STURT, Charles (1795-1869)


STURT, Charles (1795-1869)
explorer
was born in India on 28 April 1795, the second son of Thomas Lenox Napier Sturt, who became a judge in Bengal under the East India Company. The judge always known as Napier Sturt married Jeanette, daughter of Dr Andrew Wilson, who became the most perfect of mothers and the good angel of her husband through good and evil fortune. Charles was sent to England in his fifth year, and after going to a preparatory school was sent to Harrow in 1810 and in 1812 went to read with a Mr Preston near Cambridge. But it was difficult for his father to find the money to give him a profession. An aunt made an appeal to one of the royal princes, probably the prince regent, and on 9 September 1813 Sturt was gazetted an ensign in the 39th regiment of foot. He fought in the Spanish campaign in 1814 and in Canada later on in the same year. The regiment returned to Europe too late for Waterloo, but for three years afterwards was part of the army of occupation in northern France. Five years in Ireland followed and Sturt was still an ensign, but in April 1823 he was made a lieutenant and he became a captain in December 1825. He was now stationed at Chatham, and in December 1826 embarked for New South Wales with a detachment of his regiment in charge of convicts.
He sailed with some prejudice against the colony but found the conditions and climate so much better than he expected that his feelings completely changed, and he developed a great interest in the country. Governor Sir Ralph Darling (q.v.) formed a high opinion of him and appointed him major of brigade and military secretary. Sturt became friendly with Oxley (q.v.), Cunningham (q.v.), Hume (q.v.) and other explorers, and in February 1828 he was appointed leader of an expedition to ascertain the course and fate of the river Macquarie. It was not, however, until 10 November that the party started. It consisted of Sturt, his servant, John Harris, two soldiers and eight convicts and on 27 November he was joined by Hamilton Hume as his first assistant. Hume's experience and resourcefulness proved very useful to his leader. A week was spent at Wellington Valley breaking in the oxen and horses, and on 7 December the real start into comparatively little known country was made. It was a drought year and the greatest difficulty was found in getting sufficient water. The party returned to Wellington Valley on 21 April 1829. The courses of the Macquarie, Bogan and Castlereagh rivers had been followed, and though its importance was scarcely sufficiently realized, the Darling had been discovered.
Drought conditions had made it impossible to follow the course of the Darling, but in September 1829 Sturt made arrangements for a second expedition. He left on 3 November and in place of Hume, who was unable to join the party, Mr (afterwards Sir) George MacLeay went "as a companion rather than as an assistant". A whaleboat built in sections was carried with them which was put together, and on 7 January 1830 the eventful voyage down the Murrumbidgee, and afterwards the Murray, was begun. Several times the party was in danger from the aborigines but Sturt always succeeded in propitiating them, and on 9 February the lake at the mouth of the Murray was entered. Three days later the outlet to the sea was discovered and Sturt, now running short of stores, began the return journey. In the face of great difficulties the exhausted explorers reached the depot they had left 77 days before on 23 March. Two men went forward to obtain stores and, after resting for a fortnight to regain their strength, Sturt and his companions reached Sydney on 25 May 1830. Two great waterways had been traced and large tracts of good land discovered, one of the most notable pieces of exploration ever made. But Sturt was not unscathed for both his health and eyesight had suffered. He was able to do valuable work at Norfolk Island in 1831 where mutiny was brewing among the convicts, but in 1832 he was obliged to go to England on sick leave and arrived there almost completely blind. Gradually some improvement took place, and in 1833 he published his Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia during the years 1828, 1829, 1830 and 1831, of which a second edition appeared in 1834. For the first time the public in England realized how great was Sturt's work, for Governor Darling's somewhat tardy but appreciative dispatch of 14 April 1831, and his request for Sturt's promotion, had had no result, and nothing came of the request by Sir Richard Bourke (q.v.) who had succeeded Darling that Viscount Goderich should give "this deserving officer your Lordship's protection and support". Though it seems to have been impossible to persuade the colonial office of the value of Sturt's work his book had one important effect. It was read by Edward Gibbon Wakefield (q.v.), and led to the choice of South Australia for the new settlement then in contemplation. In May 1834, in view of his services, Sturt applied for a grant of land intending to settle on it in Australia, and in July