|"You don't understand anything about navigation, I hold a diploma in survey".|
|Lasseter to Blakeley, Illbilla 15/09/30. Dream Millions 149.|
Lasseter's 'Diplomas' in Compass Surveying and Topographic Surveying are commonly cited as evidence of his ability to navigate and use a sextant and residency in the United States. A copy of the diplomas first appears in the record opposite page 228 of Coote's Hell's Airport, (1934). Blakeley first mentions sighting Lasseter's diplomas at Illbilla on 15/09/30. This raises the very obvious question, how did Coote acquire the diplomas if Blakeley saw the same certificates at Illbilla over three years earlier and the contents of Lasseter's tin trunk were not revealed until 1942?.
The diplomas are certificates showing completion of two parts of the International Correspondence Schools Surveying and Mapping course, circa 1908/1909. One wonders what Lasseter got wrong in Topographic Surveying if he scored 99% in the exam, (given his numerous alias, perhaps his name). It could be that Lasseter had several certificates from I.C.S. showing completion of various parts of the course, Blakeley saw two at Illbilla and Coote came by two more in Sydney. But how did Coote acquire the certificates?, not from Lasseter's widow, Idriess had already combed that source for material and would have gleefully included the certificates into Lasseter's Last Ride as proof of Lasseter's competency and past residency in the United States.
The certificates are office clean and have never seen the light and red dirt of Central Australia. Coote acquired the certificates from Lasseter's business partner, Roberts, "a metallurgist and assayer", a significant profession considering the search for gold. Roberts appears to have some involvement in the Lasseter saga beyond that of business partner and this will be examined in a later entry. But it would not be unreasonable for such a partner to hold private papers for a colleague...to be conveniently found at a later date in order to authenticate previous claims and inferences.
The certificates can not be used to confirm residency in the United States, at the time it did not matter if Lasseter were in Timbuktu or Tabulum when studying by correspondence, in this case the papers showing the completion of a course would always emanate from the schools headquarters in Scranton, Pennsylvania and would show the schools letterhead accordingly. In short one does not have to be a resident of the United States to acquire an I.C.S. qualification, the certificates would look the same the world over...convenient.
In any event, the two certificates extent hardly qualify one as competent in the use of a sextant, hands on tutelage is required for proficient use in these instruments, Blakeley was correct in doubting the value of Lasseter's qualifications much less their authenticity. And dare it be said, but the sextant appears to have arrived on the scene long after the certificates, perhaps in 1929/30 during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Marshall Stoneking has drawn attention to the similarity between Lasseter's handwriting and that on the certificates, while comparative handwriting is not Sullivan's forte, lets say the style is not dissimilar. And those two 'Diplomas' have remarkable weight, expert bushmanship and a master mariner have been attributed to Lasseter as a result of his qualifications. No doubt the correspondence school would be delighted in turning out such a well rounded scholar.
In conclusion, the certificates do not prove residency in the United States and they may or may not be forged and if so, perhaps not by Lasseter. They certainly do not qualify the holder as an expert navigator. And they are yet another set of documents arriving after the event and from the same source...to Coote from Lasseter's business partners. As for Blakeley sighting Lasseter's diplomas at Illbilla...well his memory may have been jogged by referring to Hell's Airport when writing his own manuscript for Dream Millions some three years after Coote and seven years after events at Illbilla.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006