STIRLING, Sir Edward Charles (1848-1919)


STIRLING, Sir Edward Charles (1848-1919)
anthropologist and first professor of physiology at Adelaide university
was born at Strathalbyn, South Australia, on 8 September 1848. He was the eldest son of Edward Stirling who was a partner in Elder Stirling and Company before that firm became Elder Smith and Company. He was a nominated member of the 1855 legislative council, and was an elected member of the 1857 legislative council. E. C. Stirling was educated at St. Peter's College, Adelaide, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. with honours in natural science in 1869, M.A. and M.B. in 1872, and M.D. in 1880. He became F.R.C.S. in 1874. He was appointed house surgeon at St George's hospital, London, and eventually became assistant surgeon and lecturer on physiology and operative surgery. He visited South Australia in 1877 and returned to London with the intention of practising there. He returned to Adelaide in 1881, and in the following year was appointed lecturer in physiology at Adelaide university where a medical school was being founded. In 1884 he was elected to the house of assembly for North Adelaide but sat for only three years. He introduced the first bill to extend the franchise to women in Australia. It was not passed, but a few years later South Australia was the first of the Australian colonies to give women the vote. Stirling had other interests and duties. He was chairman of the South Australian museum committee in 1884-5 and in 1889 became honorary director of the museum. In 1890 he went overland with Earl Kintore from Port Darwin to Adelaide and collected much flora and fauna including several specimens of the marsupial mole Notoryetes tyhlops, described and illustrated in his paper in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia, 1891, p. 154. In 1893 he investigated at Lake Callabonna a remarkable deposit of fossil bones, and with A. E. H. Zietz reconstructed the complete skeleton of the enormous marsupial Diprotodon Australis and partially reconstructed an immense wombat and a bird allied to the New Zealand moa. In 1894 he was a member of the Horn scientific expedition to Central Australia, and wrote the long and able anthropology report which appears in volume four of the report of the expedition. He was appointed director of the Adelaide museum in 1895 and built up there a remarkable collection including invaluable specimens relating to aboriginal life in Australia. In 1900 he became professor of physiology at Adelaide university, and for many years continued to take a prominent part in university affairs. He retired from the directorship of the museum at the end of 1912, but in 1914 was made honorary curator in ethnology. He had announced his intention of retiring from the university at the end of the year but died after a short illness on 20 March 1919. He married in 1877 Jane, eldest daughter of Joseph Gilbert, who survived him with five daughters. Stirling was honorary fellow of the Anthropological Society of Great Britain, fellow of the Medical and Chirurgical Society, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, in 1893. He was created C.M.G. in 1893 and was knighted in 1917.
Stirling was a man of great energy whose life was full of duties and interests. He was much interested in gardening, in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the welfare of children—he was president of the state children's council. He was surgeon, physiologist, anthropologist, palaeontologist and legislator, but was not sufficiently a specialist to reach the highest rank in any one of these departments. With Dr J. C. Verco he wrote a valuable article on hydatid disease for Allbutt's System of Medicine, he fostered and brought to maturity the young medical school at the university, and he did great work in developing the Adelaide museum. He ranks among the best all-round scientists of his day in Australia.
The Advertiser, Adelaide, 21 March 1919; The Register, Adelaide, 21 March 1919; The British Medical Journal, 21 June 1919; Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia, 1919, p. 1, with portrait.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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