State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 71 Autumn 2003


John Barnes
Hunting the Buffalo with Washington Irving
La Trobe as Traveller and Writer

Washington Irving's characterisation of Charles Joseph La Trobe in A Tour on the Prairies as ‘the man of a thousand occupations’ has often been quoted approvingly by historians. It is a tribute from a man who had known La Trobe for a comparatively short time, but had known him in a variety of situations: shipboard companion on an Atlantic crossing; in New York and Baltimore society; as a fellow-tourist in America; and finally, as a ‘comrade’ on a month-long expedition into Indian country, during which they had taken part in a buffalo hunt. His description reflects the warmth of mutual regard and the sense of congeniality felt by two men who saw themselves as — to a certain degree! — citizens of the world:
Another of my fellow travellers was Mr. L—, an Englishman by birth, but descended from a foreign stock, and who had all the buoyancy and accommodating spirit of a native of the Continent. Having rambled over many countries he had become, to a certain degree, a citizen of the world, easily adapting himself to any change. He was a man of a thousand occupations; a botanist, a geologist, a hunter of beetles and butterflies, a musical amateur, a sketcher of no mean pretensions, in short a complete virtuoso; added to which he was a very indefatigable, if not always a very successful sportsman. Never had a man more irons in the fire, and, consequently, never was man more busy or more cheerful.1
There is, however, a curious omission in this list of La Trobe's ‘thousand occupations’: Irving does not mention the one occupation that they had in common — authorship. By 1832 when ‘the foremost American man of letters’ first met La Trobe, the ‘virtuoso’ was already the author of two books of travel. By 1835, having prepared A Tour on the Prairies for publication, Irving was anxious lest his English friend's book covering the same experience should appear before his own.2 In the event, La Trobe's book appeared some months after Irving's, and was dedicated to his celebrated American friend ‘in token of affectionate esteem and remembrance'.


La Trobe's four published books — The Alpenstock (1829), The Pedestrian (1832), The Rambler in North America (1835), and The Rambler in Mexico (1836) — were personal narratives based on diaries and journals kept on his travels during a period when he lived ‘an idle gentlemanly life'.3 He trained for no profession, and until he was employed by the Colonial Office held no appointment from which he derived a
steady income. The fact that in 1829 his name had been put down for Magdalene College, Cambridge, suggests that he may have considered becoming a clergyman as his two older brothers had done — Peter in the Moravian Church and John in the Church of England. His younger brother Frederic trained as a doctor. Until Glenelg sent him on a mission to the West Indies in 1837, Charles Joseph appears to have had no occupation apart from his travel books and some teaching.4 He came from a family that was not wealthy, and is unlikely to have received much financial support from that source. However, to his friend the Comtesse de Pourtalès he could proudly assert that ‘through the exercise of common sense, common prudence & common pride, I have neither been a burden to my Parent nor put myself under dishonourable obligations — not gone into debt nor been obliged to descend to meaness [sic] of any kind to support my idleness.'5
The first of his books, The Alpenstock; or, Sketches of Swiss Scenery and Manners MDCCCXXV-MDCCCXXVI, is the work of a young man for whom ‘doubt hangs over the future, and the path I must pursue would seem to be questionable and obscure’, as he says in his final paragraph.6 But it is clear from the book that ‘this retired corner of Switzerland’, to which he had come in October 1824 ‘under the influence of peculiar feelings’ (p. 3), had become very important to him by the time that he left in February 1827. He tells his reader that he had reached Neuchâtel by walking through the Jura after a year of ‘severe trials'; but here, as elsewhere in the text, he cannot bring himself to be explicit. To the Comtesse de Pourtalès in 1834 he observed:
Switzerland has been twice an asylum to me — once ten years ago this very autumn, when after my mothers death I paid it a first visit, & secondly in 1829, when disgusted with having lost a year in awaiting the tardy fulfilment of a promise of patronage by Lord Godrich, then prime minister, I returned to my unobtrusive perch among your mountains like a bird escaped from its cage.7
It was cheaper to live in Switzerland than in England, and the restless young man may have fallen back on that familiar last resort of the English abroad — teaching English to foreigners. He had a range of intellectual interests across the sciences, and had then a stronger interest in literature than he showed in later life. The poetic epigraphs to the chapters in his first two books indicate a liking for Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a text that may have been a factor in his choice of Switzerland.8 By the time that he wrote The Pedestrian (1832) he was lamenting that ‘I have many thoughts that are not prose, and see many things through a medium, that if not strictly poetic, is somewhat akin to it: yet I find year by year that I have more prose and less poetry measured out to me'.9 His romanticism, which was always tempered by a strongly conventional moral sense, does not seem to have gone much beyond a semi-religious enjoyment of the ‘sublimity’ of the mountains; the strength of his writing was always in his precise ‘prosaic’ observation. His initial stay in Switzerland may have been, to some degree, an attempt to put off making a commitment about his future, a temporary opting-out of the world of affairs that he expected eventually
to enter. In August 1825, towards the end of his first summer expedition in the Alps, he was summoned by ‘a near-relative’ (father? brother? uncle?) to Germany, where circumstances brought ‘unexpected disappointment and unexpected pleasure’, showing him ‘more forcibly than ever, how man proposes and God disposes’, and confirming ‘my belief in a particular providence’ (p. 155). After a further 18 months — including a second summer expedition — La Trobe returned to England where he wrote The Alpenstock, which was published in 1829. The possibility of a career was in England — or, more exactly, in London — where his father had powerful political acquaintances; and the book was written from the perspective of a young man who thought that his future lay elsewhere than in Switzerland. In June that year he was telling Swiss friends: ‘I am in circumstances of great difficulty…'10 By September that year, however, he was back at Neuchâtel, having been disappointed in his hopes of political patronage, and having abandoned the idea of taking a university degree.11 Another ‘summer ramble’ provided the material for The Pedestrian, which was published early in 1832. When he set out for New York in April that year, his future course was still in doubt.
Summer was the time for ‘rambling'. Charles Joseph and other members of his family appear to have enjoyed travel — which often meant walking rather than riding or driving through the countryside — and by the time that he wrote The Alpenstock he was able to compare scenery in Germany, France and England with that of Switzerland.12 When he returned to England from Switzerland in the summer of 1831, La Trobe, then aged 30, was accompanied by 19-year-old Albert-Alexandre de Pourtalès, the elder son of one of the leading Neuchâtel families, with whom he made a tour to the north of England and Scotland.13
During his two sojourns in Switzerland, displaying the same sort of sociability that had caused comment about his father as a young man, La Trobe had acquired a wide range of friends.14 ‘I do not say I believe, but I know I have friends there whose truth, sincerity & constancy are beyond all doubt’, he told Albert's mother, writing from England in 1834.15 The talented young man, so obviously a gentleman, whose family believed themselves to be of noble origin, had quickly formed friendships in the small society of Neuchâtel; and the ‘friends’ included the young woman whom he hoped to marry. (When he began his third visit to Switzerland, in May 1835, his journal entry for his first day was: ‘Visiting right and left'.16) He had first arrived there in autumn 1824, and although he had lived quietly and studiously during the winter — studying Schiller's The Thirty Years’ War, or so he implies in The Alpenstock — by the time he began his first summer expedition he had a circle in which he was welcome. He records in The Alpenstock that he often passed through ‘the hospitable gateway’ (p. 213) of the Chateau de Montmirail, just five miles from Neuchâtel, at which the Moravians had a school for girls with a resident clergyman.17 This was ‘one of those bright spots’ (p. 193) that he looked back on, and the warmth of his feelings was such that he held back from describing them to ‘the indifferent reader'. At the beginning of his first expedition he visited Erlenbach in the Simmenthal with a letter of introduction to the pastor from a mutual friend. The result was that the parsonage
became ‘one of those spots to which my heart clings with an affection which is interwoven with the thread of my being’ (p. 12). His ‘flower-loving friend Mr Studer of Erlenbach',18 for whom he brought back dried plants from America, shared his interest in botany and mountain-climbing — they climbed the Stockhom together — and the parsonage became ‘the home’ from which he began and to which he returned from his summer rambles.
La Trobe was equally at ease in the exclusive, close-knit society of the noblesse, the leading Neuchâtel families, of whom the Pourtalès and Montmollin families came to matter most to him. The Montmollins had been growing wine in the Neuchâtel area since the sixteenth century, and had a range of business interests. La Trobe was especially attracted to Sophie, one of the daughters of Frédéric de Montmollin who, like his father before him, occupied a leading position on the Council of State, which governed the canton. Sophie was the cousin of Albert de Pourtalès, whose father has been described as ‘quite a remarkable soldier of fortune'.19 Frédéric de Pourtalés was, like the La Trobes, of Huguenot descent; his family had settled in Switzerland the previous century, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and had prospered in business at Neuchâtel where his father had endowed a hospital that still continues. The canton was under Prussian rule, and Pourtalès had fought for the Prussians who were defeated by Napoleon at the battle of Jena in 1806. Returning to Neuchâtel after having been a prisoner of war, he joined the staff of Marshal Berthier, whom Napoleon had created Prince of Neuchâtel. Three years later, he was part of Napoleon's household as master-of-the-horse to the Empress Josephine, and had been created ‘Comte d'Empire'. When Frederick William III of Prussia regained control of Neuchâtel in 1814, he named Pourtalès as chamberlain, confirmed his title, and allowed him to keep his decorations. Pourtalès had no sympathy for the republican Swiss Confederation, and as late as 1856 was leading the royalist forces which hoped to keep Neuchâtel as a principality.

