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William Henry Le Souef (1856–1923)

by A. Dunbavin Butcher

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William Henry Dudley Le Souef (1856-1923), by Sears' Studios, c1916

William Henry Dudley Le Souef (1856-1923), by Sears' Studios, c1916

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H31890

LE SOUEF BROTHERS: William Henry Dudley (1856-1923), Ernest Albert (1869-1937) and Albert Sherbourne (1877-1951), zoo directors and scientists, were the eldest, second and fourth sons of the ten children of Albert Alexander Cochrane Le Souef and his wife Caroline, née Cotton. Dudley was born on 28 September 1856 at Brighton near Melbourne, and registered as Dudley Emanuel Wales. He was educated at Crediton Grammar School, Devonshire, England. In 1874, aged 18, he was appointed assistant-secretary to the Zoological and Acclimatization Society of Victoria which had established the Melbourne Zoological Gardens. He made collecting trips overseas in 1880-88 visiting India, the United States of America, Singapore, Sumatra, England, Europe, Japan and New Guinea.

When his father, the director of the Melbourne zoo, went to Europe in 1890, Dudley took charge. He was appointed assistant-director, and in May 1902 director when his father died. On a tour of zoos that year Dudley was impressed by Karl Hagenbeck's innovative arrangements for the Berlin Zoo where high walls and moats, hidden from view by simulated rocks and logs, constrained the animals without bars. Dudley began to replace the buildings developed by his father with rock-like structures of concrete over a sheet-iron or wire base. His designs were based on photographs of large rocks in the Mount Buffalo area, taken on trips made with his friend Edward Dunn, director of the Victorian Geological Survey.

Dudley was a nature photographer and presented lantern lectures in many parts of the world, as well as Australia; he was a fluent and inexhaustible speaker with a fund of anecdotes. He campaigned for the introduction of zebu-cross cattle into northern Australia. Birds were his main hobby and he was known internationally as an ornithologist. A prolific writer, he was the author of Wildlife in Australia (Christchurch, 1907), and with Arthur Lucas co-author of Animals of Australia (Melbourne, 1909) and Birds of Australia (Melbourne, 1911), as well as numerous papers in scientific journals and articles on natural history in newspapers and magazines. He was a foundation member, twice president, and honorary secretary of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union, and in Victoria a member of the Field Naturalists' Club, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Society, and the National Parks Association. He was reputed to have ridden the first pneumatic-tyred bicycle in Melbourne. In 1919 when returning with the weekly wages, Dudley Le Souef was attacked viciously by a former employee. His health deteriorated and he suffered a stroke in 1922. He died, in office, on 6 September 1923 at Royal Park and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. On 27 September 1888 in London he had married Edith Evelyn Wadeson who survived him with six children.

Ernest Le Soeuf was born on 13 September 1869 at Elwood, Melbourne, and was educated at Carlton College, the Melbourne Veterinary College and the University of Melbourne (B.V.Sc., 1911). In 1888 he was accountant to the Zoological and Acclimatization Society of Victoria. He was sent to England in 1891 for stock for the zoo and kept costs so low that he was presented with a gold watch in appreciation. In 1895 he qualified as a veterinary surgeon, working at night while studying, and was appointed honorary veterinary surgeon to the society. In 1897, on the recommendation of his father who had been invited to select a site, he was appointed director of the Perth Zoological Gardens. His father advised his council that 'I could not spare Ernie were it not that my next son Sherbourne, is not in his 21st year and could fill Ernie's position at a lower salary'. Financial support in Perth was to be so inadequate that Ernest had to be his own architect, landscape gardener and road constructor. Thoroughly trained in hatching and distributing fish for acclimatization purposes, Ernest, in addition to his responsibilities at the zoo, had to travel long distances by train, horse or bicycle to hatcheries. He was a familiar sight riding his bicycle furiously downhill to catch the Perth ferry. In 1898 he bought animals in the eastern colonies for the opening of the zoo on 17 October 1898.

