The web-site of the La Trobe University in Australia reports that “Charles La Trobe is much better known in England than he is in Australia” This I doubt, even though he is buried in the delightful riverside churchyard at Litlington, East Sussex.
Charles Joseph La Trobe was born in London on 20th March 1801 and was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge. As a young man he was rather adventurous and between 1824 and 1830 lived in Switzerland and climbed many Alpine and Tyrollean peaks. He visited America in 1832 where he befriended the author Washington Irvine. He founded the Alpine Club and wrote many books including ‘A Rambler in North America’ and ‘A Rambler in Mexico’. He married Sophie in Switzerland in 1835.
Charles took his family to Australia in 1839 where he had been appointed as the first Superintendent of Port Phillip, Melbourne. He built a house which he had shipped over from London. The building is now a museum.
He became Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria in 1851. When he arrived the population of Melbourne was 3,000 but when gold was discovered, this rose within a few months to 80,000. This influx could have caused a breakdown of law and order, but La Trobe established a better police force. As he was known by the nickname ‘Charlie Joe‘ members of the the new City Police Force were known as ‘Joes‘
La Trobe did much to improve Melbourne. It was through his efforts that a better water supply was introduced. He established the City University and State Library and he ensured that as the city grew, parks and gardens were established. He is described as being ‘upright and honest’ and seems to have been well liked by the population. La Trobe University is named after him, as are streets, mountains and suburbs.
La Trobe retired and returned to England in 1854. When his wife died the following year he married her sister. (which at the time was considered incestuous!) He became a Companion of the Order of the Bath a few years later.
He moved down to Sussex and lived at Clapham House, Litlington. This was where the Prince Regent (later George IV) is said to have met Mrs Maria Fitzherbert for a torrid affair.
La Trobe’s eyesight was deteriorating and the 1871 census shows that he was blind. He died in Litlington on 4th December 1875 and was buried at Litlington church. His grave can be seen to the right of the porch.
La Trobe’s work in Melbourne was largely forgotten until 2007 when a statue of him was erected in the grounds of the University that takes his name. Interestingly, the statue was erected up-side down. The sculptor explained that this was to challenge traditional commemoration, but also said that, as La Trobe was better know to the English, it was the right was up in England!