Unknown artist. Comtesse de Pourtalès, c. 1858. Source: Albert von Mutius, Grat Albert Pourtalès, Berlin, 1933.

In 1811 Comte de Pourtalès had married French noblewoman, Louise de Castellanes-Norante, who was a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Josephine. According to the memoirs of Madame Ducrest, Louise's mother had died young, leaving three
daughters, for whom Josephine provided. It was Josephine who gave permission for her to marry the wealthy and sought-after Pourtalès, and provided ‘un dot de cent mille francs et un trousseau’ [a dowry of one hundred thousand francs and a trousseau]. Madame Ducrest describes Louise as ‘jolie, spirituelle et tres aimée de l'Impératrice’ [pretty, spiritual and much loved by the Empress].20 To judge by the letters of Charles Joseph La Trobe, the young Englishman was deeply attached to Madame de Pourtalés, with whom he spoke and corresponded in English and with whom he shared confidences.21 Of her two sons, he once remarked off-handedly to his sister that ‘neither of them are worthy of their mother'.22

Unknown artist. Comte Frédéric de Pourtalès and sons. Source: Albert von Mutius, Graf Albert Pourtalès, Berlin, 1933.

La Trobe had no doubt of the ‘affectionate interest’ that Madame de Pourtalès and her husband had in him and Sophie.23 Remembering how she had been educated and how her own marriage had been arranged by the Empress, ‘chère Tante Louise’ may have felt all the more sympathy for her niece and the young Englishman. His devoted friendship with these powerful relatives of Sophie's may well have been decisive in persuading the Montmollin family to allow their daughter to marry a young man who, however promising and however congenial, lacked the financial resources that they expected in a son-in-law. Many years later, when Madame de Pourtalès was widowed, La Trobe was to tell his eldest daughter:
None of my children need be ignorant nor ever forget that the obligations I owe to your dear late uncle & to her, can never be repaid. So far as I have been a happy husband & father, & have been respected or successful in life I owe all, humanly speaking, under Gods good providence, to these dear friends — and if I have any regret, it is that I have so few opportunities of showing how deeply I feel that obligation — & how gladly I would find occasion to acknowledge it. My only regret at not coming to Paris at this time is that I might otherwise see her face & tell her that the affection of her old friends has no abatement.24
La Trobe probably never detailed the full extent of the ‘obligations’ that he felt that he and his family owed to ‘Oncle Fritz’ and ‘Tante Louise’ for helping to make his marriage possible. In relation to their son Albert, however, it seems that they may
have been under some obligation to him.
In the years 1831 to 1834, the elder Pourtalès son, Albert, travelled with La Trobe, first to England and then to America. It is frequently stated that La Trobe was employed by the Pourtalès family as a tutor; but such evidence as is available suggests that when their son abandoned his studies in Geneva and behaved with what they thought was impropriety, the parents turned for advice and help to their young friend, Mr La Trobe. (However, in a letter to Madame de Pourtalès from America, La Trobe does once refer to Albert's brother Guillaume as ‘my ancient pupil’, but goes on to say: ‘My intercourse with him was so slight that I can hardly venture to speak of his character'.25 It is possible that he was a tutor to the younger son for a short time in 1830-31.) Neither Albert nor his parents named La Trobe as Albert's tutor though, in fact, he did play the role of moral tutor or mentor during the American excursion. A passage in his long letter to Madame de Pourtalès at the end of the American tour clarifies a situation that had puzzled some of the Americans with whom the pair had travelled:
You will recollect that it was thought advisable, from the very commencement of our intercourse three years ago, that A should be left quite in the dark as to the precise nature of my position with regard to him, & if not positively asserted, he was allowed to suppose that I was perfectly independant of him & his. That he should not long ago have surmised the contrary & seen beyond doubt that this could not be the case is quite clear to me, as I took but little pains to strengthen the impression, excepting so far as I avoided all reference to the subject, feeling no wish to entangle myself. Yet I think it highly creditable to him & shows his sense of propriety & respect for your wishes, that however the temptation might occasionally be in moments of irritation, the subject has never in any way been brought up between us from first to last. This I really feel grateful to him for, for, once fairly brought upon the tapis, I should never have denied the truth, at the same time that I should never have sacrificed my sense of independance as far as regarded him personally. As to the existence of the paper which M. de P, and yourself thought proper to entrust me with, of course he neither knows nor suspects it.26
M. de Pourtalès met all the expenses of the American trip; and possibly did the same for the earlier and shorter trip to England and Scotland (which may have been regarded by the parents as a trial run). While in America La Trobe discussed plans with the parents by letter, supplied Albert with an allowance as determined by his parents, and generally acted in loco parentis. It says much for La Trobe's ‘people skills’ that, despite disagreements with his ‘friend and companion’, the trip resulted in a lifelong friendship. When the ex-governor returned to Switzerland in 1855 Albert de Pourtalès, now a respected citizen with wife and children, greeted him affectionately as ‘my dearest old friend’ and ‘dearest Latrobe'.27
In America La Trobe was able to spend time with his relatives in Baltimore, and to introduce Albert to society ‘good & polished beyond anything you would expect after reading Mrs Trolloppe’ [sic], as La Trobe assured the countess.28 The desire to meet his cousins (descendants of his uncle Benjamin) may have been his initial impulse towards making the trip. La Trobe was not attracted to America, and as he
makes clear in The Rambler in North America had no enthusiasm for the political developments in the new society. After 18 months he was able to write to Albert's mother:
It will please you my dear Madam, to hear that Albert is quite cured of his democratic fancies, & promises to become a legitimiste & aristocrat of the first water. As to myself, in spite of what Mrs Ibbotson says, I was born a Tory with a most religious horror of radicals & democrats, & every year's observation makes me more firm in my dislike of them, so that Albert's political creed & my own trot pretty well side by side.29
Although Albert might hold the right political positions, his behaviour often did not show the respect for social hierarchy that La Trobe valued. The letters sent by La Trobe to the parents are full of earnest discussion of Albert's qualities, and constitute a kind of running report on his moral advances (and backslidings). Although frank and firm in his judgments, La Trobe was tactful and discreet about details of Albert's behaviour, especially in the letters to his mother. He saw the trip as ‘an experiment’ which he hoped would provide ‘moral schooling’ over ‘two perilous years of youth'.30 With his own strong sense of duty, he could not empathise very far with the mercurial, undisciplined Albert. In Mexico, shortly before setting out on the return journey, he wrote with some bewilderment:
Whether it is the result of his extreme facility of disposition & chameleon-like temper; or of a defective taste inherent in his nature, it is always a matter of astonishment with me that Albert with his genius, for genius he has, & talents for the enjoyment of all that is elevated, should show so little discrimination & delicacy in choice of companions, style of conversation, reasoning & excitements at times.31
The leader of the expedition into Indian territory which La Trobe and Pourtalès joined in October 1832, Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, was very disapproving of the young count's manners and morals. ‘Mr Pourteles was full of fun & frolic with the servants, and by his familiarity impeded our government of them’, he noted in his journal.32 He was angered by what he saw as Pourtalès's attempts to seduce a young Indian girl, and confided to his journal that he did not detail ‘instances of behaviour more gross’ because ‘I would not pollute my pages with a recital of them'.33 The highly moral New Englander feared that the young man's ‘future domestic felicity’ could be destroyed by ‘the appearance of red progeny who will rise up to call him father'.34 The equally moral La Trobe constantly assured Madame de Pourtalès that her son made a good impression whenever he was in good society, but he confessed that he was glad when a return visit to Indian country the following year was over, ‘for I am more & more convinced that the species of feverish excitement under which he labours while in it, is far from being healthy — & not likely to add to the strength of his moral feeling'.35
For the young Count, who nevertheless was enjoying all the benefits of his European inheritance, the Native Americans were the desirable Other. The exuberant and impulsive young man, his head full of Rousseau and fantasies of

