Remembering a Famous Polar Explorer and Philatelist

The following is extracted from a 2012 article by Researcher, librarian and information manager Kylie Quinn of the Australian Antarctic Division. This originally appeared in the Australian Antarctic Magazine - Issue 22: Mawson Centenary Special, 2012.

Charles Francis Laseron

Percy Correll and Charles Laseron (R), taken by Frank Hurley. Correll and Laseron were members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson (1911-1914). This photograph was taken on floe ice at the Western Base. The SY Aurora, a steam yacht bought by Mawson to transport the expedition from Hobart to Antarctica, is in the background.

Hunter’s [expedition botonist] assistant in Antarctic science was Charles Francis Laseron. Laseron was educated in Lithgow, then at St. Andrew’s Cathedral Choir School as scholar and chorister. No doubt his singing skills accompanying the gramophone were appreciated when entertainment was required, along with the vocal skills of Hunter, Hurley, and Correll. ‘The Washerwoman’s Secret’, an opera composed by Laseron, was the cause of much raucous laughter.

Laseron’s father could not afford university fees, so Laseron obtained a diploma in geology from Sydney Technical College, while working as a college lecturer. On graduation he became a collector with the Sydney Technological Museum (now the Powerhouse Museum), obtaining leave when joining Mawson’s expedition, and to serve in World War 1. While in Antarctica his work was to obtain, prepare and preserve biological specimens.

Laseron, Hunter and Herbert Murphy’s sledging journey provided support for Edward (‘Robert’) Bage’s Southern Sledging Party. Achievements from their trek included the collection of specimens of granites and gneisses, and discovering nests of the silver grey petrel. Laseron’s second sledging journey examined the coast east of Commonwealth Bay with Frank Stillwell and John Close. Laseron collected eggs, skins and took photographs, and the team were successful in completing their allocated survey work, specimen collection and data collection. Having endured the perils of nature, it was a man-made hazard that almost claimed their lives – the men received carbon monoxide poisoning from their stove while cooking breakfast in a dug-out snow shelter. Laseron’s Antarctic experiences were published in 1947 in South with Mawson.

Like many from Mawson’s expedition, Laseron joined the Australian Imperial Forces. After two weeks on the Gallipoli Peninsula he was wounded in the right foot and ankle by a sniper’s bullet. Although physically recovered in three months, Laseron was diagnosed with neurasthenia, and discharged on medical grounds. His wartime experiences were published as From Australia to the Dardanelles, and he wrote many newspaper articles. In World War 2, Laseron’s contribution was as an instructor in map reading and topography – presumably he honed these skills in Antarctica. In this capacity he patented the invention Improved sun compass.

Laseron contributed to the geology and art collections of the Sydney Technological Museum. His interest in geology preceded the AAE; he had published a paper on the Shoalhaven district (1906), and geology and palaeontology papers. As manager of the museum’s art collections, Laseron published Descriptive guide to the collection of old pottery and porcelain, and was largely responsible for the creation of the New South Wales Applied Art Trust. He resigned in 1929 after a lengthy dispute with the museum curator, Arthur Penfold. Laseron established an antiques business, and auctioned books, coins and stamps, becoming a highly respected authority on philately.

In later life Laseron was a clerk for the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company, while continuing to write. His six publications on Australian malacology (the study of molluscs) are kept in the Australian Museum, Sydney. He completed 20 essays and over 2000 drawings and described hundreds of new species, making him a pioneer in this field. A new genera and species of molluscs have been named after him. He was an honorary correspondent of the Australian Museum and in 1952 the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales made him a fellow. His books, The Face of Australia (1953) and Ancient Australia (1954), were well reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Argus for making the beauty of the Australian landscape of scientific interest to lay readers.

Laseron wrote the 1958 obituary for Sir Douglas Mawson in the Australian Journal of Science, his own obituary appearing in that journal the following year. He was recognised as a scholar of note in the scientific community and was described as having led a full life, much loved by his wife, Mary Theodora Mason, and their two children.

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