Guide to the Papers of E. L. Piesse


MS 882

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Piesse, E.L. (Edmund Leolin), 1880-1947
Papers of E. L. Piesse
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 882
1.5 metres (10 ms boxes)
Language of Materials
Special Collections (Manuscripts)


Scope and Contents

The great majority of the papers in the collection date from the years 1918 to 1923, during which Piesse worked for the Commonwealth Government, first as Dire tor of Military Intelligence, and later as an adviser on foreign affairs. The papers include semi-official and personal memoranda, correspondence, and notes, together with publications and newspaper cuttings, relating to the White Australia policy, the League of Nations, New Guinea, and Australia's relations with Japan, South-East Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In additions there are some papers written in the years after Piesse left the Commonwealth Public Service, reflecting his continued interest in Australian defence and foreign policy

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of E. L. Piesse, National Library of Australia, MS 882, [series and/or file number]'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Piesse Papers were received by the National Library in 1958. They were presented by Piesse's widow, Mrs Christina Piesse, of Melbourne.

Biographical Note

Edmund Leolin Piesse was born in Hobart in July 1880, the only son of Frederick William Piesse, a member of the first Federal Parliament. He was educated at Friends' School, Hobart, and at the University of Tasmania, where he graduated as a Bachelor of Laws. He later studied mathematics at King's College, Cambridge.

In 1909, on his return to Australia, Piesse joined the Army as staff officer in the Australian Intelligence Corps and helped to prepare the first military survey map of Tasmania. He was made a Captain in 1911 and in March 1916, as a Major, he was appointed Director of Military Intelligence, with his headquarters in Melbourne. In June 1919 he transferred from the Department of Defence to the Prime Minister's Department, where he was appointed Director, and the only officer, of the newly-established Pacific Branch. The Branch was concerned with Australia's relations with the countries of the Pacific and the Far East and, as Director, Piesse collected information and made reports on both the domestic and the foreign policies of these countries. In 1919-1920 he made a lengthily tour of South-East Asia, China and Japan. In April 1921 the Pacific Branch was replaced by the Pacific Foreign Section, with a staff of six, headed by Piesse. Its main responsibilities were to report and advise on developments in Japan and in Mandated Territory of New Guinea and to study reactions to, and prepare defences of, the White Australia policy. In 1921-1922 Piesse attended the Washington Disarmament Conference as an adviser to Senator Pearce, the Minister for Defence.

In November 1923 Piesse resigned from Prime Minister's Department, having felt for some time that his knowledge and his work was not being fully utilized by the Government. He joined the Melbourne law firm Davies and Campbell, which in 1931 became Davies, Campbell and Piesse. He was a member of the Law Council of Australia and President of the Law Institute of Victoria. He edited the Institute's Journal, was conveyancing editor in Victoria of the Australian Law Journal, and contributed to the supplement to the Encyceadia of forms and precedents. He also lectured on company taxation at the University Melbourne. Piesse retained his great interest in Australia foreign policy all his life and regularly addressed meetings of Round Table Group, the Institute of International Affairs, and the Boobook Society on such subjects as White Australia, New Guinea and above all, Japan. His book Japan and the deference of Australia was published in 1935.

Piesse died Melbourne on 16 May 1947.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. General correspondence, 1918-1925

The letters in this series are confined to the period 1918 to 1925 and are mostly concerned with Piesse's work in the Prime Minister's Department. They have been arranged chronologically. The correspondence covers a wide range subjects: events in China, Indo-China and the Netherlands East Indies, Australian trade with Eastern countries, Australian shipping and the Commonwealth Line of steamers, the League of Nations Assembly, settlement in tropical Australia, British and French policies towards China and Japan, the acquisition of periodicals, newspapers and government publications on foreign affairs, Piesse's tour of the East Indies, China and Japan in 1919-1920, the Washington Treaties, and Piesse's resignation in 1923. In addition, letters which touch on, but do not deal exclusively with, White Australia, the Pacific Islands, the League of Nations, Japan and New Guinea have been included in Series 1, and not the later series. A significant proportion of the letters in this series were written by Piesse himself. Among the writers who corresponded regularly with him were R.M. Crosse in Hong Kong, Archibald Rose in Peking, W.H. Thring in London, A.H. Charteris in Sydney, and George H. Blakeslee in Washington.