Albert de Pourtalès, ‘Pencillings by the way’ [La Trobe sketching on horseback] c. 1834. Humourous pencil sketch, courtesy of the Archives de l'Etat, Neuchâtel.

sexual liberation, was in adolescent revolt against the restrictions and obligations of the society into which he had been born. (In one of his journal entries a reflection on the life of the hunters culminates in a playful rhapsody that La Trobe would have most certainly have considered ‘unhealthy’: ‘Why don't we eat grass, run naked on all fours, and grab all the female women [sic] we meet in our pasture? Oh nature! Oh philosophy! Oh Jean Jacques!'.36) His passion for the ‘noble savage’ was, however, a genuinely human sympathy, and he was free of the sense of racial hierarchy that framed the responses of his companions to the Native Americans. After seeing how the Osages actually lived, he told his mother: ‘Give me the Osages and the wilderness a thousand times rather than the inhabitants of the Mississippi'.37 His desire to share the experience of living with the tribe could be traced back to his seeing six Osages at Geneva in 1827, and he was delighted to meet one of them again during the expedition. To his journal he confided the ‘fancy’ that if he settled in America it would be among the Osages, and he ‘would become the advocate of the Osages before the government, which each year pushes them back a little more into the wilderness and the grave'. He would try ‘civilizing them, not by preaching the obscure and unintelligible dogmas of Methodism, but by helping them through my example and advice to cultivate indispensable arts and to develop agriculture'.38 Twenty-first century readers are more likely to relate to the naïve young nobleman's dreams of helping the Native Americans, and his feeling for them as individual people, than with the carefully weighed reflections of La Trobe on governmental policy. In his extended comments on ‘the red tribes’ La Trobe was already sounding like the colonial official that he was to become.
The month-long expedition into Indian territory in which La Trobe and Pourtalès took part is often referred to erroneously as ‘Irving's expedition'. Certainly they would not have been in the party if they had not had the good fortune to meet Washington Irving when they sailed from Le Havre in April 1832. Irving already knew of the
American branch of La Trobe's family, being acquainted with his cousin, John H.B. La Trobe, a son of Benjamin Henry La Trobe. Despite the disparity in age — Irving was 49, La Trobe had turned 31 in March, and Pourtalès was to celebrate his 20th birthday on the Oklahoma expedition in October — the three men enjoyed each other's company on the voyage from Europe. The middle-aged bachelor, who was often lonely, found the pair congenial, and on reaching New York was happy to rediscover his own country in their company. La Trobe was invited to the dinner given by the Mayor of New York to welcome home Irving. (Pourtalès, who had gone down with measles just before the ship docked, was absent, being cared for by his New York relatives.) For ‘citizen of the world’ Washington Irving, the excursions they took after reaching New York were part of a process of his becoming an American once again.

William Brockedon (1787-1854). Portrait of Washington Irving. Coloured pencil and chalk. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

This illustration is unavailable for copyright reasons.
The meeting with Ellsworth on a ferry on Lake Erie in late August 1832 was as important to Washington Irving as to his two companions, but for different reasons. Ellsworth, a lawyer and politician of Hartford, Connecticut, had been appointed the previous month as a Commissioner under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which provided for the transfer of Indian tribes from the East and their resettlement in the West. He invited Irving and his two companions to join him on an expedition to look at an area where the tribes might be resettled. It was an opportunity not to be missed. Returning home after an absence of 17 years, Irving was anxious to have the approval of his countrymen. He had made his reputation in Europe, but now felt that he must write about his homeland. ‘I feel the importance … and I may say the duty, of producing some writings relating to our own country which would be of a decidedly national character’, he had written in 1829. ‘It… would be at the same time very gratifying to my feelings, and advantageous to my literary character at home'.39 Joining Ellsworth on his expedition could provide the writer with material ‘of a decidedly national character'.
The Oklahoma expedition is described in the two books written for publication — those of Irving and La Trobe — and in the journals and letters of all four gentlemen, of which only La Trobe's remain unpublished.40 ‘If you keep a journal, write when you can; but never postpone’, he advised the reader in The Pedestrian (p. 49). He followed his usual practice of writing down a brief account of each day's doings, even when there was a crisis, such as occurred when the Count went missing. Notes of what was happening on the trip had to be made during the day or in the light of the camp fire.
There were no candles for writing or for reading books — and in any case the only books they had were two Bibles, one of which belonged to Pourtalès and was in French.

Mathias Gabriel Lory (1784-1846) [attrib.]. Mme Frédéric de Pourtalès-Castellane on her balcony Chateau de Greng. Photograph of aquatint reproduced from Patrie Neuchâtelois, vol. V. Lory was a friend of La Trobe.

