Charles Latham, Farmer-Knight

Charles George Latham was born at the Coastguard station in Hythe on 26 January 1882, the sixth child of Thomas Latham, a coastguard and his wife Isabella. Both his parents were Irish; his father had joined  the Royal Navy a Boy Sailor, and transferred to the Coastguard in 1873. Thereafter, he served in Cork and Dymchurch before arriving in Hythe.  Although not yet forty, he took his pension in 1883, perhaps through ill health, as he died in July the next year.  Isabella, widowed with eight children seems to have moved to London, where she died herself in 1889. Charles was just seven.

The next year, the four youngest children were sent to Australia – Sarah, aged ten; Violet, nine, Charles and little Alfred aged only five.  The older children were either already there or arrived soon afterwards. They settled in Hay, sited approximately midway between Sydney and Adelaide.  Although there is much scandal around the transportation of orphans to Australia in the nineteenth century, the Latham children seem to have thrived and Charles certainly went to school in Hay. All the children eventually married and had families of their own.  Charles himself married Marie Louisa von Allwörden on 24 June 1903 , in Hay

The couple moved to Western Australia to take up 1,000 acres of land east of Perth. Farming here was difficult and not helped by a severe drought in 1914. Charles cleared salmon gum, gimlet and morrell by chopping and burning and battled the drought by carting water. He shot the kangaroos which ate his first crops and put up fences against rabbits; and he carted supplies fifty miles from the railhead. Eventually he had a successful wheat farm.

The vast tracts of wheat land around Narembeen, where Charles settled

His later military records tell us that Charles was a tall, well-built man,  standing six feet tall and weighting a hundred and eighty pounds.

When war broke out. Charles joined up as a volunteer in the First Australian Imperial Force in March 1916. He was assigned to the 16th battalion and in October sailed from Fremantle. He arrived in Plymouth on 2 December.  From there, he was sent to Tidworth Camp, on the edge of Salisbury Plain, where he qualified as an instructor at the Bombing School and was promoted to Corporal. Then he travelled to Folkestone, only five miles from his birthplace in Hythe. In March 1918, he was back in England, having been wounded by gunshot and admitted to the Fort Pitt Military Hospital in Chatham, before returning to France in September 1918.  During his long convalescence, was he able to revisit his boyhood haunts? Perhaps.

His older brother Thomas, serving with the same Force, was killed in action in 1917. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Villiers-Bretonneux memorial.

Charles ended his war as a sergeant and returned to Western Australia, where he soon doubled his land holding. Even before the war, he had started to take an interest in politics, and in 1920 joined the newly-formed Country Party. The next year he became its Member of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia. The party’s general position on social matters was centre-right, but it favoured socialist economic policies for agriculture,  including support for farmers through government grants and subsidies or through community appeals.

Charles George Latham

In 1930 Charles became the parliamentary leader of the Country Party and continued his crusade for farmers’ rights. Later that year, under his leadership, the party joined with the National Party and he served as deputy Premier of Western Australia from from 1930 to 1933. From 1933 to 1942 he was the Leader of the Opposition. At that point, he resigned to fill a vacancy in the Senate, but lost the 1943 election.

He was back in Parliament in 1946 and served as Minister for Agriculture in 1952-3, finally retiring at the age of of seventy-eight in 1960.

Charles in later life

Throughout his political career, Charles was pro-British. In a speech in 1942 he said:  I am an Englishman, and proud of it. No matter what Australia does, we can never repay the Old Country for what it has done for us. Not afraid of hard work himself, and proud of his achievements since he arrived in Australia  as an eight-year-old orphan, he had little sympathy for the unemployed. During the Depression of the 1930s he suggested to Premier James Mitchell that a fire hose be turned upon a large crowd demonstrating outside the Treasury Building. His advice was not taken.

He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1948. This Order was founded by George III in 1818 and is awarded to British subjects who have rendered extraordinary and important services abroad or in the Commonwealth.

A widower since 1946, Charles died on 26 August 1968, survived by his two sons and their families.