The mostly reconstructed cottage of Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Port Phillip is located at the corner of Birdwood Avenue & Dallas Brooks Drive in Melbourne. This is a very important relic of Melbourne’s History. But for reasons unknown this precious gem of Melbourne history was neglected and allowed to decay until the 1950’s. Here we are taking our readers for an interesting journey through the History of Latrobe’s Cottage beginning with a brief life story of Charles La Trobe and an historical walk through of Newspaper clippings mentioning La Trobe’s Cottage since 1875.
Charles La Trobe
Charles Joseph La Trobe was born in London in March 1801. He descended from a noble French Protestant family, which emigrated from the south of France on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and settled in Ireland. His father and grandfather were prominent members of the Moravian Church in England.
La Trobe was the third son of the Rev. C. J. La Trobe, and his mother was the daughter of a clergyman of an old Saxon family in the west riding of the county of York. He was educated with his brothers among the Moravians, and was destined originally for the church, but he declined to enter into holy orders.
After reaching adulthood he spent several years in travel in America and on the Continent. On his return from America, in 1835, he was married to the third daughter of M. de Montmollen, a gentleman of high position and consideration in the principality of Neufchatel, Switzerland. In 1837 he first entered on public service. In that year he was appointed by Lord Glenelg, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, to visit the West Indian Islands and British Guiana, for the purpose of reporting on the application of the funds voted by Parliament for the education and moral improvement of the emancipated negroes. Having discharged that important duty to the satisfaction of his superiors, he was next appointed, in 1839, to the position of Superintendent of the colony of Port Phillip then forming part of the parent colony of New South Wales.
La Trobe was in his 38th year when he reached Melbourne as the official the settlers waiting as their leader in a campaign against the central Government authorities at Sydney to redress their grievances. The settlers considered it as an injustice that the NSW Government spent the major portion of the revenues of Port Phillip in improving facilities in Sydney. But La Trobe’s first speech as Superintendent of the Colony acknowledging his welcome itself disappointed the settlers.
La Trobe spoke in a two-storied weatherboard building built for Batman, though Batman never lived there, at the corner of William and Collins streets. The lower half of the building had been converted by the Melbourne Auction Company into an auction-room. The settlers filled the room to overflowing; most of them were wearing oilskin coats and Wellington boots covered with mud, for the town and streets had been rain-drenched continuously for three days. They had escorted La Trobe through mud and slush from the foot of William street to the auction-room. La Trobe had had a wet Journey of seven miles up the Yarra while being rowed in an eight-oared cutter from H.M.S. Pyramus, anchored in Hobson’s Bay. The Pyramus had arrived from Sydney on September 30, 1839, and the rainstorms prevented La Trobe from landing until October 2. Possibly not only was La Trobe feeling damp, like the 400 residents in the town, but he also felt it was an occasion for a sermon-like address on subjects which were at that time without any interest to the settlers, filled as they were with real grievances to the exclusion of any room for ethical speculations.
Advised that there would be no official residence La Trobe brought a prefabricated cottage built by Manning of London. He resided for a few weeks with Captain Lonsdale, then police magistrate.
He afterwards purchased 20 acres of land on the site where the suburb of Jolimont now is, and there erected a wooden house, which he had brought out from England. A curious incident was connected with the purchase of the land. Mr. La Trobe applied to the Sydney Government to have the land put up to auction, and when the sale took place there was an understanding amongst all present that no opposition should be offered to its purchase by Mr. La Trobe. One Sydney gentleman, however, did not fall in with this view, and offered a bid, but he was hooted so heartily by those surrounding him that he was glad to withdraw, and Mr. La Trobe was enabled to secure the land at the upset price. This purchase, which was to some extent unwillingly made by La Trobe, proved afterwards a very fortunate one, und relieved him from any anxieties for the future.
The Cottage was built here which he and Sofie named ‘Jolimont’ after the country residence in Switzerland where they spent their honeymoon.