Despite the difficulties, both Irving and La Trobe kept detailed journals, which they were able to use as the basis for the books they published. Irving started writing his narrative while La Trobe and Pourtalès were still travelling, but it is unlikely that they compared notes. Indeed, although the three friends met and travelled together again — and La Trobe urged the American to return to Europe — Irving did not tell La Trobe that he was writing a book. On his return to England in July 1834, La Trobe found ‘a general expectation among my friends that I am going to make a fool of myself by the publication of something or other'.41 He had not come back with anything prepared, but he assured Madame de Pourtalès in August that ‘a short period might suffice for that purpose'.42 By April 1835 Irving's book was out; Madame de Pourtalès had read it; but La Trobe (who did not finish writing until the end of the month) had ‘not ventured to read it as yet’, and wondered if ‘Irving & I contrive to contradict one another'.43
There are no significant discrepancies of fact between the accounts of the four gentlemen, but their perspectives and styles are very different. The Commissioner and his three friends, who messed together with their attendants, travelled in the company of a detachment of 80 Rangers, who had been placed under his control. Probably the journal of Ellsworth (intended only for the eyes of his wife) comes closest to giving the feel of their day-to-day physical existence and their relationships. He was aware of the ‘blow-ups’ that Irving had with Tonish and another servant (p. 47) and on at least one occasion intervened; he was taken aback by the way in which Irving, on finding Pourtalès's French Bible, ‘made great merriment about the curious things that took place in those ancient days’ (p. 72); he felt ‘Mr Latrobe's mortification at the forwardness of his charge’ (p. 69), and noted the Englishman's enthusiasm for botany ('He always has a little bag slung to his coat button, to receive a new variety') (p. 69). In his journal are to be found the sort of incidental and often disagreeable details that Irving carefully excluded from his
narrative and La Trobe usually passed over.
Ellsworth took some satisfaction, no doubt, in recording the reactions of his companions to the report — which proved to be false — that hundreds of Pawnee Indians were advancing to attack the camp. Describing the ‘consternation’ in the party, he noted:
Mr Irving could find only one Leggin, and he was calling through the camp loud, and louder still, for his odd leggin, of mighty little consequence in a battle — He was as pale as he could be, and much terrified — Latrobe seized his saddle, and put it on wrong side before and girted it in this manner — Pourteles wanted to know, whether it was best to take saddle bags or not? One young chap went running around, wringing his hands, crying, ‘Lord jesus help me find my bridle'! As for myself, all this while I could not get my horse, and there were several others in the same situation — I primed, anew my double barrell gun, which was already loaded with balls, and picked the flints — I prepared my rifle pistol in the same manner, and hung my dirk (whose point I had previously sharpened) at my side… . (pp. 93-94)
In A Tour on the Prairies Irving evokes the scene vividly in some detail — including La Trobe's mistake with the saddle — but of his companions identifies only ‘my Swiss fellow traveller, who had a passion for wild adventure’ (p. 75). In The Rambler in North America La Trobe merely remarks that ‘the scene of confusion which ensued was amusing enough… .'44 One would have liked to have had the version of this event given by the servant, the ‘little swarthy, meagre, wiry French Creole, named Antoine, but familiarly dubbed Tonish: a kind of Gil Blas of the frontiers’, whom Irving in A Tour on the Prairies calls ‘a notorious braggart and a liar of the first water’ (p. 11). Tonish appears often in the narratives of the truth-telling gentlemen, and is presented as a constant source of entertainment. Irving reports that when the alarm was given ‘little Tonish, who was busy cooking, stopped every moment from his work to play the fanfaron, singing, swearing, and affecting an unusual hilarity, which made me strongly suspect that there was some little fright at bottom to cause all this effervescence’ (p. 75). How, one wonders, did Tonish interpret Irving's behaviour?
Although each of the gentlemen recorded their impressions, there appear to be no surviving narratives, oral or written, from those of ‘inferior rank’, who may have found a source of entertainment in the behaviour of their ‘betters'. From the point of view of the historian, La Trobe's book is the most authoritative and factually complete record of the expedition. It has been described as ‘one of the classic pieces of early literature of Oklahoma'.45


Washington Irving's A Tour on the Prairies, which presents the Far West through a filter of romance, pleased his American readers. In the Introduction specially written for the American edition, Irving assured his fellow-countrymen that he looked at his native land ‘with delightful exultation’, and felt that ‘after all my ramblings about the
world, I can be happiest at home'. As for the book, to meet the public expectations he had ‘as it were, plucked a few leaves out of my memorandum book, containing a month's foray beyond the outposts of human habitation, into the wilderness of the Far West'. This ‘simple narrative of everyday occurrences; such as happen to everyone who travels the prairies’, which he offered to the American public with ‘great diffidence’, formed ‘but a small portion of an extensive tour'. It was a modest introduction to what is a narrative carefully crafted to please his fellow-countrymen.
A Tour on the Prairies is written in a beguilingly simple but stately style, in which language carrying the impress of literary usage is preferred to contemporary speech. Characteristic of this manner is an early passage about the enthusiasm of Pourtalès (whom Irving seems to delight in calling ‘the Count') for things Indian, in which he writes of ‘the young Count, who seemed more enchanted than ever with the wild chivalry of the prairies’ (p. 21). Irving's language subtly associates the expedition with the world of romance and legend. The buffalo hunt, which is a highlight of his narrative, was an experience probably remote from the lives of most of his readers, and Irving makes it seem even more remote. On the Great Prairie he has the consciousness of being ‘far, far beyond the bounds of human habitation;…as if moving in the midst of a desert world'(p. 100). After he has killed a buffalo, he stands by his prize having ‘qualms of conscience’ about having put the wounded animal out of its misery. In Rambler La Trobe, who had already shot a buffalo and cut out its tongue as a trophy, merely says that he found Irving ‘standing sentinel over his prey’ (vol. I, p. 229). In Irving's version La Trobe is viewed as a practitioner of an ancient art:
While I stood meditating and moralizing over the wreck I had so wantonly produced, with my horse grazing near me, I was rejoined by my fellow-sportsman the Virtuoso, who, being a man of universal adroitness and withal more experienced and hardened in the gentle art of ‘venerie’, soon managed to carve out the tongue of the buffalo, and delivered it to me to bear back to the camp as a trophy. (p. 102)
On returning to the camp they find it ‘a scene of rude hunters’ revelry and wassail’ (p. 103). This is the sort of phrasing we would expect to find in a Walter Scott novel — or in a Robin Hood story. Indeed; Irving himself had earlier described the view of what he calls the ‘honey camp’ as ‘a wild bandit, or Robin Hood scene’ (p. 28).
La Trobe was responsive to what he probably thought of as the ‘poetry’ of Washington Irving's world, and does a fair job of evoking it in a passage of his own about a visit to the country with Washington Irving associations, which he and Pourtalès made with the author in 1833:
As last year we had trailed Rip Van Winkle into the recesses of the Kaats-kill mountains — we now traced Ichabod Crane through all his temptations and perils. We reconnoitred the little old Dutch farm-houses inhabited by the Van Tassels and the Van Brommels of the classic neighbourhood to the east of the Tappansee. We sauntered along the pellucid stream, filtering through Saw-Mill valley — sheltered from the busy world behind the heights of the Hudson. We dozed away a sultry hour in the shades of Sleepy Hollow, or

Charles Joseph La Trobe. ‘Mill near Sleepy Hollow, 1833'. Pencil and sepia wash on paper. National Trust Of Australia (Victoria) Collection on loan to the La Trobe Picture Collection.

