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Edmond Marie Marin la Meslée (1852–1893)

by Russel Ward

This article was published:

Edmond Marie Marin la Meslée (1852-1893), public servant, geographer and writer, was born in France, son of Colonel Edmond la Meslée. Educated for the navy, he served on land at the battle of Sedan in September 1870. After the débâcle he left the forces and taught French in the Jesuit College at Mauritius. On 16 January 1876 he sailed in the Alphington for Melbourne, where he became private secretary to the French consul-general for Australia, the Comte de Castelnau, F. Laporte. Marin la Meslée accompanied de Castelnau and his party by train and road to Sydney, by sea to Brisbane and on a short tour of the Darling Downs. In 1878 he became a temporary draftsman in the Department of Lands and worked in the Surveyor-General's Office. In 1879 he became a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales. On 17 January 1880 at St Michael's Catholic Church he married Clara Louisa Cooper. In that year with Russell Barton he made an extensive tour of north-western New South Wales including visits to Dubbo, Cobar and Bourke.

In 1882 Marin la Meslée visited France where he read a paper to the Société de Géographie, Paris, and arranged for the publication by E. Plon & Cie of his L'Australie Nouvelle (1883). It describes in lively style his travels in the outback and his impressions of Australian life and society. It seems to have been well received in France but no English translation was published until 1972. Back in Sydney he was primarily responsible for founding the Geographical Society of Australasia. As honorary secretary at its inaugural meeting in Sydney on 22 June 1883 he read to an audience of some 750 people his paper on Past Explorations of New Guinea and a Scheme for the Scientific Exploration of the Great Island (Sydney, 1883). In 1884 he organized the first Australian Geographical Conference in Melbourne and with A. C. Macdonald edited the society's Proceedings. In August 1886 he became a compiler in the office of the chief government statistician, T. A. Coghlan, and in 1890 was appointed to the International Exchange Board. Active in cultural circles he was a propagandist for Australia in France and became more interested than many native or British-born colonists in the growth of Australian nationality. He contributed regularly to the Nouvelle Revue, Le Temps and Le Courrier Australien and on 15 May 1892 published a long article on Henry Parkes and the Federation movement in the Revue des Deux Mondes. He was friendly with Parkes and did much research for him in European books and journals.

On 17 December 1893 Marin la Meslée and his wife were accidentally drowned when the Ripple capsized in Sydney Harbour near South Head. On the 19th after an inquest they were buried in the Roman Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. Coghlan was among the mourners at the funeral. They were survived by three sons, Athol, Raymond and Rennie. Urbane, intelligent and civilized, Marin la Meslée was endowed with tact, zest for life and common sense enough to make him acceptable to all sorts of people in his adopted country.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Marin la Meslée, L'Australie Nouvelle, R. Ward translator and editor (Lond, 1972)
  • Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Victoria), Transactions, 11 (1894)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Dec 1892
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Russel Ward, 'Marin la Meslée, Edmond Marie (1852–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 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]




17 December, 1893 (aged ~ 41)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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