Charles Joseph La Trobe: the making of a governor
AuthorReilly Drury, Dianne Mary
AffiliationDepartment of History
MetadataShow full item record
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationReilly Drury, D. M. (2002). Charles Joseph La Trobe: the making of a governor. PhD thesis, Department of History, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2002 Dr. Dianne Mary Reilly Drury
The central argument developed in this thesis is that Charles Joseph La Trobe was a highly distinctive individual whose background and experiences during the first four decades of his life to 1839 shaped his character and informed his administration, firstly as Superintendent of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales until 1851, and then as Victoria's first Lieutenant-Governor from 1851 to 1854. His Huguenot descent isolated him from the traditional British mould, and yet, for all that, he was very much the typical Englishman with all the attitudes then prevailing in the educated middle-class. His Moravian faith and the advanced Moravian school system in which he was nurtured set him apart from the norm of those recruited to the Colonial Office as representatives of the imperial power of Great Britain. He was altogether, in fact, an unusual choice as administrator of a valuable and remote colony, having none of the administrative experience, military training or aristocratic background usually sought in vice-regal envoys. La Trobe came from a deeply religious and highly intellectual family whose evangelicalism and social consciences dominated their lives. He was drawn to the outdoor life and to the landscape wherever he went in his extensive travels, seeing it as God's creation, and he described what he saw and experienced fully in his four published books and in his works of art. From his youth, he developed a lifelong passion for Switzerland, the country where he formed his closest friendships. Acknowledging the seriousness with which he regarded his Australian posting as a representative of the Crown, La Trobe's every action was governed and, to a certain extent, hampered by his allegiance to the Governor in Sydney and the Colonial Office in London. La Trobe's actions, ideas, assumptions and behaviours during his fifteen years in office in Melbourne may, however, be best understood by an examination of the way his character was shaped, especially by the influences on him of the Moravian faith and education, by his passion for travel, and by the devotion and support of his family and friends in England and in Switzerland. La Trobe departed from office a wearied and disappointed man whose contribution to the development of the colony was not immediately recognised. His was a vision of a cultured, economically viable and Christian society, with equality of opportunity for all. Any recognition of his achievements eluded him, the obvious negativities of his administration, especially regarding the Aboriginal people and the goldfields administration, obscuring his successes. Charles Joseph La Trobe was a complex man of striking contradictions: he was capable of great courage, yet he often appeared timid and self-effacing; he was charming and sociable at times, yet he loved nothing better than to escape the weight of his duties by riding into the 'bush'; he had strong views, but often came across as unassertive.
KeywordsCharles Joseph La Trobe; governors; Victoria; biography; history; politics; government
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