Charles Joseph La Trobe’s water colours and sketches

A man of a thousand occupations! Botanist, geologist, hunter of beetles and butterflies, musical composer, sketcher of no mean pretensions; in short a complete virtuoso.

Charles Joseph LaTrobe (1801 -1875) arrived as Superintendent of the colony of Port Phillip in 1839, and later became Lieutenant Governor when Victoria separated from New South Wales in 1851. LaTrobe witnessed monumental changes effecting the colony, from the depression of the 1840s to the goldrushes of the 1850s.

A European with educated sensibilities – well travelled and with progressive views – he expressed his wonder of nature through art. La Trobe documented his travels by making sketches of the landscape.

Although a non-professional artist his proficiency in instantly capturing the contours of a scene have a modern vitality, whilst his completed watercolours have a Romantic and sublime quality.


On long-term loan to the Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria.


Charles Joseph La Trobe - Watercolours and Sketches

Pulpit Rock Cape Schank, Victoria, 1848.

Watercolour on paper.

Charles LaTrobe often visited Arthur's Seat, home of the McCrae family (now McCrae Homestead) on the Mornington Peninsula. During these visits he explored the landscape and worked on his painting. He first visited Cape Schank in 1840.

Roses Gap, The Grampians, Victoria, 1853.

Pencil and sepia wash on paper.

"The structure of the mountain is very extraordinary – tho’ not volcanic perhaps… it shows every sign of being shoved up to its present height and position by volcanic agency, and the form taken by the sandstone grit …are more bizarre than even those in Saxon Switzerland, which however, I think they must resemble…"

From The Letters of Charles Joseph La Trobe, December 1844

Mt Wellington, Hobart, Tasmania, 1847.

Watercolour on paper

"I ... scrambled one sat[urda]y afternoon to the top of Mount Wellington & after a very hard tusel [sic] in the dense forest in descending got back safe and sound about 9PM. It is well worth a visit."

From The Letters of Charles Joseph La Trobe, Charles Joseph La Trobe to Ronald Gunn, 23 January 1847.

"He was a man of a thousand occupations; a botanist, geologist, a hunter of beetles and butterflies, a musical composer, a sketcher of no mean pretensions; in short a complete Virtuoso; added to which he was an indefatigable, if not always successful sportsman. Never had a man more irons in the fire, and, consequently, never was a man more busy or more cheerful."

Washington Irving, American historian, essayist and novelist on Charles Joseph LaTrobe.

Related content