Charles Joseph La Trobe. ‘Dutch Church 1832'. Pencil and sepia wash on paper. National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Collection on loan to the La Trobe Picture Collection.

reposed within sound of the hum of voices proceeding from the little out-of-the-way hedge-schools — the focus of learning for a scattered neighbourhood. We stood on the spot where our brave Major Andre was captured, and within sight of the place where he suffered. We further did not forget to linger near the little odd Dutch church, which still stands with its red roof, white walls, squat cupola and adverse weather-cocks, above the little dell where the Headless Horseman wreaked his wrath on the sconce of Ichabod; and leaned moralizing over the paling of the quiet church-yard, where Brom Bones and hundreds of his neighbours lie in a tangled, but odiferous labyrinth of elder, thyme, wild-strawberries, and cat-mint. Lastly, we did not fail, at even-tide, to sit with our faces turned towards the Far West, in whose distant regions we had wandered together so far and so happily, — gazing with delight on the glowing river and its scenery. (vol. II, pp. 124-25)
La Trobe's ‘sketches of character and natural scenery’ ('to which my own inclination and temper lead me') are more ‘prosaic’ than those of Irving. The Far West, as La Trobe describes it, is a place of history, not legend, and his enjoyment of aesthetic qualities of scenery (which he not only described but sketched with pen and pencil) incorporates an interest in natural history. And, though he considers it ‘a most portentous and dangerous subject’ (vol. I, p. 65), he does attempt to describe ‘men and manners’ in the New World.
The Rambler in North America, which was published in two volumes, is a much larger work than A Tour on the Prairies, and covers the whole of La Trobe's trip, not just the Oklahoma expedition. It is written in the epistolary form, comprising a total of 37 letters addressed to his younger brother, ‘F.B.L.’ (Frederic Benjamin La Trobe). The letter-writing convention suits La Trobe, whose prose suggests that he had the Spectator of Addison and Steele as his model. In The Pedestrian he had at intervals awkwardly addressed an imagined reader. In The Rambler he is comfortable addressing a person whom he knows well, and with whom he can share memories. In every way, The Rambler in North America represents a marked advance upon La Trobe's previous books: the style is easier and more assured; historical and other information is integrated better with the personal narrative; and the authorial reflections are of greater weight and substance. Knowing what lay ahead for him, one is inclined to say that the writing of this book was a good preparation for writing official despatches.
Generally La Trobe avoids detailed accounts of well-known places in America, the big exception being Niagara. To describe the Falls he — ‘a notorious cascade-hunter’ (vol. I, p. 72) in his youth — can only reach for superlatives, while deploring the effects of ‘busy man and all his petty schemes for convenience and self-aggrandisement’ (vol. I, p. 74) in turning the natural phenomenon into a tourist attraction. During the first three months of their ‘ramble’, La Trobe and Pourtalès, frequently in the company of Irving, are spectators of the life and scenery in the northern states. With the decision to join Ellsworth's expedition the focus of the narrative changes: they are now headed for an unexplored region, and they become, as it were, part of the history of the dealings of the Federal Government with the native tribes. The long trip south — by steamboat to St Louis, and then overland by wagon to Fort Gibson, the point from which the
expedition is to start — is not described by Irving. Interpolated in La Trobe's account of that journey are discussions of the history of settlement in the West and the Osage Indians, an account of the first steamboat on the Mississippi, a sketch of a day on the frontier, and an especially entertaining sketch of buying a horse. La Trobe's range of skills, which so impressed Irving, and his practicality are evident in his description of preparing for the expedition.
In telling the story of the expedition itself — as in the rest of the book — La Trobe does not tell the story of his relationship with Pourtalès. It would have been an inexcusable breach of manners to have made public the private concerns he had about his companion: they could be voiced in letters to the parents, but not in the text of the book, where there is no hint of how close the relationship was, and what responsibility La Trobe carried in relation to the younger man. La Trobe is reticent about his feelings, even when Pourtalès goes missing after what he calls ‘the Bison hunt'. Pourtalès had not found his way back to the camp that night, and there was a real possibility of his being harmed or even killed. (‘The Commissioner feared that he might be ‘devoured’ by wolves or bears before morning'.46) La Trobe was awake most of the night, his ears filled with the sound of the prairie wolves attracted by the dead carcases of the buffalo:
You could distinguish the sharp yell of the prairie-wolf rising over the long-continued howl of the large grey species, as they fed, and snarled, and fought together through the long dark night. I remember it well, for the absence of my companion hung heavy on me, and prevented much sleep; and as Beattie and I sat over the fire in the dead of the night, musing and planning for the morrow, that melancholy concert sounded dolefully in my ears. (vol. I, p. 231)
Pourtalès had kept his head, spent the night in a tree, where he probably had more sleep than did La Trobe, and was eventually found the next day. ‘He deserved and got great credit for his good sense and philosophy’ (p. 236) is La Trobe's laconic final comment on Pourtalès's adventure. Of the enormous sense of relief he must have felt he says nothing. Writing to Madame de Pourtalès after the expedition was over, he said that Albert had behaved very well, ‘as I believe he will always do when his energies are well directed'.47 But in the same letter he told her that he looked back ‘with something like a shudder’ on the last three months, which had been ‘a season of great mental anxiety to me'.48 Apart from the episode of the bison hunt, he had been worried by Albert's wilful behaviour, by the conflicts between them, and by the ever-present threat of cholera. Without a knowledge of this hidden narrative, the reader of The Rambler in North America might well take La Trobe's reflection (as they reached New York at the end of December 1832) on ‘the many dangers which the hand of God had led us through, in peace, health, and safety’ as being merely a pious gesture.
In a Letter oddly placed at the end of the first volume — it would have seemed more appropriate at the end of the second — La Trobe discusses types of English travellers in America, classifying himself as a Cosmopolitan, but affirming that he
loves, prefers and upholds ‘the political, social, moral, and religious superiority of my own native country'. (vol. I, p. 320). Following the Oklahoma expedition he and Pourtalès spent another year travelling by stage-coach, canoe and steamboat through the States and Canada before leaving for Mexico by ship from New Orleans in January 1834. By that time La Trobe could claim to have an extensive knowledge of the country and its institutions. He read works of history and geography — Flint's Geography of the Mississippi is recommended to the reader — which he drew upon in extended commentaries. He reveals himself to be a shrewd, somewhat wry observer of Americans, interested in the minutiae of daily life, sympathetic but unwilling to idealise, with a sharp eye for human weaknesses. He chances his arm in defining characteristics of different regions. Of New Englanders, for instance, he pithily remarks: ‘They have a finger upon the rim of every man's dish, and a toe at every man's heel’ (vol. I, p. 61). He good-humouredly refers to the ‘cake-inventive housewives and daughters of New England’, suggesting that ‘some of the Pilgrim Fathers must have come over to the country with the cookery book under one arm and the Bible under the other’ (vol. I, p. 62). In the South his criticisms are sharper, his fastidiousness more apparent. On coming across a village called Suspenderville in Florida, he exclaims: ‘In nothing have our American neighbours shown such an utter absence of anything like propriety and good taste, as in the hideous nomenclature of towns and villages, with which they have disfigured their maps and their language’ (vol. II, p. 64). In Tallahassee he witnesses an anti-Temperance meeting at which ‘it was agreed by the majority of the good people of Tallahassee, to go on drinking and stimulating with mint-julep, mint-sling, bitters, hail-stone, snow-storm, apple-toddy, punch, Tom and Jerry, egg-nog — and to remain dram-drinkers and tipplers, if not absolute drunkards, in spite of the machinations of the Temperance men’ (vol. II, p. 61). Mint-julep particularly excites his interest, and leads to a lively flourish, as he tells his brother:
Who knows, that if you get hold of the recipe, instead of being an orderly sober member of society, a loyal subject, and a good Tory; you will get muzzy, and hot-brained, and begin to fret about reform, and democratic forms of government, — doubt your Bible — despise your country — hate your King — fight cocks, and race like a Virginian, — swear profanely like a Western man — covet your neighbours’ goods like a Yankee speculator — and end by turning Radical Reformer! (vol. II, p. 62)
Behind the joke is a rock-solid political and social conservatism that makes La Trobe severely critical of American attitudes, while acknowledging the generosity and hospitality he encountered from individuals. He is scathing about the American ‘gift of the gab’, especially as exhibited by lawyers (vol. II, p. 67); and almost as disparaging about ‘truly American authors’, saying that ‘among them, there are men of both wit and talent, both of which would be of more value, if taste were added’ (vol. II p. 83)
In La Trobe's judgement, ‘a general and decided taste for, and appreciation of the fine arts’ is not among ‘the many solid excellences’ that the Americans had ‘inherited from British blood’ (vol. II, p. 82). Even worse than the general lack of
culture is the prevailing attitude in politics. La Trobe steers clear of the contemporary controversies, but there is no mistaking his distaste for the political processes in America — ‘the elections by which the whole mass are more or less agitated from year's end to year's end, and the degrading style of warfare carried on by the innumerable polemical newspapers’ (vol. II, p. 135). An even more fundamental objection is to ‘the insane anxiety of the people to govern'. La Trobe, a great admirer of Sir Robert Peel, had no sympathy for the reform movement in Britain. His position is powerfully stated in a passage that anyone seeking to understand the outlook of Victoria's first governor needs to ponder:
You speak against the insane anxiety of the people to govern — of authority being detrimental to the minds of men raised from insignificance — of the essential vulgarity of minds which can attend to nothing but matter of fact and pecuniary interest — of the possibility of the existence of civilization without cultivation, and you are not understood. I have said it may be the spirit of the times, for we see signs of it, alas, in Old England; but there must be something in the political atmosphere of America, which is more than ordinarily congenial to that decline of just and necessary subordination which God has both permitted by the natural impulses of the human mind, and ordered to His word; and to me the looseness of the tie generally observable in many parts of the United States between the master and servant, — the child and the parent, — the scholar and the master, — the governor and the governed, — in brief, the decay of loyal feeling in all the

