Home > View & Discuss > Author in-conversation: John Barnes on Charles Joseph La Trobe

Author in-conversation: John Barnes on Charles Joseph La Trobe

  • Date recorded: 29 Jun 2017

  • Duration: 38:52

'An indication of his very strong sense of duty is that he stuck at his job, even at some personal cost.'

– John Barnes on Charles Joseph La Trobe

About this video

In this erudite conversation, John Barnes and State Library Victoria's Kevin Molloy shed light on Charles Joseph La Trobe, the subject of Barnes’ new biography La Trobe: traveller, writer, governor.

The book reveals new perspectives on this often-misunderstood man, who had travelled as a naturalist and writer through Europe, the USA and Mexico, and as a government official in the West Indies, before arriving in Melbourne in 1839 – where he navigated the new colony through the upheavals of the gold rush.

This engaging, half-hour conversation touches on the centrality of La Trobe's Moravian religious beliefs and how these influenced his work as a colonial official (which detractors criticised as vacillating); his love of the outdoor life and natural history, also at odds with his job in government; and his relationship with the indigenous people of Victoria.

Held at the Library on 29 June 2017, this free event concluded with a rare viewing of a selection of La Trobe’s journals, letters and watercolours from the Library’s collection.

Image credit: Mount Wellingtbon by CJ La Trobe, watercolour on buff paper, 1847, Charles Joseph La Trobe Archive, State Library Victoria


  • John Barnes is Emeritus Professor of English at La Trobe University, where he taught for 25 years. His books include two other biographies:The order of things: a life of Joseph Furphy (1990) and Socialist champion: portrait of the gentleman as crusader (2006). John was founding editor of Meridian: the La Trobe English review and editor of the La Trobe Journal.
  • Kevin Molloy is Manager of the Manuscripts Collection at State Library of Victoria. He completed his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin, and has ongoing research interests in Irish and Australian cultural history.