Count Gontran de Tournouer

Count Gontran de Tournouer

Brisbane history can often yield fascinating stories surrounding the many inhabitants of this great city. One such story centres around a remarkable man by the name of Gontran Louise Henri Marie Phillipe De Tournouer. He was a French national who settled in Queensland, served in the Great War, and was a member of the French nobility, eventually inheriting the family title of Comte (Count) de Tournouer.

Gontran de Tournouer was born in Vendome, France on the 27th August 1885 to Louis Marie Maurice de Tournouer (who was heir to the family title), and Marie Cecile Laffitte. Upon his parent’s divorce at the age of 19, he accompanied his mother and four of his siblings to Queensland and began growing sugar in Wide Bay. He married Helen Waraker in 1909, and when war broke out in 1914, he enlisted in the overseas expeditionary force of the Australian Army, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Gontran’s father and three brothers enlisted in the French Army, followed by his brother Roger who enlisted in France after being rejected for the AIF. Military service saw him in action with the 2nd Light Horse regiment, the Camel Corps and the 4th Divisional Artillery. His active service came to an end in 1917 when he was invalided back to Australia, where his proficiency with languages (fluency in every European language and Arabic), saw him appointed to the Military Censor staff. 1917 was also the year in which Gontran’s father and two brothers were killed, where the Corporal who had enlisted in 1914 now returned as Count de Tournouer.

Life after the Great War saw the Count appointed to the Agricultural Bank and later the Department of Agriculture and Stock as a reference librarian and interpreter. He was also involved with Alliance Francais for many years, an institution dedicated to the promotion of the French culture and language. In 1928, he was invested by then Governor Sir John Goodwin as Officer de l’Acadamie on behalf of the French Government for his work with language and education. The Count was further decorated as a Chevalier of Agricultural Merit on the recommendation of Marshal Petain (who the savvy reader will recognise as the leader of Vichy France in WW2). Sadly, the Count had been suffering ill health as a result of the war, and died on 13th July, 1929 at age 43.

 

Whalebone arch at Bowen Park

Whalebone arch at Bowen Park

Visitors to the Queensland Acclimatisation Society’s (QAS) gardens in Bowen Park between 1887 and 1956 would have immediately noticed the entrance, an imposing arch made of a beached whale’s jaw bones.

The whale was found stranded at Hervey’s Bay, Maryborough, in October 1872, and its jaws, along with various other bones, were donated to the Society in December 1886 by trustees of what was then the Brisbane Museum.

A different Acclimatisation Society was established in every colony for the purpose of introducing English species to Australia. These societies imported a great number of non-native flora and fauna into the country. Acclimatisation Societies were originally developed throughout the nineteenth century for scientific purposes, testing the ability of non-native species to evolve in unfamiliar climes and habitats. In Australia, however, these societies lost their scientific rationale and came to stand for, and encourage, the simple international exchange of different species.

The QAS was established in 1862 by George Bowen, the first governor of Queensland, who also became its first patron. In 1863, the Society was granted the area which came to be known as Bowen Park after him. Prior to their acquisition, the area was comprised of a piece of rough bushland, far from the city centre and plagued by clay holes, rocky terrain and poor soil. But it was quickly turned into one of Queensland’s most attractive public spots, with publications of the time lauding the gardens’ natural beauty. An English nurseryman, James Veitch, claimed in 1880 the QAS possessed the best collection of tropical trees outside of the tropics.

The whale bone arch marked the entrance to the gardens, which split off into four separate paths around a central fountain. Each of the paths was marked by a neo-classical statue representing the four seasons.

In 1875, the Australian National Agricultural and Industrial Association was formed on a section of 17 acres of QAS land. Over time, they acquired more and more land, and other QAS holdings were sold off, leased, and otherwise lost. Bowen Park today consists of only 1.77 hectares. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 1999.