Captain Charles Sturt

Captain Charles Sturt

Charles Sturt, one of the most important people associated with early South Australia, was born on 28 April, 1795 in Bengal, India. He was the eldest of eight sons and one of thirteen children. At the age of five he was sent to England to continue his education. In 1813 he joined the British Army and served in Spain, Ireland, Canada and France. In 1827 he sailed for New South Wales to escort a shipment of convicts for Sydney. He remained there for several years.

Sturt showed a keen interest in exploring the as yet unmapped country and its rivers. With Governor Darling's approval he set out to solve its mysteries. In 1828 he discovered the Darling River and in January 1830 the Murray River, which he followed until he reached present day Goolwa.

With the assistance of the local Aborigines, Sturt and his party were able to reach the Murray mouth in South Australia. They had hoped to get the boat out into the sea but were unable and Sturt had to walk across the dunes to see the river flowing into the ocean. However Sturt had seen enough good land and it was his report of this journey that later influenced the decision in England to establish the Colony of South Australia. After his exploring, Sturt served for a short time as Commander on Norfolk Island before returning to England, where he left the army and married Charlotte Greene in 1834.

In 1835 Sturt returned to New South Wales to take up his 5,000 acres of land granted to him for his military service. He failed as a farmer and the overlanding of cattle to the newly established colony of South Australia in 1838 were not a financial success either. This trip was made with Captain Finniss, G. Strangways, Mr McLeod and eleven men. They arrived in Adelaide on 28 August and were the guests of honour at a special dinner on 7 September. On the eleventh he left for the Murray River and Lake Alexandrina with T.B. and G. Strangways and Henry Inman. During his absence Sturt was appointed Justice of the Peace.

On their return, Sturt wrote a detailed report which was published in the local paper. While in Adelaide he bought several blocks of land, did some surveying for the South Australian Company and gained the position of Surveyor General from which Colonel Light had resigned. He left for Sydney where he arrived on 30 October.

In March 1839, while Sturt's brother Evelyn was involved in the overlanding of cattle, as was Henry Osborne, Sturt and his family moved to South Australia to take up employment as Surveyor General. Unfortunately for him Colonel Frome had been appointed to that job by the authorities in England and he lost the position when Frome arrived in Adelaide.

After the birth of his daughter on 19 January 1843 and having settled his family at the Reed Beds, Grange, Sturt once more took to exploring. This time to settle the debate about an inland sea in the centre of Australia. His party, which included John McDouall Stuart, left Adelaide in August 1844. They returned in January 1846. It had been a very difficult journey with temperatures often above the 45 degrees Celsius. When he finally reached the Stony Desert and the Simpson Desert he was convinced that there was no inland sea.


Sturt's grave in England

It was during this trip in 1845 that he discovered the Desert Pea near a creek which he named Cooper Creek, after South Australia's Chief Justice Sir Charles Cooper.

Sturt later became Registrar-General and Colonial Treasurer, at 500 a year. In 1847 Sturt returned to England, published his well known Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia and returned to South Australia in 1849 as Colonial Secretary. However in 1851 he retired to the Grange with a pension of 600 a year. Two years later the family once more returned to England due to poor health. Three of his sons later served in the Indian Army. Sturt died on 16 June 1869. Sturt Stony Desert, Sturt River and the Desert Pea are named after him in South Australia. New South Wales has honoured him with the Charles Sturt University and the Northern Territory with the Sturt Desert Rose.

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