Official Correspondence, 1918-1920 (File 1) - Box 1

Reports of political activities to Australia's Far North. (Items 1-68)

Official Correspondence, 1921-1922 (File 2) - Box 1

Reports of political activities to Australia's Far North. (Items 69-122)

Correspondence, 1923-1925 (File 3) - Box 1

Correspondence with academics on global political issues. (Items 123-193)

Series 2. Immigration And White Australia, 1915-1925

This series contains correspondence, memoranda, notes and publications dating from 1915 to 1925 and relating to white colonisation, the White Australia policy, and immigration and nationally legislation. Many of the papers were written in the period when Piesse was in the Department of Defence. There are papers on the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of 1914 and its application to Australia, the 1917 Naturalisation Act, the possibility of criticism of the White Australia policy at the 1920League of Nations Assembly, and the Washington Conference, amendments and economic effects of an increase in the number of aliens in North Queensland. Papers written by Piesse include Discrimination against Asiatics; notes for an Australian policy (March 1919), Disabilities of aliens and coloured persons within the Commonwealth and its Territories (December 1920), and White settlement in tropical Australia.

Papers, 1915-1925 (File 1) - Box 1

Domestic provisions and overseas parallels of restrictive immigration based on ethnicity and colour. (Items 1-92)

Papers (File 2) - Box 1

Foreign laws on Nationality, especially British and German. (Items 93-217)

Papers (File 3) - Box 1

Foreign laws on Nationality, especially British and German. White and Alien settlement in North Queensland. (Items 218-320)

Clippings, 1922-1925 (File 4) - Box 1

Clippings on Objections to Restrictions on Immigration by Foreign Governments. (Items 321-324)

Series 3. Pacific Islands, 1900-1923

The correspondence in this series dates from 1906 to 1929, but the bulk of it was written in period 1919-1923. The subjects of the papers include the League of Nations Mandates, Australian and New Zealand spheres of interest in the Pacific, and the idea of an Australian Monroe Doctrine for the South Pacific. There are notes by Piesse for Senator Pearce on the Mandated Territories in the Pacific, guides to printed papers relating to the Pacific Islands, and an article by Piesse on Pacific nomenclature. A good deal of material is concerned with the New Hebrides Condominium, including correspondence with Frank Wallace, the Commonwealth's legal advisers in the New Hebrides, and notes by Piesse on the changes effected by the 1914 Protocol. There are also memoranda on Australian and New Zealand interests in the New Hebrides, and on future Australian policy, together with a Colonial Office report of 1920. Piesse also kept several papers on Nauru, including the reports of the Mandates Commission and the Mandates Section of the League Secretariat, and material on the phosphate deposits and ownership.

Western Pacific Islands, 1906-1921 (File 1) - Box 2

Items 1-73

Noumea and Nauru (British Phosphate Commission), 1921-1922 (File 2) - Box 2

Items 74-135

New Guinea and New Hebrides, 1922-1923 (File 3) - Box 2

Items 136-247

Geology of Pacific; Japan's Mandated Territory in Pacific, 1916 (File 4) - Box 2

Items 248-273

New Hebrides and Mandatory System and German Pacific Islands, 1919-1921 (File 5) - Box 2

Items 274-318

New Hebrides: Australia and New Zealand Spheres of Influence, 1921-1922 (File 6) - Box 2

Items 319-324

Melanesian Society; Samoan Mandate; Labour on Nauru; Clippings, 1922-1923 (File 7) - Box 2

Items 325-400(a)

Bibliography of History of Pacific, 1900-1922 (File 8) - Box 2

Items 400-442

Series 4. League Of Nations, 1920-1924

The Pacific Branch prepared several papers for the first Assembly of the League of Nations on such subjects as immigration restriction, Australian interests in the islands north of the Equator, and Japanese interests in New Guinea. Piesse acquired and retained a number of the League's publications on the mandatory system. The series contains a long letter by Sir Joseph Cook on his work on the Permanent Mandates Commission in 1923, and a memorandum by Piesse on the report submitted to the League on the administration of New Guinea for 1921-1922. There are also notes of proceedings of the League's Assembly and Council and of the Permanent Mandates Commission for various meetings between 1919 and 1923, and reports on the administration of Nauru in 1921 and 1922.