instructions were given that he was to receive a grant of 5000 acres, Sturt on his part agreeing to give up his pension rights. In September he was married to Charlotte Green and almost immediately sailed for Australia. He settled near Sydney and occupied himself with general farming. He endeavoured to store water, but in the disastrous drought between 1836 and 1839 lost heavily. In 1838 he led a party overland from New South Wales to South Australia, following the line of the Murray. He left Sydney in April 1838 and reached the Murray near the road to Port Phillip on 18 May. He had a party of about a dozen men and 300 cattle and on 27 August established his cattle on good pasturage about 25 miles from Adelaide, after a journey which he had found more fatiguing than either of his previous expeditions. On 28 August he arrived at Adelaide where he was received with enthusiasm, and a public dinner was given in his honour. Sturt almost immediately went to the mouth of the Murray and reported on its possibilities as a port. He returned to Adelaide, sold his cattle, and taking the first available ship to Sydney, arrived there on 30 October 1838. He found that land and stock was still very low in price and the question of income was serious. About this time Colonel Light (q.v.) had resigned his position as surveyor-general of South Australia and Governor Gawler (q.v.) offered the post to Sturt who at first refused it, but Gawler pressed it on him and on 1 February 1839 Sturt's appointment was announced. He sold his land at a very bad time, including the grant of 5000 acres, which unfortunately was in a position liable to flooding, and got very little for it. He arrived at Adelaide with his family on 2 April 1839. His appointment was short-lived for, before it could be known at the colonial office, Lieutenant Frome had been given the position in England. Frome arrived in September and took over his duties. Gawler, however, made Sturt assistant commissioner of lands at the same salary, £500 a year. It was fortunate that Frome and Sturt were able to work together, and they did very valuable work in completing neglected surveys and enabling the land to be settled. In the troubled times following the dismissal of Colonel Gawler and the coming of the new Governor Captain, afterwards Sir, George Grey, Sturt while loyal to Gawler, supported Grey, and his tact in dealing with rioters who actually threatened government house, led to their being pacified. As part of the general retrenchment, Sturt's salary was reduced to £400 a year, and a memorial he forwarded to England showing the heavy losses he had been put to in taking up his position had no result. He proposed that he should make an expedition into the interior and, after some delay, started on 15 August 1844, the drays and animals having preceded him by a few days. Included in his party were James Poole as assistant, John Harris Browne (q.v.) as surgeon, McDouall Stuart (q.v.), and 14 others, 11 horses, 30 bullocks, and 200 sheep. E. J. Eyre (q.v.), who had already done remarkable exploring work, accompanied them for some distance up the Murray, but returned some time before the Darling was reached. After following this stream to Willorara or Laidley's Ponds a course to the north-west was taken. On 22 October a beautiful pond about 80 yards long was found which was made a new base for the party, and on 27 January 1845 a new depot was formed at Rocky Glen. Unfortunately Poole, Browne and Sturt became attacked with scurvy, and Poole was so bad that in July Sturt resolved to send him back to Adelaide. He died three days after starting and the party reassembled. However, Sturt decided to send some of his assistants to Adelaide with his diaries under the storekeeper, L. Piesse. Sturt rode westward with Browne to Lake Blanche, part of the Torrens Basin, and found the country to the north-west quite impracticable. On returning to the depot at Fort Grey Sturt decided to go north north-west, and starting on 14 August with Browne and three others, he reached his farthest point towards the centre of Australia, beyond Eyre Creek but short of the Tropic of Capricorn, on 3 September 1845. Retracing their steps to Strzelecki Creek another track north by a little west was taken past Lake Lipson, across Hope Plains and the Stony Desert. Their farthest point was reached towards the end of October, and coming back, Cooper's Creek was followed in an easterly direction. During a large part of this period the thermometer ranged between 95 and 125 in the shade. At one part of his journey Sturt says the surface of the ground "was so rent and torn by heat, that the horses' hind feet were constantly slipping into chasms eight to ten feet deep". On 11 November the mercury in their only remaining thermometer graduated to 127 degrees had risen to the top and burst the bulb. On 17 November 1845 Sturt collapsed with a bad attack of scurvy. The position of the party was now desperate and Browne agreed to ride to Flood's Creek, 118 miles away, to see if water were still available there. He returned in eight days