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Ladislaus Sylvester Kossak (1828–1918)

by L. K. Paszkowski

This article was published:

Ladislaus Sylvester Kossak (1828-1918), police inspector, was born at Wisnicz, South Poland, the youngest son of Michal Kossak, judge, and his wife Michalina, née Sobolewska. Educated at the Dominicans' College at Lvov, he entered the university. In 1848 when the revolution against Austria broke out in Hungary Kossak left the university and joined a regiment of lancers in the Polish Legion supporting the uprising. He was soon promoted sub-lieutenant and became an adjutant. After capitulation of the Hungarian army in 1849 Kossak and the remnants of the Polish Legion crossed the border and were interned in Turkey.

In 1851 Kossak landed at Southampton and in May 1852, with his friend Captain Leopold Kabat, sailed for Melbourne in the steamer Chusan. They prospected for gold without success and in October joined the Victoria Police Force as cadets. In August 1853 they were both naturalized, the first Poles to become British subjects in Victoria. On 17 September Kossak was promoted lieutenant and served in Castlemaine, Bendigo and Wedderburn as officer in charge of gold escorts. In 1854 he organized the police district of Avoca and in November was transferred to Ballarat. Listed as Cossack, he was one of the four sub-inspectors in charge of the seventy mounted police at the Eureka stockade. While a party of mounted police was held in reserve Kossak led a flanking movement, although many years later he was publicly named as one of the few officials in sympathy with the miners.

Kossak took over the district of Blackwood in 1855. Later he was transferred to Castlemaine where he became friendly with Robert O'Hara Burke who in 1860 invited him in vain to join the transcontinental expedition. In July Kossak was promoted inspector, but was later reduced and when his next promotion was due he was overlooked. His case came before the royal commission on the police force in 1862-63; he was then described as 'a most active and intelligent officer'. In April 1863 Kossak applied for twelve months leave, planning to join the Polish uprising against Russia. He sailed in August for London in the Yorkshire and appears to have fought against the Russians and received a commission of captain from the Polish National Government. After the insurrection collapsed he went to England where on 2 September 1865 he married Eliza Scott, daughter of a captain in the Royal Marines; they had three daughters. Later he returned to Poland and for some time acted as insurance agent in Cracow. In 1872 he left Poland and by way of London and Liverpool reached Melbourne in October in the Theophane.

In September 1876 Kossak bought the Point Henry Tea Gardens near Geelong and spared no expense to make an attractive recreation centre. Despite his enthusiasm he was not successful and in 1878 he left Geelong, ruined and struggling to find employment. He could not rejoin the police since he had acted 'contrary to law as a British subject in participating in a rebellion, or taking arms against a friendly Power'. About 1880 he married a Pole, Mary Stelaski; they had three daughters and a son, but she died about 1893. Kossak went to the Western Australian goldfields. In 1904 he took part in the fiftieth anniversary of the Eureka stockade and the associated celebrations in Perth. With unusual vitality he stayed on the goldfields until 1914 but he made no fortune and rejoined his daughters in Melbourne. On 10 July 1918 he died aged 90 and was buried in the Springvale cemetery.

One brother, Juliusz, was a noted Polish painter, and another, Leon, was sent to Siberia for eight years for serving his country in 1863-64 against Russia.

Select Bibliography

  • H. B. Stoney, Victoria (Lond, 1856)
  • T. McCombie, The History of the Colony of Victoria (Melb, 1858)
  • W. B. Withers, The History of Ballarat, 1st ed (Ballarat, 1870)
  • A. L. Haydon, The Trooper Police of Australia (Lond, 1911)
  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • L. Paszkowski, Polacy w Australii i Oceanii 1790-1940 (Lond, 1962)
  • E. F. Kunz, Blood and Gold
  • Hungarians in Australia (Melb, 1969)
  • Parliamentary Papers (House of Commons, Great Britain), 1851 (664)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1862-63, 2 (D36), 1881, 3 (31, appendix)
  • West Australian, 5 Dec 1904
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12 July 1918
  • S. D. S. Huyghue, The Ballarat Riots 1854 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Police Department letters, 1852-63 (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

L. K. Paszkowski, 'Kossak, Ladislaus Sylvester (1828–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Wisnicz, Poland


10 July, 1918 (aged ~ 90)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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