Charles Joseph La Trobe. ‘The Plain of Mexico from above Tlalpam, 1834'. Watercolour on paper. National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Collection on loan to the La Trobe Picture Collection.

relations of life, was the worst sign of the times. (vol. II, p. 136)
For La Trobe America was a ‘singular mélangé’, an incongruous mixture in which were to be found ‘the signs of a state of things which savors of rough simplicity or semi-barbarism, intermingled with those which bespeak the inroads of luxury’ (vol. II, p. 139). As for the claims made about equality in America:
Equality of political rights there may be, in other respects there can be none. Outward distinctions of rank may be done away with; the words, cringing, veneration, submission, condescension and such like, with all the nouns, verbs and adverbs thereunto belonging, may be blotted from the Transatlantic dictionary, but distinctions of rank there must be, and such will be felt, as long as the world exists — arising from education, breeding, wealth, and talent, and must we not say gentle blood? (vol. II, pp. 139-40)
La Trobe's conservative outlook on political and social questions was not altered by his visit to America, but it would be misleading to represent him as — to use his own term — a Porcine traveller, a personification of John Bull, who saw ‘nothing but want of polish, want of taste, and want of politeness’, and went around in a ‘paroxysm of loyalty and rekindled Toryism’ (vol. I, p. 314). In his famous work, The Conquest of Mexico, American-born W.H. Prescott quotes from La Trobe's The Rambler in Mexico, remarking of him that his descriptions of ‘man and nature in our own country, where we can judge, are distinguished by a sobriety and fairness that entitle him to confidence in his delineation of other countries'.49
On the issue of slavery La Trobe has little to say — and it isn't what might have been expected, given the association of his family with the abolition of slavery. He acknowledges slavery as an evil, but says that his impression, ‘from what we saw of slavery, both in the Southern States and the West’, was that ‘the holders were to be pitied rather than the negroes, whose condition, on many of the Virginia and Western plantations, is that rather of pet and spoilt children, than anything else’ (vol. II, p. 15). He shows greater interest in the Native Americans, with whom he spent much more time. While he did not relate to the Osage Indians at the level of individual relationships, as the uninhibited Pourtalès did, he observed them with sympathy and tried to understand their way of life. The following year he and Pourtalès were at Chicago when the treaty with the Pottawattomies was signed. La Trobe looked closely at governmental policies, both the intention and the actual implementation. He regretted the European treatment of the native people and felt for their condition, but accepted the resettlement policy. ‘Even though convinced of the necessity of their removal, my heart bled for them in their desolation and decline’, he wrote of the Pottawattomies (vol. II, p. 214). La Trobe had a conventional European and Christian perspective on the indigenous people, his whole approach being coloured by his family's missionary background, to which he makes reference (vol. II, p. 152). His conviction of the value of the missionary endeavour emerges clearly and strongly in his account of a visit to the Moravian mission to the Delawares; and the brief history he gives of the Moravian missionary endeavours honours ‘the labour, devotion, and constancy of the Missionaries’ (vol.
II, p. 12)
The Rambler in North America (1835) was followed by The Rambler in Mexico (1836) a slighter work, which is written in the same form as the earlier book and is presented as a continuation of it, beginning with the words: ‘I resume my correspondence with you…'. Both books carry the Horatian tag (Epistle XI) on the title page: ‘Caelum non animum qui trans mare currunt’ [They change their sky, not their soul, who run across the sea]. Whether it refers to the travellers, La Trobe and Pourtalès, or to those who have emigrated to the New World from the Old, is for the reader to decide.
La Trobe and Pourtalès reached Mexico late in January 1834 and left in May. There were more obstacles on this trip than there had been in America, and La Trobe was especially disappointed at being unable to collect plants and insects, though he did manage to collect seeds. Notwithstanding the unhealthy climate, the threat of violence, and his inability to speak Spanish (which Albert had learned for the trip), La Trobe enjoyed their travels, responding to the architecture and scenery with much more enthusiasm than he mostly did in America. The volcanoes, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatépetl, were stupendous, though not of course as impressive as the ‘chère Alpes’ of Switzerland; the people were ‘picturesque in attire and movement'. He came to share his eager companion's regret that the trip was so short. ‘When I think how much greater interest overshadows this country, its natural scenery, its history, its natural productions, people & architecture than that in which we have spent so large a proportion of our time of absence from Europe, I can hardly refrain from joining Albert's lament…'. he told Madame de Pourtalès. On reflection, he acknowledged that ‘the real & future good of my companion’ had been the determining factor; and as well ‘the virulence of the Cholera & civil war’ had put Mexico out of the question the previous year.50
La Trobe's sensuous enjoyment of the place is expressed in his use of colour in the watercolours he painted in Mexico and in the comparatively relaxed prose of The Rambler in Mexico. This book is not as weighted with reflection and historical background as the book on America, and is more simply a tourist's narrative. The prose is easy and direct, with less literary embellishment, and showing a greater sense of the dramatic in its treatment of the subject. As narrative, the ending is possibly the most effective piece of writing La Trobe published, and it has an almost prophetic quality. When a young Frenchman, whom La Trobe and Pourtalès helped to nurse, died of cholera on the ship during the return voyage, he was buried at sea, with La Trobe reading the burial service over him. The student of modest means, who 10 years earlier had been amused that the Swiss peasants thought of him as a Milor Anglais, was now comfortable in assuming a public role.