and it was decided that the party should endeavour to reach the Darling. Sturt was carried in a cart and Browne took command. They left on 6 December and with the help of some friendly natives reached the Darling 15 days later. There they were met by Piesse with letters and supplies. After a few days rest the journey down the Darling began. On 10 January 1846 the Murray was reached and on 19 January Sturt arrived at Adelaide. He had not quite reached the point he had aimed at, and at a dinner of welcome that was given to him, spoke with some suggestion of a sense of failure. He had done, however, a remarkable piece of work having travelled considerably over 3000 miles, the most of it in new country. Two of the party had died, if it had not been for Sturt's great qualities as a leader, and the complete loyalty of his assistants several more would have perished. Before the end of the journey Sturt partly recovered from the scurvy with the help of berries gathered by friendly aborigines, but both his general health and his eyesight continued to cause anxiety. He resumed his duties as registrar general and was also appointed colonial treasurer with an increase in salary of £100 a year. Early in 1847 he went to England on leave. He arrived in October and received the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society. He prepared for publication, his Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia, which, however, was not published until early in 1849. He was suffering again with his eyesight, but some relief was found. He returned to Adelaide with his family, arrived in August, and was immediately appointed colonial secretary with a seat in the council. There was no lack of work in the ensuing years. Roads were constructed, and navigation on the Murray was encouraged. But Sturt had renewed trouble with his eyes, and on 30 December 1851 resigned his position. He was given a pension of £600 a year and settled down on 500 acres of land close to Adelaide and the sea. But the gold discoveries had increased the cost of living, and in March 1853 Sturt and his family sailed for England. He lived at Cheltenham and devoted himself to the education of his children. In 1856 he applied for the position of governor of Victoria. He would have made a good governor but his age, uncertain health, and comparatively small income were against him. In 1859 the settlers at Moreton Bay requested that Sturt might be appointed the first governor of Queensland and again a younger man was chosen. By 1860 Sturt's three sons were all in the army, and the remainder of his family went to live at Dinan to economize after the expenses of education and fitting out. Unfortunately the town was unhealthy and in 1863 a return was made to Cheltenham. In 1864 Sturt suffered a great grief in the death of one of his sons in India. In March 1869 he attended the inaugural dinner of the Colonial Society, at which Lord Granville mentioned that it was the intention of the government to extend the order of St Michael and St George to the colonies. Sturt allowed himself to be persuaded by his friends to apply for this distinction, but afterwards regretted he had done so when he heard there were innumerable applications. His health had been very variable and on 16 June 1869 he died suddenly. He was survived by his widow, two sons, Colonel Napier George Sturt, R.E. and Major-general Charles Sheppey Sturt, and a daughter. Mrs Sturt was granted a civil list pension of £80 a year, and the same title as if her husband's nomination to the order of St Michael and St George had been gazetted. Reproductions of portraits by Crossland and Koberwein will be found in Mrs N. G. Sturt's Life, which suggest the charm and refinement of Sturt's character.
Writing in 1865 Baron von Mueller (q.v.) called Sturt "the greatest Australian Explorer" and for this one of his qualifications was that he was a great gentleman. Always kindly and considerate for everyone working with him, he had the perfect confidence of his followers. He inspired men like Eyre and McDouall Stuart and others by his great example, and when he died there was not a man who had been associated with him unwilling to speak his praise. Yet he was personally always modest and retiring. A thoroughly brave man who dared do all that might become a man, he could realize when further progress was hopeless, and would not uselessly risk loss of life. His chivalry and high-mindedness were so apparent that even the aborigines could realize them. Though often threatened he always succeeded in pacifying them. Apart from his explorations he was a nature-lover, interested in the sciences, and an artist of no mean ability, both of his books include reproductions of his sketches.
Mrs Napier George Sturt, Life of Charles Sturt; C. Sturt, Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XIV to XVIII; K. R. Cramp, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XV, pp. 49-92; Edward Salmon, ibid, vol. XXIII, pp. 307-10.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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