Report, 1920-1924 (File 1) - Box 3

Report on League of Nations and Its Critics; The Australian Peace Alliance; Report on Territory of New Guinea; Whit Australia Policy and the League. (Items 1-53)

Papers, 1920 (File 2) - Box 3

Draft Protocol and White Australia Policy; Japanese amendment on Racial Equality; Papers for 1st Assembly of League of Nations. (Items 54-130)

Papers, 1920-1924 (File 3) - Box 3

3rd Session of Permanent Mandates Commission; Papers on League of Nations - Selected Papers; Clippings on Achievements of the League. (Items 131-149)

Series 5. Japan, 1918-1923

Australian-Japanese relations was one of the Pacific Branch's major areas of responsibility and Pesse was widely regarded as the Government's expert of Japanese affairs. The series contains many letters written by Professor James Murdoch of Sydney University relating to Piesse's Far East trip of 1919, the teaching of Japanese in the Army and at the University, and other subjects. Other correspondence pondence deals with the Japanese peace terms and Japan's relations with China, Piesse's discussions with officials of the Japanese Foreign Office, the export of ammonium and ammonium sulphate from Australia to Japan, and the visit of a delegation from the House of Peers to Australia in 1923 to study Australian social and economic conditions. The series contains several memoranda written by Piesse or, in a few cases by the British Foreign Office. Among the subjects of the memoranda are Japanese expansion and Australian defence, the admission of Japanese into New Guinea, the Madras Marie incident at Rabaul, export of copra from Rabual to Japan, Japanese shipping between New Guinea and other countries, Australian press comments capacity of the Japanese to complete economically with the Chinese. The subject with aroused the greatest interest within the Australian Government was the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Piesse collected Japanese and Chinese newspaper articles on the Alliance and wrote memoranda on Australia and the future of the Alliance, Japanese comments on the attitude of Australia and the speeches of Massey and Hughes in March-April 1921, and British official attitudes towards the Alliance.

Papers, 1918-1920 (File 1) - Box 3

Efforts to access Pacific Intelligence gathering; Concerns about Japan and the Peace Terms; Views on Japan by James Murdoch. (Items 1-87)

Papers, 1920-1922 (File 2) - Box 3

Views on Japanese Shipping in South Pacific; Intelligence Gathering on Japan. (Items 88-200)

Papers, 1920-1923 (File 3) - Box 3

Japanese Emigration; Clippings on Official Japanese Visitors; Japanese Views of British Naval Policy; Development of "New and Powerful" Japanese Submarines; Anglo-Japanese Alliance - Japanese Comment on Australia's Attitude. (Items 201-301)

Series 6. Papua New Guinea, 1920-1923

This large series contains some correspondence, but the most important papers are the memoranda written by Piesse and other officials. The subjects of the memoranda include: the treatment of Japanese under the German Administration, Japanese trading in New Guinea, control of immigration, the position of British Indian subjects, ill-treatment of natives during the military occupation, the selection, training and salaries of the administrative services, the expropriation of German property, land policy and native welfare, the finance of the Expropriation Board, Chinese in the Mandated Territory, the decline of the native population, statute laws of the Territory, and Roman Catholic Missions and the recruiting of native children for education and employment. Other papers deal with ministerial statements of policy, Louis East's interim report on the administration of Papua and New Guinea (October 1922), the treatment of foreigners and foreign interests, notes for a geographical description of the Territory, a classified list of laws and ordinances in force (May 1923), and papers by the Reverends J>W. Burton and W.H. Cox.

Papers, 1920-21 (File 1) - Box 4

New name for "German New Guinea"; Japanese Trade in South Pacific; German Treatment of Indigenous and Foreigners in New Guinea; British Indians in New Guinea; Australia's Report on Mandate of New Guinea. (Items 1-100)

Papers, 1921-22 (File 2) - Box 4

Expenditure on Territory of New Guinea; Work to Improve Villages; Property of Persons of Doubtful Nationality in New Guinea; Land Laws in New Guinea; Rights of Foreigners in New Guinea; Asiatic in Pacific Islands. (Items 101-234)

Papers, 1920-1922 (File 3) - Box 4

Prospects for New Guinea; Powers required for Administrator of New Guinea; Taxation in New Guinea and Liabilities for Expropriated Firms or Persons. (Items 235-376)