As the two roomed prefabricated cottage was erected in 1839, a locally built dining room was added and the kitchen and the servants room were added soon after. During the next ten years the cottage was significantly enlarged with the addition of nurseries, dressing room, library, butler’s pantry, green house, stables and laundry. La Trobe was a keen gardener and botanist propagating seeds and cuttings collected on his travels around the district. During the next 15 years La Trobe spent at Jolimont, they developed an extensive estate suitable for a gentleman of La Trobe’s position. Three of his children were born at Jolimont.
Financially, the Lieutenant-Governor’s position was so miserable that in 1853, he sent his family back to England and applied for a permit to follow them. Purchase of land for his home, important Colonial balls and other official hospitality made increasing demands on his meagre £800, which rose to £1500 In 1851, but it was claimed It was never adequate to maintain his social standing. Ironically enough, the Legislative Council recommended a salary of £10,000, with an official allowance of £5000, only a few months before his retirement, in view of the eminence of the colony.
The colonists agitated for separation — “dismemberment” — from New South Wales. La Trobe secretly opposed their wishes, and stated they were not capable of self-government. La Trobe’s despatches came to light and led to an indignation meeting of 3,000 Melbourne citizens, who demanded his dismissal. The British Government did not agree with La Trobe, and a bill was passed separating Port Phillip from New South Wales on August 1, 1850. By virtue of the Australian Colonies Act 1850, the first Victorian Legislative Council met on November 11, 1851. The act gave Victoria greatly increased powers of self-government. La Trobe became Lieutenant Governor.
He retained that post of Lieutenant Governor until the 5th May 1854, when he voluntarily resigned, and returned to Europe. His position during the last years of office was a very difficult and arduous one. The discovery of gold in 1851, and the enormous influx of population which resulted therefrom, brought about a state of affairs with which Mr. La Trobe was ill fitted to grapple. The condition of quiescence was exchanged for one of eager excitement, and the mob of adventurers who flocked to this colony from all parts of the world well-nigh overturned for a time all law and order. The administration of Mr. La Trobe was marked by a hesitancy and lack of the vigour and energy required to deal with the unstable elements of society then existing. Numerous complaints were made, and not without good cause. Mr, La Trobe became desirous of retiring from his position, and sent in his resignation, which was accepted by the Secretary of State. Mr. La Trobe left the Colony on the 5th May, l854 on the steamer Golden Age. Prior to his departure he received, in the mail, addresses from all the public expressive of their high appreciation of his conduct during the 14 or 15 years he had occupied the leading position in the colony.
Just previous to his departure from this colony Mr. La Trobe sustained a bereavement in the loss of his wife. Some years after his return to England he married a second time.
His family consisted of one son and three daughters by the first marriage, and two daughters by the second. He resided near Lewes, in Sussex. He was 74 years. of age at the time of his death.
A memorial tablet in St. Peter’s Church, Eastern Hill, records that the La Trobes were resident from 1839 to 1853 at Jolimont, in the parish of St. Peter’s and from its formation Mrs. LaTrobe “was a communicant member of this congregation.” She was born at Neuchatel on February 9, 1809 and died there on January 30, 1854. She had three children born in Melbourne, two daughters and one son. La Trobe died at Lillington, Sussex, on December 2 1875, having been afflicted for 10 years before his death with blindness.
After La Trobe’s departure in 1854, the land was subdivided and sold. Fenton’s China ware importers built a large warehouse near the cottage. Bedggood’s Shoe Manufacturers bought the site in 1899. They commissioned Edna Walling to design a garden outside the dining room in the 1930’s.
In the late 1950’s National Trust acquired the cottage and began rebuilding it. The dining room was retained and now is the only original room. The rest of the building are reconstruction.
When the National Trust moved the cottage from Jolimont the prefabricated sections had been mostly demolished. The dining room was the only prefabricated structure that remained. The cottage was relocated and reconstructed at the Royal Botanic Gardens to the north of Birdwood Avenue. In 1998 it was moved to the current site.
The Story of La Trobe’s Cottage in Melbourne through News Paper reports
Weekly Times 30th September 1899
The other house, which was the gubernatorial residence of Mr Latrobe, has been partly pulled down, but the remains may still be inspected. They stand immediately behind the huge and substantial building at Jolimont, formerly occupied by Fenton and Sons, now used as a boot factory by Bedggood and Co. Mr Greenwood, the manager of the company, felt the same interest in the old place that prompted Mr Maclean to buy Captain Lonsdale’s old house. He thought it would be nice for his family to meet nightly in the same room in which Governor La-trobe at one- time received his guests, but he found that the building could not be removed without destruction.
