Charles Hotham

Charles Hotham
Sir Charles Hotham
2nd Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria
In office
22 June 1854 – 22 May 1855
Preceded by Charles La Trobe
1st Governor of Victoria
In office
22 May 1855 – 10 November 1855
Monarch Queen Victoria
Succeeded by Sir Henry Barkly
Personal details
Born 14 November 1806
Dennington, Suffolk, England, UK
Died 31 December 1855(1855-12-31) (aged 49)
Melbourne, Victoria
Spouse(s) Jane Sarah Bridport

Sir Charles Hotham, KCB, RN (14 January 1806 – 31 December 1855)[1] was Lieutenant-governor and, later, Governor of Victoria, Australia from 22 June 1854 to 10 November 1855.


Early life

Hotham was born at Dennington, Suffolk, England the son of the Rev. Frederick Hotham, prebendary of Rochester, and his wife Anne Elizabeth née Hodges.[1] Hotham entered the navy on 6 November 1818,[1] and had a distinguished career. He was in command of the steam sloop Gorgon which ran aground in Montevideo Bay and showed skill and determination in getting her refloated. His last active service was as a commodore on the coast of Africa in 1846, in which year he was created K.C.B. In April 1852 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary on a mission to some of the South American republics.


Hotham was appointed lieutenant-governor of Victoria on 6 December 1853 by the Duke of Newcastle.[1] Later, Hotham was made captain general and governor-in-chief. He was received with great enthusiasm when he landed at Melbourne on 22 June 1854, and there appeared to be every prospect of his being a popular governor. Hotham, however, found that the finances of the colony were in great disorder, there was a prospective deficiency of over £1,000,000, and a bad system had grown up of advances being made to the various departments under the title of "imprests". Hotham wisely appointed a committee of two bankers and the auditor-general to inquire into the position, and this committee promptly advised the abolition of the "imprest" system. It was eventually found that under this system a sum of £280,000 could not be accounted for. His efforts at retrenchment brought Hotham much unpopularity, but on questions of finance he was always sound and great improvements in this regard were made during his short term of office.

Hotham was governor at the time of the Eureka Stockade. When Hotham became lieutenant-governor, replacing La Trobe, he enforced mining licensing laws. On the 16 November 1854 he appointed a Royal Commission on goldfields problems and grievances. According to historian Geoffrey Blainey "It was perhaps the most generous concession offered by a governor to a major opponent in the history of Australia up to that time. The members of the commission were appointed before Eureka...they were men who were likely to be sympathetic to the diggers."

Hotham was a naval officer who had been used to strict discipline, and though he eventually realized that the arrogance of the officials who were administering the law was largely responsible for the trouble, when, on 25 November 1854, a deputation waited on him to demand the release of some diggers who had been arrested, he took the firm stand that a properly worded memorial would receive consideration, but none could be given to "demands". The rebellion which broke out at the Eureka stockade on 3 December 1854 was quickly subdued but the rebels arrested were all eventually acquitted. It was a time of great excitement in Melbourne, and the governor was convinced that designing men were behind the movement who hoped to bring about a state of anarchy. In these circumstances he felt that the only way of dealing with the trouble was the use of the strong hand. Hotham's post was raised to a full governorship on 3 February 1855.[1]

Though Hotham in all constitutional questions relied on his legal advisers his position was one of great difficulty. Constitutional government had been granted but not really effected, and it was not until 28 November 1855 that the first government under William Haines was formed. During this year Hotham, had been endeavouring to carry out the views of his finance committee, and was receiving much criticism from a section of the press. He was insistent that tenders for all works should be called through the Government Gazette, but not receiving support from the legislature, he ordered the stoppage of all constructional works. For some of his actions he was reprimanded by Sir William Molesworth, the secretary of state. Hotham then sent in his resignation in November 1855 and in doing so mentioned that his health had materially suffered.

Late life

Hotham was conscientious, but he had little experience to help him in dealing with the exceptionally difficult problems of his period of governorship. He has been severely criticized, but his work on the finances of the colony was of great value.

Hotham, whose health was failing, caught a chill on 17 December 1855 while opening the Melbourne Gasworks; he died two weeks later on 31 December,[1] and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.

In December 1853, he had married Jane Sarah, daughter of Samuel Hood Lord Bridport, who survived him.


Several places have been named after him, most notably:


  1. ^ a b c d e f B. A. Knox, 'Hotham, Sir Charles (1806 - 1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, MUP, 1972, pp 429-430.
Government offices
Preceded by
Charles La Trobe (Lt.-Gov.)
Governor of Victoria
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Barkly

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