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Sir Charles La Trobe
Sir Charles La Trobe

Photographs supplied by Kent Watson

A monument commemorates Charles Joseph La Trobe, who Superintendent of the Port Phillip District and later as the first Lieutenant-Governor of the colony of Victoria.

In Switzerland in 1834, he was the guest at the home of Frédéric de Montmollin, a Councillor of State. There, he met Sophie who was the ninth of the Montmollin’s thirteen children and a cousin of Albert de Pourtalès. Less than a year later, in September 1835, they were married.   Taking advantage of the many contacts of his well-connected family, he came to the attention of the Colonial Office in London and was offered an official posting of seventeen months in the West Indies. This was the great turning point of La Trobe’s life. At this time the British West Indies were in turmoil. Almost 700,000 slaves had been emancipated in 1834. La Trobe sent four reports to the British Parliament, with recommendations for providing education for the former slaves, and for dealing with the appalling sectarian divisions on the islands. They so impressed the Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, that in January 1839, La Trobe was offered an appointment in Australia as Superintendent of the newly settled Port Phillip District of New South Wales.  Charles Joseph and Sophie La Trobe, accompanied by their two year old daughter, Agnes, arrived in Sydney in July 1839.

After some weeks being tutored for his role by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, the La Trobe family took two weeks to reach Melbourne on 30 September, 1839. It was evident on the day of his arrival in Melbourne that La Trobe was eagerly anticipated by the local population who expected him to act quickly on their desire for separation from the controlling powers in Sydney.   He had recognised soon after his arrival what a handicap being part of the greater New South Wales was for progress in Port Phillip. Separation when it came in 1851 was a great achievement for La Trobe and cause for universal celebration in the new colony of Victoria, of which he became Lieutenant-Governor.

No sooner had the advance news of separation been received, the single most revolutionary and momentous event in the history of the colony occurred.  Gold in enormous quantities was discovered, creating the dominant and most far-reaching issue of La Trobe’s many years in Victoria. The licence fee, which he had introduced at 30 shillings per month as a source of government revenue, was not a successful venture.  It alienated the diggers who, more often than not, had not been successful in their search for gold and who were, therefore, unable to pay.  A deputation, principally from the Bendigo goldfield, met La Trobe in his office in August 1853 with a petition signed by 5,000 miners demanding reduced licence fees and civil rights.  The meeting was not a success.  La Trobe responded defensively and coldly to each of the clauses put forward.  The moment of meeting with the miners could have changed history.  Had La Trobe been able to act differently, perhaps the tragedy of Eureka would have been averted.

In his years as administrator of the colony, La Trobe made ninety-four major horse-back rides through country Victoria, as far afield as Mount Gambier in the west and deep into Gippsland in the east, which he carefully documented in his private diary.  He was an explorer who charted routes, notably to Gippsland, to investigate a report of coal deposits, and to Cape Otway where, after two abortive attempts, he personally blazed the trail to, and was responsible for, the erection of the essential light house on that dangerous rocky promontory.

Well aware of his increasing unpopularity, despite his considerable successes, La Trobe submitted his resignation on 31 December 1852.  He was suffering from stress induced by his long service and was concerned for Sophie whose health was far from robust.  His resignation was accepted, but his successor, Governor Sir Charles Hotham, did not relieve him until May 1854.  In the meantime, Sophie and their children travelled to England and then to Switzerland where she died in January 1854.  Sadly, La Trobe was to read of her death in a newspaper which arrived in Melbourne before he was notified by letter from the family.

In his nearly 15 years in the settlement, La Trobe made a significant contribution to the future cultural development of the infant city of Melbourne and the colony of Victoria.  Universal education was a major concern of the Lieutenant-Governor, and this is reflected in the fact that, under his aegis, the foundation stones for both the University of Melbourne and the Public Library of Victoria were laid in 1853.  La Trobe was himself a patron and often the instigator of such cultural and learned bodies as the Philosophical Society, now the Royal Society of Victoria, the Mechanics’ Institute, now the Melbourne Athenaeum, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Society, still in existence, and the Royal Botanic Gardens


Address:Swanston & La Trobe Streets, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, 3000
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -37.809686
Long: 144.964345
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Monument
Monument Theme:People
Sub-Theme:Government - Colonial
Monument Designer:Peter Corlett OAM (subsequent to the commission)
Monument Manufacturer:Meridian Foundry


Actual Monument Dedication Date:Tuesday 21st November, 2006
Front Inscription

 Charles Joseph La Trobe CB
Superintendent, Port Phillip District of NSW 1939-1851
Lieutenant Governor of the colony of Victoria 1851-1854

                      Unveiled by
Professor David de Kretser AC
Governor of Victoria, 21 November, 2006

Fund Patron : W. Bruce Nixon
Donors : A.G.L. Shaw AO, Maria Myers, Rodney Davidson AO,OBE,
University of Melbourne, State Library of Victoria Foundation,
Dianne and John Drury, Members and friends of the
C.J. La Trobe Society INC.

Commissioned by the C.J. La Trobe Society INC
Sculptor : Peter Corlett
Cast : Meridian Foundry

Source: MA,LTS,ADB
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
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