In July 1834 La Trobe and Pourtalès arrived back in Le Havre, the French port from which they had sailed over two years earlier. La Trobe went back to England
immediately to see his ailing father; Pourtalès rejoined his family in Neuchâtel; and the two travellers did not meet again until La Trobe went to Neuchâtel in May the following year. After spending time with his father, he settled for some months at the home of his eldest brother in London. It was here, while working on his book, that he formed two important friendships with men who shared his taste for mountain walking — John Murray junior and William Brockedon. John Murray (1808-92), son of the John Murray who was Byron's publisher, had made his first Continental trip in 1829. Feeling the need for the sort of travel guide that is now so readily available, he set about producing his own. The first of what became the famous Murray Handbooks was published in 1836, three years before the first Baedeker. At the time Murray met La Trobe he had begun work on a Handbook of Switzerland (published in 1838), with the help of his friend William Brockedon (1787-1854), who shared his passion for mountain walking. Brockedon, whom Washington Irving might well have called ‘a man of a thousand occupations’, was not only an energetic traveller (said to have crossed the Alps 58 times in the summers of 1825-29) but an author (his writings included journals of his Alpine travels), a successful painter of landscapes and portraits and an illustrator (producing works of travel, including a series of 100 engravings, Illustrations of the Passes of the Alps, published between 1827 and 1829). As if this were not enough, he was deeply interested in science and mechanics, and was endlessly inventive, the most notable of his patents being for vulcanised india-rubber. The author of The Alpenstock and The Pedestrian had much in common with these two men who became lifelong friends.
In his Handbook of Switzerland Murray quoted from The Alpenstock on the behaviour of English travellers in Switzerland and the effect on the Swiss peasantry of the tourist trade which had burgeoned following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The particular interest of La Trobe's first book was that it described two excursions in the Alps that he had made on his own, without guides. His carefully documented chronicle, usually in the form of day-by-day journal entries, was of most appeal to readers who were interested in going on such walks. Switzerland, which was to become ‘the playground of Europe’ (Leslie Stephens’ phrase), was already a favoured destination for English travellers on the Continent. It has been said that in England there was ‘a cult of the Berner Oberland’ (the focus of La Trobe's first ‘ramble') and that ‘in the second half of the century, it could almost be called an English preserve'.51 La Trobe himself refers to the Swiss being used to ‘the hunter of the picturesque swarming over his country’ (The Pedestrian, p. 282). His own inclination was to avoid the groups of travellers and he left out of his books descriptions of the better known tourist destinations. In The Alpenstock he writes:
Like most travellers, whether pedestrian or not, I got sprinkled with the spray of the Pissevache; was challenged by the douanier at the bridge of St. Maurice; gazed with delight upon the broad lake of Geneva; quoted Byron in the dungeon of Chillon; thought of Rousseau as I passed Clarens; got miserably scorched in the road among the vineyards from Vevay to Lausanne, and finally execrated the bad paving and uneven streets of this town, while my eye lingered with delight upon the magnificent view it
commands. (p. 150)
The Alpenstock, which lives up to the promise of its subtitle: Sketches of Swiss Scenery and Manners, seems to have attracted some attention in London. In The Pedestrian he tried, without great success, to capitalise on this success, offering his second book as ‘a companion to The Alpenstock’ (p. 6). On the title page of The Rambler in North America he is identified as ‘The Author of The Alpenstock'.
When The Rambler in North America was reviewed in the Quarterly Review for September 1835, the reviewer — probably Lockhart, the editor — identified La Trobe, as ‘a member of the family so long and so honourably connected with the missionary cause’, but claimed to be ‘ignorant of his past history, except that part of it which is contained in his Alpenstock, an unfortunately named, but very pleasing and useful manual for travellers in Switzerland'. The review dealt with four books on America, including A Tour on the Prairies by ‘our old favourite’, and singled out The Rambler in North America for praise:'… the book of the season, as far as America is concerned, is unquestionably that of Mr Latrobe'. The Quarterly, which was owned and published by John Murray, was a prestigious periodical, and the highly favourable review of his book must have helped to bring La Trobe to the notice of men who exercised power and influence.
Even before the review of his book had appeared, La Trobe had been invited by John Murray senior, the head of the firm, to contribute to the Quarterly. He was doubtful of being able to do anything for the periodical, telling Murray, ‘with all sincerity I have an humble idea of my opportunities for observation & a yet humbler of my ability'.52 The invitation was an indication of the regard in which he was held within the Murray circle. At the end of May 1835, when he wrote to Murray, La Trobe was about to return to Neuchâtel: The Rambler in North America had been published in London and was to appear in New York, but his future was still obscure. By the time the Quarterly review appeared in September he was married. The Rambler in Mexico was published in London and New York in the middle of the following year. When the West Indies assignment was offered him by Glenelg in February 1837, he and Sophie (pregnant again after a miscarriage the previous February) were living in an apartment in the Montmollin residence in Neuchâtel. He had been working on a dictionary of some sort, but it does not seem ever to have been published.53 Something had at last turned up, and, as a gentleman without means, he could not let it pass; he had to set out for the West Indies, without being able to wait for the birth of his first child.


The trip to the West Indies was different from his other excursions. La Trobe's days as a traveller-writer were over; and the next 17 years were to be spent as a public official, during which ‘poetry’ was overcome by the ‘prose’ of official business. In the
West Indies La Trobe continued his practice of keeping a journal, but the only publications that came out of that trip were official reports.
La Trobe's books, as well as his reports, were read in the Colonial Office, and helped to establish his suitability for the appointment at Port Phillip. In 1843 Sir George Grey, who had been Under-Secretary for Colonies 1835-39, told Peter La Trobe:
I am sure that the greatest benefits I have ever been the means of conferring on the Colony, was the part I was able to take in forwarding his appointment to superintend its progress & government, & all I have ever regretted is, the distance it has removed him from us, & the consequent loss of instruction & amusement, (combined in a remarkable degree) which we were before in the habit of deriving from his pen. I hope that may not be quite laid aside, even at Port Philip [sic].54
In Victoria La Trobe jotted down memoranda from time to time, but the demands of his post were such that he did not keep a regular journal.55 However, on retirement in 1854 he intended to produce a history of the early years of the colony and his own role. In response to a circular he had issued, he had received letters from 57 early settlers (men only) describing their early experiences in the colony, and in themselves these constituted a substantial documentary base with which to work. He planned a large book, which would conclude with ‘My Australian Home, a walk around my garden'.56 The hope of writing the book receded as his eyesight failed. In 1872 he accepted the inevitable, and sent to the Melbourne Public Library the letters he had collected from early settlers. Redmond Barry was keen to publish them, but among the Trustees there were, as he told La Trobe, ‘those who knew not Joseph but forgot him and who having come to the country long after the period to which the information relates wholly disregard any event respecting the country except such as they figured in themselves.'57 The letters were eventually published by the Library, in 1898, in an edition prepared by T.F. Bride during his tenure as Librarian.58 That was the sole outcome of La Trobe's ambitious project to become a colonial historian.
Had La Trobe written a book such as he envisaged it would certainly have become an authoritative reference work and enhanced his reputation. It was a sad ending to his career as a writer that the book he was most qualified to write, and the book which would have been unique in Victoria's colonial history, was never written.