An expert marksman, Ernest was a foundation member of the Cannington Mounted Rifles in 1899. In 1901 he was commissioned lieutenant in the Australian Army Veterinary Corps and in 1912 was appointed principal veterinary officer (5th Military District) with the rank of major. In 1915 he was president of the military horse buying board and in March 1916 joined the Australian Imperial Force for duty with a remount unit. Attached to the Second Light Horse Brigade headquarters in Egypt, he was wounded in August and repatriated in 1917. He left the Australian Military Forces in 1930 with the rank of colonel.

In 1919-32 Ernest Le Souef lectured part time in agriculture at the University of Western Australia and in 1923 contributed to the containment of an outbreak of rinderpest. In 1926 he was appointed lecturer (part-time) in charge of the department of veterinary science and founded a museum in the zoo used by students for practical anatomy and physiology. He also ran free veterinary classes for farmers at the zoo. In 1932 the zoo, still plagued by financial problems, was transferred on Le Souef's recommendation to the State Gardens Board. He then joined the Agricultural Bank as veterinary adviser for the Margaret River district. He retired to Perth in 1935. Kindly, friendly and courteous, he was highly regarded by his staff. He died on 27 November 1937 on a visit to Margaret River and was buried there with Anglican rites. On 20 April 1899 he had married Ellen Grace, daughter of Rev. Friedrich Hagenauer, at Ramahyuck, Victoria. She survived him with two sons and two daughters.

Albert Sherbourne Le Souef was born on 30 January 1877 at Royal Park, Melbourne. He was educated at Carlton College and the Melbourne Veterinary College and succeeded Ernest in 1897 as secretary of the Zoological and Acclimatization Society. On his father's death he was appointed assistant director of the Melbourne zoo and in April 1903 secretary of the Zoological Society in Sydney. The cramped gardens at Moore Park, dirty and noisy, were clearly inadequate and in 1907 Sherbourne and Dr Robert Todd were sent to Europe where, as Dudley had been, they were impressed by Hagenbeck's system. Determined to develop Sydney zoo on completely modern lines, Sherbourne opposed the government's purchase of Wentworth Park and battled tenaciously for a more suitable site. The Mosman council, disliking the society's proposal to move the zoo to the Mosman side of the harbour, was finally persuaded when it was agreed to face the enclosure south and have high concrete walls on the suburban side 'to effectively muffle the lions' roar'. Sherbourne inspected the Melbourne zoo and Dudley suggested the name Taronga, meaning 'sea view'. As first director, Sherbourne supervised the planning and development of the grounds of the Taronga Park Zoo, where all walls and fences were camouflaged. Building was not sufficiently advanced to transfer the animals from Moore Park until 1916.

Sherbourne, as his brothers did, lectured frequently. He also travelled widely, collecting animals and establishing contacts. He was a prolific contributor to journals and co-author with Henry Burrell of The Wild Animals of Australasia (London, 1926). He was active in supporting the establishment of fauna and flora reserves and in 1934 predicted that future zoos would be like Whipsnade in England—one of the earliest 'broad acre' zoos. He retired in 1940. He was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales, a councillor of the (Royal) Zoological Society of New South Wales for almost fifty years and a corresponding member of the Zoological Society, London. He died on 31 March 1951 at Mosman and was cremated. On 22 April 1908 in Sydney he had married Mary Emily Louise Greaves, who survived him.

The youngest brother Lance was accountant and librarian at the Perth Zoo for a number of years and took charge in Melbourne during Dudley's overseas travels.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Seekamp, ‘Past history and present trends’, Melbourne Zoo Newsletter, 1967
  • Emu (Melbourne), 23 Jan 1924
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 36 (1965), no 1, p 8, 37 (1966), no 4, p 221
  • Royal Society of Western Australia, Journal, 6 (1965), p 75
  • papers and newsclippings (Taronga Zoo, Sydney).

Citation details

A. Dunbavin Butcher, 'Le Souef, William Henry (1856–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Henry Dudley Le Souef (1856-1923), by Sears' Studios, c1916

William Henry Dudley Le Souef (1856-1923), by Sears' Studios, c1916

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H31890

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Le Souef, Dudley Emanuel Wales

28 September, 1856
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


6 September, 1923 (aged 66)
Royal Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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