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    Sir Charles Hotham, Governor of Victoria 1854-1855, by Batchelder’s, photographer, courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

Hotham, Charles (1806 - 1855)

Suffolk, England
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Governor and Naval Officer

A distinguished, successful naval officer from an old Yorkshire family, Charles Hotham unwillingly took up his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria in June 1854. The extraordinary upheaval sparked by the discovery of gold meant Victoria was, understandably, seen as a difficult post. Not least, the colony was in financial crisis and discontent was brewing on the goldfields.

Initially considered an impressive appointment, Hotham’s arrival in Melbourne was greeted with enthusiasm. A successful tour of the goldfields soon followed. He impressed the working population, particularly the miners, with his much-publicised statement that ‘all power proceeds from the people’. But, despite the democratic overtones of this statement, his governing style proved to be arrogant and autocratic and he quickly began to alienate his firmest supporters and advisers – the official and propertied classes.

As agitation and unrest heightened on the goldfields, Hotham set up a royal commission to inquire into the causes of the discontent. Meanwhile, he considered it his duty to uphold the law (‘however obnoxious and unpopular’) – if necessary, at the point of a bayonet. His strong-arm tactics (ordering a crackdown on what he saw as defiant licence evasion) backfired; tensions increased and he precipitated the Eureka crisis when he ordered all available troops to Ballarat in late November 1854.

A year later, his popularity in tatters and his competence being questioned by the Colonial Office, he sent his resignation to London. His health failing, he caught a chill and died the following month.

Caitlin Mahar

Knox, B. A., 'Hotham, Charles (1806 - 1855)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 4, Melbourne University Press, 1974. Details
Serle, Geoffrey, The golden age: a history of the colony of Victoria, 1851-1861, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963. Details