightly stooped, Laporte was 'a man of simple tastes who perhaps neglected his appearance' and so was thought eccentric. To many he seemed mean and aloof but he was generous and warm-hearted to those who knew him well and a gifted raconteur.

Laporte's industry was amazing. His earlier works were lavishly produced but his later papers are marred by some inaccuracies, perhaps because written in English. As Laporte or Delaporte and later Castelnau he wrote about ninety books and papers, some jointly with colleagues, on a variety of scientific subjects: geography, palaeontology and anthropology, mammals, birds, reptiles and his favourite fishes and insects. His monographs on insects, written in his youth, were collected into a sumptuous Histoire Naturelle, published between 1835 and 1841. He described his 1843-47 journey as Expédition dans les parties centrales de l'Amérique du Sud (Paris, 1850-59). African and Asian studies followed and in the 1860s his 'Notes on Australian Coleoptera' were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 8 (1867-68). Then he turned to ichthyology and in the 1870s published several papers on Australian fishes in Melbourne, Paris and Sydney. The genus Laportea (tropical stinging tree) was named after him as were many insects and fishes. In 1879 a naturalist was sent by station hands a creature, part platypus, part lung fish and part eel. The naturalist described it to Castelnau, who reported it to the Linnean Society in Sydney as an archaic fish which he named Ompax spatuloides. The hoax was not discovered for years.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Marin La Meslée, L'Australie Nouvelle (Paris, 1883)
  • A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology 1775-1930 (Syd, 1932)
  • G. P. Whitley, ‘Francois Laporte, Count Castelnau’, Australian Zoologist, 13 (1965)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1880.

Citation details

G. P. Whitley, 'Laporte, François Louis Nompar de Caumont (1810–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/laporte-francois-louis-nompar-de-caumont-3993/text6315, published in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Castelnau, Comte de
  • Laporte, Francois
  • Delaporte, François
  • Castelnau, François
Birth

25 December 1810
London, England

Death

4 February 1880
East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation