Farewell Les Jauncey, wandering radical (1 September 2015)

Leslie Cyril Jauncey has surprised us all. When we first planned the Honest History website two years ago we thought it would be nice to have a column, a place where various invited authors could write about things that interested them. We thought about calling this column Herodotus but a bit of due diligence soon ruled him out. Then we looked at Jauncey, as a fairly obscure but interesting Australian writer – with landmark works in fields as far apart as conscription and banking – who could serve as a kind of mascot for this column of miscellaneous writings by various authors.

Dr.-L.C.-Jauncey-....-1934When we began – our first ‘Jauncey’s view’ column was in October 2013 – all we knew of Jauncey was found in a fairly sparse Australian Dictionary of Biography entry by Margaret Steven, dating from 1983, Patrick O’Farrell’s introduction to Jauncey’s conscription book (from even further back) and a couple of paragraphs in a dictionary of Australian and New Zealand economists. We couldn’t even find a photograph of the man.

Then, our indefatigable researcher, Steve Flora, got to work and the rest, as they say, is (honest) history. We did manage a few columns early on where authors like our president, Peter Stanley, our secretary-editor, David Stephens, and Alison Broinowski took up the ungendered Jauncey pen but it was not long before Steve’s researches in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada (including with genuine Jauncey relatives) began to generate a steady stream of material about and, increasingly, by Les Jauncey. Our commissioned column work was moved out of Jauncey’s corner and redesignated as ‘Features‘.

We met Les’s family, notably his brother Eric, who became a world-renowned physicist, having survived attacks from jingoistic colleagues and the predecessors of the FBI during World War I. We sourced photographs of Les in his tennis gear at school, looking studious in spectacles, looking suave in a natty snap-brimmed hat and in various other gear and poses. (One photo Steve found is now in the ADB.)

Most of all, however, we met Bee (sometimes Bea) or, to be precise, Beatrice Eva Edmonds Fripp Jauncey, heiress to a baking powder fortune in Christchurch, New Zealand, one of a large family, Cheer-Oh Girl in World War I and big wheel in the Camp Fire Girls in California after World War II, eventually a centenarian and even in great age a luminously beautiful woman.

Bee was briefly Mrs Samuel T. Fripp but seems to have been swept off her feet by Les while they were both on board ship to England. The Englishman Fripp amicably agreed to a divorce, while Bee’s inherited wealth (perhaps not huge but certainly adequate) kept the Jaunceys in a certain style and enabled them to travel extensively during the depressed 1930s. Meanwhile, the Edmonds family continued to be noted philanthropists in Christchurch.

Les wrote. His work on the Commonwealth Bank put him in touch with banking people, including King O’Malley – with whom he kept up a lively correspondence over some twenty years and whom he visited many times at O’Malley’s home in Albert Park, Melbourne – and bank representatives in London. He gossiped about who might end up on top of the Commonwealth Bank corporate pile. From London, too, he sent acerbic comments to O’Malley on Australian visitors to the home of Empire. From his immersion in the conscription debates he remained an avid hater of WM Hughes.

From the other side of the Atlantic also, Les wrote perceptive reports for Labour newspapers about American politics, life under FDR, the coming of war and, later, Eisenhower and Stevenson. He watched Latin America and Spain and eagerly observed Soviet Russia first-hand but was not taken in by it.

After the second war, Les wrote occasionally to Bert Evatt offering advice about how Labor might go forward, though our research has found no sign of Evatt writing back. Les did not like Jack Lang and said so. He hoped for new Labor talent post-war, as many observers at that time did. (Some tropes in Australian political history go back a long way.)

Yet, for all Les’s capacity to pop up in interesting places and to write engagingly about them, he still comes across as a slightly wistful figure, not particularly at home in the Northern Hemisphere but a long, long way from the Southern. It would seem that his creative spark dimmed from a combination of reduced financial concerns and increasing bouts of ill-health, beginning as early as 1936. (He died at 60 in 1959 and had mentioned his poor health frequently in letters to O’Malley before that; a picture of him in his late 50s shows a man prematurely aged.)

Beaimage0014In Les’s final years, his main activities seem to have been collecting the rent on properties the couple owned in California and helping Bee with her Camp Fire Girls projects. Yet there is still more to be found out regarding him, including whatever it was that interested both ASIO and the FBI, who had files on him. (It is interesting that, on his death certificate, he is described as ‘librarian’.) We are still sleuthing and may provide further bulletins as we are able. Meanwhile, our ‘Jauncey’s view‘ collection will carry the additional designation ‘(archived)’.

Les Jauncey, wistful or not, remains the author of what is still (despite the flaws that Pat O’Farrell pointed to all those years ago) a key reference on the supremely divisive conscription battles of World War I as well as of a useful source on the birth of the Commonwealth Bank (though Mrs Margaret Fisher would never have agreed with that assessment). That’s not a bad contribution to a country whose history profession for a while couldn’t even find a photograph of him.

Au revoir, Les and Bee. We may meet again.

David Stephens and Steve Flora



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