State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 71 Autumn 2003


From the Editorial Chair

It Seems appropriate that The La Trobe Journal should mark the re-opening of the Dome as the La Trobe Reading Room by devoting an issue to the man himself. Over the years Charles Joseph La Trobe has been commemorated by Victorians in the naming of places and institutions; and there is no doubt that a man so fond of books would have been especially pleased to have his name associated with places of learning. The Australiana Collection, which was housed in a building known as the La Trobe Library between 1964 and 1992, will in future be in the La Trobe Reading Room, and thus in the heart of the State Library. This journal, which was founded in 1968 as La Trobe Library Journal, now continues as The La Trobe Journal. In drawing attention to the substantial holding of Charles Joseph La Trobe material in the State Library, and presenting the fruits of recent scholarship, it continues the work of promoting the study of local history which was begun 35 years ago by Geoffrey Serle.
The Library's holding, as detailed in the bibliography prepared by Margot Hyslop with assistance from Sandra Burt and Mary Lewis, is extensive. To the material assembled through donations from the La Trobe family and purchases has recently been added a collection of photocopies from the Archives de L'Etat at Neuchâtel. This splendid example of co-operation between institutions strengthens the State Library as a centre for scholarly research and will be of particular value to those scholars interested in La Trobe's family associations. Scholars are indebted to Dianne Reilly, the La Trobe Librarian (in more than name!) at the State Library, who was instrumental in making this arrangement. She has for some years researched La Trobe's life, recently completing a doctoral thesis at the University of Melbourne, and has acted as Consultant Editor in the planning of this issue, as well as contributing three articles.
La Trobe's policies as Superintendent of Port Phillip and then Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria have been discussed by historians, but his life remains to be written. In his readable Charles Joseph La Trobe, published by Melbourne University Press in 1956, Alan Gross was able to give only a sketchy biographical outline. With much more material about La Trobe's life available now, it is possible to give a much fuller and more searching representation of his character and personality than could be attempted then.
In this Charles Joseph La Trobe Number we have tried to avoid familiar ground which has been worked over, and to set his near-15 years as a colonial governor in the context of his life. The distinguished historian A.G.L. Shaw offers an authoritative estimate of La Trobe's performance as governor; Robert Kenny, drawing on original research undertaken for his doctoral thesis at La Trobe University, reveals the extent of his involvement in the Moravian missionary enterprise in Victoria; and Paul Fox considers his aspiration to bring ‘civilisation’ to the colony. Other contributors discuss aspects of his life both before and after his antipodean ‘exile’: the role of his
family in the Moravian Church; his experience as a traveller and writer of travel books; his inquiry into education in the West Indies following the abolition of slavery; and his breaking of the English taboo on marriage with a deceased wife's sister after the tragedy of his wife's death. Interest in La Trobe has grown in recent years, and these articles, giving a fuller portrait of him than has been done in the past, will perhaps stimulate further research.
Complementing the work of researchers is a sampling of unpublished writing from La Trobe's journals and letters, which will give readers a sense of his personal rather than his official voice. One of the journal extracts — ‘A Bison Hunt in North America’ — is from the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It will probably come as a surprise to readers of The La Trobe Journal to learn that La Trobe is remembered there as the author of ‘one of the classic pieces of early literature of Oklahoma'. Thomas Gilcrease, an oilman proud of his Creek Indian ancestry, who assembled the largest collection there is of material relating to the American West, recognised the value of La Trobe's diary of his North American travels and acquired it for the very fine museum which he opened in 1949. The letters from which we publish a small selection are also held outside Australia, being in the John Murray Archives in London. Written to publishing friends whom he valued so highly, they are expressive of the man who could joke about his being a ‘petty Potentate'.
The inclusion of material, both texts and graphics, from outside the State Library collection is a departure from our usual policy, and has involved more ‘administration’ than is usual. As well, this issue is larger, which brings its own problems for a volunteer operation such as The La Trobe Journal. My prolonged illness at a crucial stage in the preparation of the issue put the whole enterprise in jeopardy, but in the end it has been possible to produce the issue on schedule. I am especially grateful to those who rallied round: to my wife, Josephine Barnes, who took on the role of my personal assistant; to Veronica Peek, who voluntarily took on administrative responsibilities; and to Sandra Burt, who took over editorial duties while I was incapacitated, and has given many hours of her own time to the Journal. The Foundation Office, and especially Sabrina Boucher, has provided continuing support.
John Barnes

Note on Sources

Unless otherwise specified, manuscript material referred to in this issue is held in the State Library of Victoria and is listed in ‘Charles Joseph La Trobe: A Bibliography'.