Papers, 1921-1923 (File 4) - Box 4

German Orders Defining the Powers of the New Guinea Chiefs; Nationality in New Guinea; Reports from Evan R Stanley and Judge Murray; Decline in Native Population in New Guinea; Land Titles in New Guinea. (Items 377-555)

Papers, 1920-1921 (File 5) - Box 4

Rev JW Burton on Australian Mandate over New Guinea; Paper on Natives of New Guinea; Administrative Arrangements for Mandated New Guinea. (Items 556-690)

Papers, 1922-1923 (File 6) - Box 4

New Guinea: Notes for PM's Policy Speech; LF East's Report to PM on Administration of Papua and New Guinea; Public Service Ordinances for New Guinea; USA Report on Tariff Policies in Former German and other Mandates in Pacific; Extracts on Native Life and Custom. (Items 691-774)

Papers, 1922-23 (File 7) - Box 4

Population Decline in New Guinea; Background Papers on Social, Economic and Climatic Conditions in New Guinea. (Items 775-879)

Papers, 1919-1923 (File 8) - Box 4

Clippings on German Criticism of Australia's Administration; Treatment of Foreigners in New Guinea; Expropriation Board Report on Land Use and Kaiser Wilhelm's Lands; Lillian Overell on German New Guinea. (Items 880-968)

Series 7.  International Conferences, 1920-1926

This series is divided into three sections, the first concerned with the Washington Disarmament Conference of 1921-1922, which Piesse attended with G.F. Pearce, the second with the Quadruple Pacific Treaty of December 1921, and the third with the Imperial Conferences of 1921, 1923 and 1926. Among the papers on the Washington Conference are some personal correspondence, the programme for the first meeting, lists of delegations, a diary of events from 1 December 1921 to 27 March 1922, the address of President Harding, notes on references to New Guinea at the Conference, other handwritten notes by Piesse, and newspaper cuttings. The Quadruple Pacific Treaty committed the British Empire, the United States, Japan and France to a policy of cooperation, consultation and mutual help in the Pacific area. Piesse compiled a history of the Treaty's provision and a diary of the negotiations and wrote a paper on the application of the Treaty to Japan, from an Australian viewpoint. Notes were prepared in the Pacific Branch for the 1921 Imperial Conference and Piesse also summarized the comments on the Conference of Australian writers. The pages on the 1923 and 1926 Conference consists of newspaper cuttings and other printed material.

Papers, 1920-1922 (File 1) - Box 5

Washington Conference on Disarmament; British Empire Delegation; Lobbying by Society of Friends; Fortification in Pacific; Address by President Harding; Hughes-Balfour on New Guinea; Diplomatic Status of Dominions re British Empire at International Conferences (Gen. Smuts). (Items 1-112)

Papers, 1921-1922 (File 2) - Box 5

The Four-Power Treaty on Disarmament - aka Quadruple Pacific Treaty; History of various provisions; Its Application to Japan Proper-Australia's Perspective; Clippings. (Items 113-172)

Papers, 1921-1926 (File 3) - Box 5

Conferences of Prime Ministers - Common Imperial Policy in Foreign Affairs; Speech by Rt. Hon, WM Hughes; Extracts from Hansard; Inter-Imperial Relations- Autonomy of Dominions; Clippings. (Items 173-215)

Series 8. Miscellaneous Papers, 1921-1923?

There are only two items in this series: an index to the correspondence and papers of the prime minister's Department, and a list of treaties to which Australia was, or had been, a party or about which it had been consulted, up to 30 June 1921.

Papers, 1921-1923? (File 1) - Box 5

Prime Minister's and Cabinet Briefing Papers: Pacific Islands; New Hebrides; Treaties and Conventions on Trade, Labour and External Relations of British Empire with Foreign Countries and International Organisations. (Items 1-130)

Papers, 1921-1923? (File 2) - Box 5

Briefing Papers of Prime Minisiter's Department : International Institute of Agriculture; International Institute of Commerce; Imperial Institute; International Conferences and Congresses on Varioud Agricultural Industries; Peace Treaties with Austria; Pacific Islands. (Items 131-237)