The house stands immediately behind Bedggood’s factory, the frontage facing the river, but hidden from it now by the factory buildings. Looking at the picture, and commencing from the right, the first room was used as a drawing- room, and was probably the finest apartment in the house, though it does not exceed the size of the front room of an ordinary four- roomed cottage. Then came the hall, where the steps lead up. Next to that was a bedroom in front, and two. small rooms immediately behind. Then came the dining room, and built on to the end, the verandah continuing, was the reception room. The place is built of Indian teak, and even now can be seen the figures on the boards which were put there as a guide to the workmen in putting the house together, after having removed it in pieces from the ship. Behind this suite of rooms is another verandah, and a courtyard, in the form of a square. There are trees in the centre, and rooms along each side.
The back of the buildings faces what is now Jolimont square. The carriage drive goes in from what is now Agnes street, and the remains of a fine old grotto arc still to be seen, Next door to this house, and divided from it by a fence, is another very old residence, said to have been used by the staff. The interior of the rooms is very quaint, and one feels intensely interested on standing in the old and now somewhat dilapidated kitchen, with its peculiar appointments. In some of the rooms one could not, speaking literally, swing a cat. Of course, the cutting up of the ground into streets necessitated the pulling down of some of the buildings, and of the twenty acres originally purchased by Latrobe, only about one and a half acres are in the hands of Bedggood and Co. Still the old original building, minus the verandah, is there. I saw this verandah pulled away by unsentimental workmen, and on the spot where the Governor probably used to sit and gaze down the grassy slopes to the Yarra, is now the factory engine house. Our present Government House is directly opposite, on the other side of the river. The old house passed into the hands of a Mrs Lupton, widow of one in the service of Governor Latrobe, and in 18® was purchased by Messrs Fenton and Sons. Mr and Mrs Fenton and family lived in the place for some years and built the factory there.
The Argus, 23rd March 1934
FIRST GOVERNMENT HOUSE OLD BUILDING TO BE DEMOLISHED
One of the earliest landmarks in Melbourne, the first Government House, which was erected at Jolimont, is shortly to be demolished.’ – The building was brought from England in parts and erected in 1839. It was occupied, by Governor C. J. La Trobe. It has now become the property of Bedggood and Company, boot manufacturers whose factory adjoins. Increasing business demands an extension of premises, and the old building must give way to urgent requirements. The Early Pioneers Association is interested in the old edifice as a relic of Australian history, and Mr. W. Smithers Gadd, the secretary of the association, is organising a day of inspection. He has appealed to Messrs Bedggood and Co. to allow the building. which is in an advanced state of decay to remain for a few days, so that invitations can be issued to a number of leading citizens to see it before it is demolished.
The Argus, Tue 10 Mar 1942
LATROBE COTTAGE IS TO GO
To make way for an air raid shelter for employees of Bedggood and Company’s boot factory, Governor Latrobe’s cottage, in Agnes st Jolimont, is to be demolished, and Melbourne will thus lose one of Its most interesting relics. The cottage was imported in sections and was erected on its present site 103 year ago by Mr. C. J. Latrobe. It was named by his wife, a Swiss lady.
The neighbourhood in those days was picturesque bushland, and the cottage, then considered worthy of the title “Government House,” commanded an enchanting view of the river and the hills on either side. Now the little building is almost obscured from view by surrounding houses, flats, and the boot factory. It came into the possession of the Bedggood family about 40 years ago when the factory was being extended. The main portion of the cottage was preserved in its original state, and in more recent times, as a centenary gesture, the Bedggood family had a garden of early 19th century design planted around the cottage, and they opened it for public inspection.
Mr. H. L. Bedggood said yesterday that it was with regret that the family had decided to have the historic cottage demolished, but the air raid shelter had to be provided for employees, and the alternative to dismantling the cottage was to destroy the garden. As the old building was already falling into decay, it had been decided to preserve the garden, but the front portion of the cottage would be retained if possible. That had been decided after an official of the Historical Society of Victoria had visited the cottage yesterday.
