HOTHAM, Sir Charles (1806-1855)

HOTHAM, Sir Charles (1806-1855)
governor of Victoria
son of the Rev. Frederick Hotham, prebendary of Rochester, and his wife Anne Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas H. Hodges, was born at Dennington, Suffolk, England, on 14 January 1806. He entered the navy in November 1818, and had a distinguished career. 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, and in December 1853 was appointed lieutenant-governor of Victoria in succession to La Trobe (q.v.). He was afterwards 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. He found, however, 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 was wise in appointing 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, however, less successful in dealing with the wrongs of the diggers. He 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.
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 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 and in doing so mentioned that his health had materially suffered. He caught a chill on 17 December 1855, died on the last day of the year, and was buried in the Melbourne general cemetery. His death was largely the result of the anxiety he had suffered. He married in December 1853 Jane Sarah, daughter of Samuel Hood Lord Bridport, who survived him.
Hotham, was able and thoroughly conscientious, but he had 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 in connexion with the finances of the colony was of great value.
The Argus, Melbourne, 1 January 1856; The Gentleman's Magazine, May 1856; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria, and Our Own Little Rebellion; Miss M. E. Deane, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. XIV, p. 35.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.