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Sir Charles Sladen (1816–1884)

by James Grant

This article was published:

Charles Sladen (1816-1884), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1870

Charles Sladen (1816-1884), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1870

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H29566

Sir Charles Sladen (1816-1884), lawyer, pastoralist and politician, was born on 28 August 1816 at Ripple Court near Walmer, Kent, England, second son of John Baker Sladen, deputy-lieutenant of Kent, and his wife Ethelred, née St Barbe. Educated at Shrewsbury and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (B.A., 1837; LL.B., 1840; LL.D., 1867), he was articled to a solicitor in Doctors' Commons and was admitted proctor and notary public. On 11 August 1840 at Stockton-on-Tees he married Harriet Amelia Orton.

Sladen arrived in Geelong with his wife on 14 February 1842, soon succeeded to Henry Tyssen's legal business and in the next twelve years, latterly in partnership with Joseph Martyr, built up a flourishing practice. In 1854 he retired from business and took up Ripple Vale near Birregurra, where in 1863 he established Victoria's leading Leicester sheep stud. He retired to Geelong in 1876.

On 26 December 1854, through his friend and fellow church trustee W. C. Haines, Sladen was nominated acting colonial treasurer, and on 28 November 1855 as a member of the Legislative Council he took office as treasurer in Victoria's first responsible ministry. Next year he was returned for Geelong in the new Legislative Assembly and was treasurer until March 1857. He did not contest the 1859 election, but, defeated in 1861, he was elected in July 1864 to the Legislative Council for Western Province and soon emerged as leader, with T. H. Fellows, of its conservative majority.

In 1865-67 the two Houses clashed over the tariff 'tack' and the Governor Darling grant; Sladen strongly backed the council's claim to equality with the assembly, and on 6 May 1868, after (Sir) James McCulloch's resignation, formed a stop-gap ministry from conservatives in both Houses. Despite the defeat of two of his ministers in the ensuing election and a vote of no-confidence on 9 June in the assembly, he held out until 7 July. McCulloch returned to office and Sladen, whose term in the council had expired, did not renominate.

In 1876 he regained the Western Province seat. After the deadlock in 1877 over the payment of members, Sladen next year introduced proposals for reform of the council. The assembly countered with its own bill and neither House would give way. Sladen tried in 1879 but the council so amended his bill that he renounced it. He continued his campaign and welcomed the reform bill of 1881. He resigned in December 1882 because of ill health.

Sladen was a devout and prominent Anglican layman. On arrival in the colony he had cared for the Anglican community in Geelong until the first resident minister arrived in 1846. As secretary to the trustees of Christ Church, Geelong, he had raised building funds for it in the early 1840s. He welcomed the appointment of Bishop Perry in 1847, but soon clashed with him over his plans to divide Christ Church parish. He led the opposition that thwarted Perry's first attempts, in 1850, to gain self-government for the Church of England in Victoria by legislative enactment. A member of the Church Assembly of both Melbourne and Ballarat dioceses, in 1861 he helped to defeat Perry's proposal to admit Presbyterians to the management of Geelong Grammar School. Next year he sponsored a new constitution to enable it to continue as an Anglican foundation; he maintained a continuing interest as adviser and confidant of the headmaster, J. B. Wilson.

Tall, handsome and of great personal charm, Sladen associated himself with a range of public activities in Geelong and Birregurra and served two terms as a Winchelsea Shire councillor. In 1878 he became chairman of the Trustees, Executors, and Agency Co. and in 1879 a director of the Australasian Agency and Banking Corporation which in 1880 merged to form Richard Goldsbrough & Co. Ltd. He consistently opposed popular political programmes but his conservatism was based on conviction rather than expediency: his mentor was Wellington who had lived close to his family home. Neither a brilliant thinker nor a ready speaker, he displayed his legal training in detailed analysis of the principles and details of proposed legislation. He was admitted LL.D., ad eundem, to the University of Melbourne in 1868 and was created C.M.G. in 1870 and K.C.M.G. in 1875.

Sladen died at Chilwell, Geelong, on 22 February 1884, survived by his wife (d.1887). His estate was valued for probate at £33,890. Portraits are in the City Hall, Geelong, and the La Trobe Library (by G. F. Folingsby), and a bust by Charles Summers is in the State Library, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • G. Goodman, The Church in Victoria During the Episcopate of the Right Reverend Charles Perry, First Bishop of Melbourne, Prelate of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (Melb, 1892)
  • B. Hoare, Looking Back Gaily (Melb, 1927)
  • D. B. W. Sladen, My Long Life (Lond, 1939)
  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • Geelong Advertiser, 23 Feb 1884.

Citation details

James Grant, 'Sladen, Sir Charles (1816–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Sladen (1816-1884), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1870

Charles Sladen (1816-1884), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1870

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H29566

Life Summary [details]


28 August, 1816
Ripple Court, Kent, England


22 February, 1884 (aged 67)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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