The Age, Sat 26 Jun 1954
Jolimont Relic of Vice-Regal Home
It is a relic of the Swiss type chalet in which Charles Joseph La Trobe and his family lived during his term of office, firstly as superintendent of the Port. Phillip Colony and later as Victoria’s first Lieutenant Governor. Successive demolitions have reduced; the once spacious’ chalet to a mere two rooms of ancient weather board topped by a rusting iron roof.
The picture shows a glimpse of what is now a tiny cottage at the rear of a terraced garden laid out in 1932. Yet this far from hand some relic is worthy of notice because it is rich its historical association.
La Trobe arrived to take up his appointment as superintendent in September,1839. Before leaving England, he heard that it was extremely difficult to get a house in the growing colony, so he arranged for the house to be built in sections in England.
It was shipped to Melbourne and assembled here in 1840. It was, therefore, Melbourne’s first prefabricated building. At a land sale in 1840, LaTrobe bought an allotment of’ 12 acres and a half on the eastern side of the town for £250, and it was there that his house was erected, facing the sweep of grass land running down to the Yarra.
One story has it that Jolimont was named’ by La Trobe’s Swiss wife Sophie, who, on seeing the Jolimont hill, is said to have ex claimed in ‘her Swiss French, “Quel joli mont !” Actually, it derives its name from Jolimont, a small eminence ‘ overlooking the junction of Lakes Neuchatel and Bienne, where Mrs. La Trobe’s family had a summer residence, This residence near Neuchatel is still in existence today. The house became the administrative centre of a rough and ready but rapidly thriving colony. But today factories and garages stand where once a colony’s first lady and her guests strolled in crinkling crinolines and pert cottage bonnets.
La Trobe resigned in 1854 and returned to England. During his 15 years of office the population of the colony had grown from 5000 to 300,000.
Popular belief had it that La Trobe sold his land for £40,000, but his daughter, Eleanora, who was born in the house, has denied this. Across the narrow street named after La Trobe’s eldest daughter, Agnes there is another old house believed to have been built in La Trobe’s time.
In its -yard is the entrance to a tunnel which is still open for about 30 yards and proceeds in the direction of the former vice-regal residence. Few people now know of its existence. It was prob ably used by the servants leaving La Trobe’s home. Factory Came In 1899, the present owners, the shoe-making firm of Bedggood & Co.- Pty. Ltd., erected its factory partly on the site of La Trobe’s house. For many years the firm did not realise the historical value of the battered little building which had been partly demolished and looked so insignificant beside the neighbouring factories.
But since the 1930’s the company has taken a keen Interest in it. In 1932 a modern garden was laid out Infront of the tiny cottage and the public was Invited to see La Trobe’s former home.
In 1942 a further section was demolished to make way for air raid trenches, and . last year the. Gardens were unavoidably damaged by workmen adding a story to the adjoining’ factory. But soon a caretaker will again live in the remaining two rooms and, in the spring, the garden will be replanted.
Location: Corner of Birdwood Avenue & Dallas Brooks Drive, The Domain, Melbourne 3004 VIC
Open: La Trobe’s Cottage: Open October to April on Sundays from 2pm to 4pm. Combined tours of Government House and La Trobe’s Cottage run on select Mondays or Thursdays, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for available dates. email email@example.com for availability
Closed: Christmas Day and Grand Prix weekend in March.
Phone: Bookings Office on 03 9656 9889 Mon-Fri
Entry Fees: Adults: $5/ Children and Concession: $4/ Family $12
Weddings and Functions at La Trobe’s Cottage contact National Trust . Email – firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9656 9817.
The information provided here is compiled from News Paper reports that appeared in
The Age on 30th Saturday 1951
The Argus on 16th December 1875
The Argus on 14th April 1934
The Age on 5th September 1953
The Argus on 16th October 1934
Record on 20th October 1934
The Newspaper reports are published here with minimal editing. Accessed through Trove on 24th January 2020