List of Treaties, 1921 (File 3) - Box 5

Extra Copy

Series 9. Post-1923 Papers, 1924-1937

Piesse left the Prime Minister's Department in November 1923 but he continued to study and write on questions of defence and foreign policy World War II. His post 1923 papers have been divided into his correspondence (1924-1939), his writings, and the articles, reports and newspaper cuttings which he collected. The correspondence is concerned with the work of a study group of the Round Table on Australian defence, a study group of the Australian Institute of International Affairs on collective security and articles of Piesse entitled Japan and Australia (1926), Japan and the defence of Australia (1935), The present rulers of Japan (1936), and Australia and Imperial defence (1937). Correspondents include Sir Keith Murdoch, Sir John Lavarack, W.J.V. Windeyer, T. Lady, C.A.S. Hawker and Herbert Brookes. The second consists of Piesse's writings, both in handwritten or typescript form, with associated notes and cuttings. They were written between 1924 and 1937. The subjects of his writing included Japanese espionage in Australia, the Immigration Restriction Act, the financial relations of the Territory of New Guinea with Australia, the population and food supply of Japan, the defence of Australia, Japan in the tropics, the foreign relations of Japan the Japanese –Australian Trade Settlement, the Imperial defence. The final section contains articles, extracts of articles, speeches and newspaper cuttings by a number of writers, including J.A. Lyons, Sir Archdale Parkhill, Sir Frederic Egglestion, H.J. Wynter and Sir Herbert Richard. They deal with Imperial and Australian defence and Japanese trade and armament.

Papers, 1924-1929 (File 1) - Box 6

Papers, 1936-1939 (File 2) - Box 6

Round Table; Australian Institute of Political Science Ltd; Australia and Imperial Defence. (Items 111-217)

Article, 1924-1925 (File 3) - Box 6

Article for Presentation; Australia and Japan and Territory of New Guinea. (Items 218-413)

Papers, 1928-1936 (File 4) - Box 6

Financial Relations between New Guinea and Australia; Clipping on Japan; The Present Rulers of Japan; Japan in the Tropics. (Items 414-530)

Papers, 1934-1937 (File 5) - Box 6

The Japanese-Australia Trade Settlement; Foreign Relatipons of Japan; Supply of Munitions in War; Report of the Australian Eastern Mission; Australian Defence Policy. (Items 531-652)

Articles, 1935-1936 (File 6) - Box 7

Articles: Government Policy on Defence of Australia (1935); Collective Security on Trial; Defence of Australia and its Relation to Imperial Defence; Collapse of Civilisation; International Situation in Relation to Defence; Paper on Imperial Conference, 1937; Hansard Extracts on Defence. (Items 653-791)

Articles, 1924-1938 (File 7) - Box 7

Articles: The Next World War by Japanese Naval Officer; Demand for Defence; British Commonwealth Relations Conference (1938); Singapore Base Abandoned; Clippings on Defence Issues. (Items 792-859)

Clippings, 1934-1936 (File 8) - Box 7

Clippings: Japan and China; Citizen Military Forces Recruitment Proposal; Japanese Trade Restrictions on Australian Exports; Japan in the Pacific; Industry as an Arm of Defence. (Items 860-910)

Clippings, 1936-1937 (File 9) - Box 7

Clippings: Shipping during War; Japan's Policy towards China; Southern Expansion of Japan: Japan's Expenditure on Arms; Australia's War Preparedness; Dangers of Isolationism. (Items 911-968)

Series 10. Personal correspondence and family papers, 1855-1946

This series contains letters from Piesse to his wife Christina (nee McRae) both before and after their marriage, and to his children; letters to Piesse from his parents; and a letter from Louis Piesse to his cousin, F.W. Piesse (father of E.L. Piesse). There is also a letterbook (1886-1903); two notebooks (1900-1904 and 1907); newscuttings, family photographs; marriage certificate of F.W. Piesse (1871); and a typescript entitled 'E.L. Piesse - statement of personal history'.

Letter from Louis Piesse, 1855 (File 1) - Box 8

Letters from parents, marriage certificate, 1871; 1884-1902 (File 2-3) - Box 8

Condolence letters on death of F.W. Piesse, 1902 (File 4) - Box 8

Letters from Piesse to his children, 1918-1940 (File 5) - Box 8

Letters from Piesse to Christina McRae, 1904-1946 (File 6-20) - Box 8, Box 9

Newscuttings, photographs, family papers (File 21-22) - Box 10

Letterbook and two notebooks, 1886-1907 (File) - Box 10