In his nearly fifteen 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 Melbourne Public Library were laid in 1854. 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.
La Trobe had a vision for the colony he had been sent to govern which bore little relevance to the contemporary period and those who lived in Port Phillip at that time. His long-term vision for Victoria was of a ‘not only Christian but a highly educated community well versed in the arts and sciences’ – a simple extension of his religious and cultural values. Certainly not honoured nor greatly appreciated during his term in Port Phillip, and ill-rewarded by an ungrateful employer after his retirement, his memory deserves to be better celebrated. It is true that a fine university was named for him, and streets, towns, rivers and an electorate bear his name. Although long overdue, how appropriate it is that Peter Corlett’s well-conceived and executed larger than life-size bronze statue has now been erected to his memory on the forecourt of the State Library. It is to be hoped that, as the historian Alexander Sutherland wrote in 1888.
as Victoria becomes more populous and gathers round her more and more of national feeling, in proportion as the value is recognised of institutions … laid on wise foundations in those early days and more recently, so there will appear in our annals in ever bolder relief, the simple, unostentatious, genial and gentlemanly figure of Charles Joseph La Trobe.
Dr Dianne Reilly