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Francis Peter Labilliere (1840–1895)

by B. R. Penny

This article was published:

Francis Peter Labilliere (1840-1895), author and imperialist, was born on 13 August 1840 in Melbourne, son of Charles Edgar de Labilliere (d.1870), of Huguenot descent, and his wife Hannah, née Balle (d.1880). His parents had migrated in the Westminster to Port Phillip in 1839 and bought the rights of Yallock Vale, a large sheep station near Bacchus Marsh, where his father served as a territorial magistrate; in 1856 he was returning officer for West Bourke at the first parliamentary elections under responsible government. An only son, Francis was tutored by his parents and often travelled with them. His upbringing spanned the years of the pastoral expansion and gold rushes. In 1859 the station was sold and the family returned to England, travelling for some time before settling in Westbourne Square, London. Francis was admitted to the Middle Temple on 7 November 1860, called to the Bar on 6 June 1863 and joined the south-eastern circuit. On 9 October 1867 at St Saviour's, Paddington, he married Adelaide, daughter of Rev. Edward Ravenshaw.

Disturbed by the apparent indifference of the mother-country to the separatism of her self-governing colonies, Labilliere joined imperial enthusiasts and others with colonial connexions or experience in a counter-thrust to unite the empire. He was honorary secretary to the conference on colonial questions in 1871 and in 1874-95 a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, founded in 1868 by private individuals as a nonpolitical force for 'promoting in England a better knowledge of the colonies and of India'. He was zealous in various aspects of the imperial cause. He assisted the honorary secretary of the new society, Sir Frederick Young, until it was able to maintain a paid staff, and served on its Library Committee in 1880. In 1878 he published a two-volume Early History of the Colony of Victoria, From its Discovery to its Establishment as a Self-Governing Province of the British Empire, which added to the works in celebration of Victoria and Greater Britain. Nearly two-thirds of the book comprises documents which, with the contemporary writings of other Victorians such as James Bonwick and William Westgarth, drew attention to the wealth of documentation on the colonies' past in government offices in Britain. He was also an enthusiast for British migration to the colonies, and from 1874 urged the Colonial Office to annex eastern New Guinea.

Labilliere propagated the ideal of Greater Britain and sought to give it effective form by integrating the colonies with the centre through imperial federation, which he had proposed in 'The Future Relations of England and her Colonies' read at the Bristol Congress of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science on 30 September 1869. He continued to advocate the cause at the Royal Colonial Institute and in discussion of the chairman's paper, 'On Unity of the Empire', in 1875 projected a truly imperial parliament, its members elected by the colonies as well as the United Kingdom. He raised the subject in more detail on 14 June 1881 in his paper 'The Political Organisation of the Empire'. As support grew he served with W. Westgarth and John Dennistoun Wood on a committee of six to draft the prospectus of the Imperial Federation League, founded in November 1884. Despite criticism he could claim growing success in his Imperial Federation (1886) and Federal Britain: or, Unity and Federation of the Empire (1894).

Labilliere died on 19 February 1895 at Mount Park, Harrow, Middlesex. He left an estate of over £5000 to his wife and surviving children. The Council of the Royal Colonial Institute sent condolences to the family and resolved that 'there is scarcely a man who will be more missed than he will be'. After his death the notion of imperial federation declined. A more lasting memorial is his Early History of the Colony of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • 'Twenty-Seventh Annual General Meeting', Proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute, vol 26, 1894-95, pp 164-65
  • Times (London), 21 Feb 1895
  • Australasian, 13 Mar 1875, supplement.

Citation details

B. R. Penny, 'Labilliere, Francis Peter (1840–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 August, 1840
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 February, 1895 (aged 54)
Harrow, London, England

Cultural Heritage

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