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Meston, Archibald Lawrence (1890–1951)

by N. J. B. Plomley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Archibald Lawrence Meston (1890-1951), educationist, historian and anthropologist, was born on 5 June 1890 at Launceston, Tasmania, elder son of Andrew Meston, carpenter, and his wife Louisa, née Lawrence. He was a remote cousin of Archibald Meston. Educated at Glen Dhu Primary School, Launceston, 'Arch' Meston trained as a teacher under J. A. Johnson at the Teachers' College, Hobart, in 1906-08; he also undertook part-time and extra-mural studies in arts and law at the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1914; M.A. with first-class honours in English, 1922).

After holding positions in primary schools at Battery Point and at Queenstown and Gormanston on the west coast, Meston was promoted in 1914 to secondary teaching. He became headmaster of Devonport High School in 1929 and of Launceston High in 1932. In 1938, after he had represented the Commonwealth at the Seventh International Conference on Public Education in Geneva, he was appointed government education officer in Hobart; at his death he was education officer for high schools. For many years Meston was an examiner in matriculation English as well as a member of the Tasmanian Schools Board (from 1944) and of the university's faculty of arts.

Meston interpreted the purpose of education as fitting people to live as reasonable beings with due regard for others, while yet adopting the way of life best suited to their temper. A leader of the liberal view in the Education Department, he fought for and to some extent implemented far-reaching reforms in teaching: he replaced the examination system in his schools by accrediting and assessment methods, urged university status for all teachers and supported the introduction of school libraries and innovative teaching aids.

In 1934 Meston published A Junior History of Australia, commissioned by Oxford University Press. He also published articles on Tasmanian history and anthropology in the Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania (of which he was a member from 1921, several times vice-president, and chairman of the northern branch in 1936-37) and in the Records of the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston. His history of the Van Diemen's Land Co. was published posthumously in the Records in 1958. He wrote a number of anthropological papers. An experienced, intrepid bushman, Meston explored the areas about which he wrote, attempting to better the understanding of his subject and to reconstruct the customs of the Aboriginal people; he also made an extensive collection of Aboriginal stone implements. He was a trustee of the Launceston Library Board and of the Tasmanian Museum, a founding member of the editorial board of Historical Studies—Australia and New Zealand, and in 1949 vice-president of the anthropological section at the Hobart meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.

Meston's many friends delighted in him. He was an outgoing, unconventional person, giving generously to those who wanted advice and helping the young especially to make reasonable research choices. He loved English literature and readily shared his fine library of literary texts and historical and anthropological works. He was at his best on the walking trips which gave him so much pleasure, and those privileged to accompany him experienced not only the joys of bushwalking but those of good conversation. Such explorations led to probably his most important anthropological work, the discovery and description of the rock carvings at Mount Cameron West in 1933. Another major addition to the study of Tasmanian prehistory was his initiation of large-scale excavation in the shell midden at the South Cave, Rocky Cape. One practical outcome of Meston's love for the Tasmanian bush was the proclamation of the Cradle Mountain Reserve for which he had been the driving force. Fittingly, he was the first chairman of the board set up to administer the reserve.

About 1949, an old head injury brought about Meston's declining health. He died of cerebro-vascular disease at his Glenorchy home on 21 December 1951. He was survived by his wife Winifred, née Rockwell, whom he had married in Sydney on 5 January 1916, and by three daughters; he was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. Meston's collection of implements and other Aboriginal relics is now housed in the Museum of Victoria; his library is the property of the City of Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Education, June 1952, p 213
  • Royal Society of Tasmania, Proceedings, 86, 1952, p 159
  • Mercury (Hobart), 22 Dec 1951
  • R. Jones, Rocky Cape and the Problem of the Tasmanians (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1971).

Citation details

N. J. B. Plomley, 'Meston, Archibald Lawrence (1890–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meston-archibald-lawrence-7563/text13199, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 27 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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