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Laseron, Charles Francis (Carl) (1887–1959)

by T. G. Vallance

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Charles Francis (Carl) Laseron (1887-1959), naturalist and connoisseur, was born on 6 December 1887 at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, United States of America, third and youngest child of English parents the Rev. David Laseron, Episcopalian clergyman, and his wife Frances, née Bradley. The Laserons were of eastern German origin and Moravian in religion. Late in 1888 the family returned to London but again migrated, reaching Sydney in January 1891. In June 1892 David Laseron was shot while travelling in a train near Redfern. His injuries led to severe nervous disorders and bouts of acute depression. In 1896 he was given charge of a parish at Lithgow, where Charles (or Carl as he was then known) received early schooling before his mother brought him to Sydney to attend St Andrew's Cathedral Choir School as scholar and chorister.

Self-reliance was forced on Charles by the difficult circumstances of his boyhood. He attended evening classes at Sydney Technical College where he came under the influence of Carl Süssmilch and gained the diploma in geology; he later served the college as a part-time lecturer. His first scientific paper, on the geology of the Shoalhaven district, appeared in July 1906, the month he joined the staff of the Technological Museum in Sydney as a collector; he also worked on eucalypts with R. T. Baker. Further study of geology and palaeontology led to more papers, some published by the Royal Society of New South Wales which he joined in 1911.

That year Laseron joined the Australasian Antarctic Expedition under (Sir) Douglas Mawson, officially as taxidermist and biological collector but in fact as general scientific assistant. He spent from January 1912 to February 1913 in Adelie Land, taking part in two major sledging journeys and making discoveries in geology as well as biology. His account of his Antarctic experiences, for which he received the Polar Medal, was eventually published in 1947 as South with Mawson.

On his return to the museum, Laseron was put in charge of its geological collections, but in September 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Wounded on the second day of the Gallipoli landings while serving as a sergeant with the 13th Battalion, he returned to Sydney and was discharged in 1916. That year extracts from his war diaries appeared in a slim volume, From Australia to the Dardanelles. Part of the text had already been printed by a Sydney newspaper, the first of his many contributions to journalism. At Albury on 22 March 1919 he married with Presbyterian forms Mary Theodora Mason, a bank clerk.

After the war Laseron entered a new field at the museum, that of applied art of which he became officer-in-charge on 1 January 1926. His published guides to the collections of old pottery, porcelain and other artefacts drew attention to what he felt were sadly neglected subjects. Publicly and at the museum, he argued for an applied art collection, appropriately funded and suitably housed. Much later developments at the old Ultimo power house and elsewhere in Sydney have realized part of Laseron's vision, but with little acknowledgement to a man out of season. Beyond setting up the New South Wales Applied Art Trust to promote the cause, he could make no headway and, frustrated by attitudes within the museum, resigned in 1929. He set up in business as an antique-dealer and auctioneer of books, coins and stamps; he made a living despite the Depression and came to be a noted authority on philately.

During World War II Laseron returned to the A.I.F. as a map-reading instructor until severe bronchitis and consequent heart trouble led to his discharge as unfit in 1944. For some years he worked as a clerk with the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd in Sydney. Even before his retirement, however, Laseron devoted much time to writing and will be most widely remembered as a popular and effective exponent of science. The Face of Australia (1953) and Ancient Australia (1954) have fostered lay understanding of geomorphology and geology. A more limited group esteems Laseron for his notable contributions to Australian malacology published from 1948 onwards, many of them by the Australian Museum, Sydney, which now houses his type collections.

Survived by his wife, a son and a daughter, Laseron died on 27 June 1959 in Concord Repatriation General Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. He had sought no honours, and few came his way, although colleagues have given his name to various new genera and species of molluscs. He was an honorary correspondent of the Australian Museum and in 1952 the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, of which he had been a councillor, conferred on him its fellowship. As one obituarist wrote: 'Never a rich man, he nevertheless enjoyed a rich life'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Laseron, An Autobiography (Syd, 1904)
  • D. Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard (Lond, 1915)
  • N. Hall, Botanists of the Eucalypts (Melb, 1978)
  • Australian Journal of Science, 22, 1959
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 1958-59, and for publications
  • Stamp News, 22 (1975), no 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Apr 1955, 1 July 1959
  • uncat MSS (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

T. G. Vallance, 'Laseron, Charles Francis (Carl) (1887–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/laseron-charles-francis-carl-7038/text12245, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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