Washington Irving, A Tour on the Prairies [1835] in The Crayon Miscellany, ed. Dahlia Kirby Terrell, Boston, Twayne, 1979, p. 10-11. Further references appear in the text. On the strength of a shipboard acquaintance La Trobe described Irving as being: a man of happy & well directed, rather than great talent — with much feeling for what is noble & virtuous, a sound judgement & insight into human nature, a most affectionate & excellent heart: possessing a quiet good natured vein of humour & much discrimination of character. He has a great readiness at detecting those little harmless foibles which are to be found in almost every human being, but there is no gall mingled with his observation of them. (La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 6 June 1832)


Washington Irving to Col. Aspinall, 29 December 1834. See Dahlia Kirby Terrell, Introduction to The Crayon Miscellany, p. xxiv.


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Comtesse de Pourtalès, 8/11 August 1834.


Dianne Reilly has noted that he taught at Fairfield Boys’ Boarding School ('Charles Joseph La Trobe: An Appreciation’, p. 7).


See footnote 3.


The Alpenstock; or Sketches of Swiss Scenery and Manners, MDCCXXV-MDCCXXVI, London, R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1829, p. 384. All later page references are given in the text.


See footnote 3.


In both books the first chapter has an epigraph from Childe Harold. Spenser's Faerie Queen also seems to have been another favourite text at this time.


The Pedestrian: A Summer's Ramble in the Tyrol, and Some of the Adjacent Provinces, MDCCXXXI, London, R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1832, p. 188. All later page references are given in the text.


MS 13354/45. La Trobe to the Studer family, 5 June 1829.


‘Fragment of Journal 1829 from England to Neuchâtel'. La Trobe left Gravesend on 14 October, at the very time he should have begun the Michaelmas Term at Cambridge, reaching Montmirail on 31 October, and going on to Erlenbach on 5 November.


La Trobe kept a journal of his ‘rambling’ in Germany 12-30 May 1822, and in England, December 1822.


‘Brief Sketch of Proceedings Summer 1831 after return to England, accompanied by C. de Pourtalès'. See ‘Breakfast with Sir Walter Scott'.


See the comment on Christian Ignatius in John Mason supra, p. 21.


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 11 August 1834.


MS 13354/31. Memoranda during a Fourth Visit to the Continent from May 30, 1835.


Peter La Trobe put his daughter in the school in 1854, and possibly other La Trobe children were educated there. See MS 13354/25. C.J. La Trobe to Agnes La Trobe, 10 September [1854].


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 8/11 August 1834.


George F. Spaulding, ed., On the Western Tour with Washington Irving, The Journal and Letters of Count de Pourtalès, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1968, Editor's Introduction, p. 4.


Georgette Ducrest, Memoires sur l'Imperatrice Josephine, Paris, Fayard, [1906?], p. 126.


Many of his letters to the Comtesse de Pourtalès in the period 1832-35 have survived, and they are the letters of an affectionate friend (addressed to ‘My Dear Madam’ and even ‘Dearest Madam'; and signed ‘Your attached friend & servt’, ‘Ever your affect & obliged friend & servt’, ‘Yours most truly & constantly’, ‘With much affectionate regard to you & your worthy husband'), with whom confidences may be shared. (The letters to the Comte are a little more formal — more ‘manly’, perhaps — but the sentiment is the same, ‘Your very obdt & attached friend & servant’ being the usual farewell.)


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Charlotte La Trobe, 28 August 1836.


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 20 December 1835.


MS 13354/26. La Trobe to Agnes La Trobe, 9 October 1861. La Trobe's last child, Isabelle Castellane Helen, born in 1859 at the Pourtalès residence, Chateau de Greng, had been been given ‘chère Tante Louise's’ family name.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 8 June 1833.


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 8/11 August 1834.


The phrases are in letters from Albert de Pourtalès to La Trobe, 1 May and 20 June 1855.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 26 January 1833. Fanny Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans had been published in London in 1832.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 30 November 1833. Mrs Ibbotson was a mutual friend, apparently of extreme right-wing views, in England, where the Pourtalès couple were visiting.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 5 January 1833.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 20 March 1834.


MS 13354/44. Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, Washington Irving on the Prairie, New York, American Book Company, 1937, p. 47.


Ellsworth, p. 14


Ellsworth, p. 67.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 30 November 1833.


Albert de Pourtalès, Journal entry for 18 October 1832; in Spaulding, p. 56.


Albert de Pourtalès to Madame de Pourtalès, 30 November 1832; in Spaulding, p. 81.


Albert de Pourtalès, journal entry for 21 October 1832; in Spaulding, p. 62.


Washington Irving to Peter Irving, 9 April/9 May 1829. Letters, ed. Ralph M. Aderman, Herbert L. Kleinfield and Jennifer S. Banks, Boston, Twayne, 1979, vol. II, p. 412.


La Trobe's Journal is in the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma. See ‘A Bison Hunt in North America’ supra.


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 8/11 August 1834.




MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 11 April 1835.


The Rambler in North America, London, R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1835, vol. I, p. 211. Later page references are given in the text.


The Rambler in Oklahoma: La Trobe's Tour with Washington Irving, ed. Muriel H. Wright and George H. Shirk, Oklahoma City, Harlow Publishing Corp., 1955, Introduction, p. vii.


Ellsworth, p. 124.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 3 December 1832.




W.H. Prescott, The Conquest of Mexico, Everyman, vol. 1, p. 9.


MS 13354/44. La Trobe to Madame de Pourtalès, 20 March 1834.


Paul P. Bernard, The Rush to the Alps: The Evolution of Vacationeering in Switzerland, New York, Columbia University Press, 1978, p. 25.


La Trobe to John Murray II, 29 May 1835. John Murray Archives, London.


MS 13354/43. La Trobe to Charlotte La Trobe, 28 August, 1836.


MS 13354/41. George Grey to Peter La Trobe, 31 March 1843. Neuchâtel.


See ‘Memoranda of Journeys, Excursions and Absences 1839-1852'.


Alan Gross, Charles Joseph La Trobe, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1956, p. 131.


Redmond Barry to La Trobe, 2 February 1873; quoted in Sayers, Introduction to Letters from Victorian Pioneers, 1983, p. vii.


La Trobe, Reports on Negro Education, British Guiana and Trinidad, p. 11.