John Arnold reviews 'La Trobe: Traveller, writer, governor' by John Barnes

John Arnold reviews 'La Trobe: Traveller, writer, governor' by John Barnes

La Trobe: Traveller, writer, governor

by John Barnes

Halstead Press, $59.95 hb, 384 pp, 9781925043334

Victorians know the name La Trobe through the eponymous university, La Trobe Street in the city of Melbourne, and the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. Tasmanians are familiar with the town of Latrobe in the north-west of their state. But how many are aware that all the above were named after Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first superintendent of the European settlement of Port Phillip, one-time acting governor of Tasmania, and the first lieutenant-governor of the new British colony of Victoria?

La Trobe’s reputation has been a mixed one. Few of his Melbourne contemporaries questioned his personal qualities, but they, and later historians, regularly contrasted these with his perceived inefficiencies and weaknesses as an administrator. In this sympathetic biography, John Barnes balances the ledger. Whilst not uncritical or shying away from what he sees as La Trobe’s weaknesses, Barnes argues strongly – and elegantly – for La Trobe being both a man of fine personal qualities and, for most of his time in Victoria, a competent and good administrator.

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John Arnold

John Arnold

John Arnold recently retired from Monash University after twenty-three years with the National Centre for Australian Studies. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash. He was the co-editor (with John Hay) of the four-volume Bibliography of Australian Literature (2001–08) and author of The Fanfrolico Press: Satyrs, Fauns and Fine Books (2008). He edits the La Trobe Journal.