Charles Rooking Carter was born in Kendal, Westmorland, on 10 March 1822, the son of John Carter, builder. Residence in London from the age of 21 gave him opportunity to attend adult education classes at the Westminster Institution, where he broadened his knowledge and outlook. His studies led him to advocate emigration as one means of relieving distress.
In 1850, he left for New Zealand with his wife later where he quickly made a position for himself as a resourceful and enterprising contractor. Carter's business success and wanderlust permitted his early return to England in 1863 for a four-year interval and again for most of the latter part of his life. It was during these visits between New Zealand and England that Carter was able to spend some time travelling around Victoria and Melbourne.
Carter wrote the book The British 'El Dorado' on returning from Victoria to Britain in 1870. He had found that the old country was in a poor state economically, and that although 'the question of emigration is receiving an amount of public attention not bestowed upon it at any former period within my memory' (Carter, 1870, p. vi), and the colonies were being constantly discussed, there was a general lack of knowledge as to the real conditions in Australia. Carter's book attempts to inform people as to the great opportunities in Victoria, although he tries to show 'the dark as well as the bright surface' (Carter, 1870, p. viii). His book includes vivid descriptions of the eastern Market on Saturday night, the theatre crowds and the Chinese quarter and Museum Victoria.
Carter died at Wellington on 22 July 1896.
The British 'El Dorado' was included in 'Early Australian History: An Exhibition of Material from the Rare Book Collection', held at the Monash University Library, from 6 April - 30 June 2000. In the catalogue for the exhibition Graeme Davidson notes the 'formidable colonising influence of the London publishers and printers whose accounts of the new land were both the inspiration and the formal culmination of the colonising process'.
Carter, C. R., 1870, Victoria, the British 'El Dorado', or, Melbourne in 1869 : shewing the advantages of that colony as a field for emigration, by a Colonist of twenty years' standing and late member of a colonial legislature, E. Stanford, London.
Monash University Library, 2000, Early Australian history: an exhibition of material from the Rare Book Collection, Monash University Library 6 April to 30 June 2000, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria.
Sutherland, G. H., 2010, 'Carter, Charles Rooking - Biography', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, viewed 4 January 2012. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1c8/1