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Charles Sturt

Charles Sturt

Charles Sturt (1795-1869), British officer, explorer, and colonial public servant, led three major expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia.

Charles Sturt, the eldest son of an East India Company judge, was born in India on April 28, 1795, educated at Harrow, and became an ensign in 1813. After serving in the Peninsular War and the American War of 1812, he performed garrison duties in France and Ireland before acting as an escort in 1826 for convicts being transported to New South Wales.

The discovery of inland rivers west of the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales had excited speculation about the existence of an inland sea which Capt. Sturt, now military secretary to Governor Sir Ralph Darling, was determined to find. In 1828, under conditions of considerable hardship, he led an expedition which discovered the Darling River, 500 miles inland, and he unraveled the main features of the northern river system in New South Wales.

Sturt led a second expedition, in November 1829, to track the source of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers. In an epic return journey of some 2, 000 miles in 7 months, much of it in a 27-foot whaleboat, Sturt reached Lake Alexandrina at Encounter Bay on the southern coast, having outlined the huge internal river system which drains a vast area west of the Great Dividing Range and having found extensive pastures suitable for pastoral farming.

His health impaired and sight failing, Sturt went on leave to England in 1830 and published Two Expeditions into the Interior of South Australia (1833). After resigning from the army, he married and returned to New South Wales as a settler with a 5, 000-acre land grant from the Colonial Office. Financial difficulties led him to become surveyor general in the new colony of South Australia in 1839. But his income and status as a public servant waned to such an extent that in order to restore his fortunes he sought permission from the Colonial Office to find an inland sea in the center of the continent.

Sturt's third expedition, which left Adelaide in August 1844, lasted for 17 months. Trapped by drought, the party was marooned in temperatures above 100 degrees from January to July 1845 at an isolated water hole 400 miles inland. Subsequently Sturt made a 450-mile journey toward the center but failed to reach the Tropic of Capricorn or to cross the Simpson Desert. When he returned to Adelaide, almost blind and broken in health, Sturt had abandoned his belief in the existence of a great inland sea. Like so many early explorers, he was disappointed by the hot, dry interior, which offered no prospects for farmers. But much of the area he crossed subsequently became a paradise for mineral prospectors.

On his return Sturt became colonial treasurer, received the Royal Geographical Society's Gold Medal, and published Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia (1849). In 1853 he retired to Cheltenham in England, where he died on June 16, 1869.

Further Reading

The short biography by John Howard Lidgett Cumpston, Charles Sturt: His Life and Journeys of Exploration (1951), is detailed and well illustrated. It was the standard work until Michael Langley's perceptive account, Sturt of the Murray: Father of Australian Exploration (1969), which incorporates fresh material. A briskly written, popular book is George Farmwell, Riders to an Unknown Sea: The Story of Charles Sturt, Explorer (1963).

Additional Sources

Beale, Edgar, Sturt, the chipped idol: a study of Charles Sturt, explorer, Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1979.

Swan, Keith John, In step with Sturt, Armadale, Australia: Graphic Books, 1979. □

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Sturt, Charles

Charles Sturt (stûrt), 1795–1869, English explorer and administrator in Australia, b. India. In 1827 he arrived in Sydney with a detachment of the British army. While in command of an expedition (1828–29) to find the source of the Macquarie, he discovered (1828) the Darling River. On a second journey (1829) he explored the Murrumbidgee and found its junction with the Murray, which he followed by boat to its mouth in Lake Alexandrina. He resigned (1833) his commission because of impaired eyesight and settled in Australia. In 1844 he continued his exploration of the river system of S Australia, traveling up the Murray and Darling rivers and penetrating (1845) almost to the center of the continent. He was colonial treasurer (1845) and colonial secretary (1849–51). In 1853 he returned to England. He wrote Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia (1833) and Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia (1849, repr. 1969).

See biographies by G. Farwell (1963) and M. Langley (1969).

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Charles Sturt

Charles Sturt

1795-1869

Australian Explorer

Charles Sturt was an Australian explorer best known for his expeditions down the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers in Australia. Born in India on April 28, 1795, and educated in England, Sturt entered the British Army at the age of 18. His military career took him to such places as Spain, Canada, France, and Ireland. In 1827, he traveled to Australia to become the military secretary to the governor of New South Wales, Ralph Darling. The following year, Darling commissioned Sturt to explore this new land.

Calling on his military field experience, Sturt organized and outfitted his group for anticipated hardships and difficult terrain. In December of 1828, he departed Wellington and soon came upon Macquarie, Bogan, and Castlereagh Rivers. He also discovered a new river, which he named Darling River in honor of his governor. On his second major trek, Sturt ventured along the mighty Murrumbidgee River, where the riparian growth was abundant and productive in many areas. He observed the dominant tree species along the banks, which were the native river red gums (a type of Eucalyptus). The bountiful trees and shrubs supported numerous species of birds, mammals, and creatures which had never before been seen or recorded. The fish in the river provided sustenance for the group and were a welcome change from the "salted meat" diet.

Following the Murrumbidgee River, Sturt discovered another huge river, which he named the Murray River to honor the Colonial Secretary Sir George Murray. This river is the principal waterway of Australia, flowing 1,609 miles (2,589 km) across southeastern Australia from the Snowy Mountains all the way to the Great Australian Bight of the Indian Ocean. Its size can be gauged by the number of rivers which flow into it: the Darling, Murrumbidgee, Mittta Mitta, Ovens, Goulburn, Campaspe, and Loddon.

Sturt followed the Murray all the way to its source near Adelaide. Along the way he met and dealt peaceably with many aborigines along the banks. However, poor diet and physical hard-ships took their toll, and nearly blind and totally spent, Sturt returned to England, where he wrote Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, 1828-31 (1833). This publication inspired the choice of South Australia for a proposed new British settlement.

Sturt returned to Australia in 1834, where a grateful British government rewarded him with a 5,000-acre land grant. He could have easily lived out his life on a profitable sheep station or other agrarian pursuits, but Sturt was still an intrepid explorer. Once again, in 1844-46, he led an expedition into northern Australia, departing from Adelaide and arriving at the edge of the Simpson Desert. This time there were no new discoveries to report, although his group was the first party to penetrate the center of the continent. They were finally driven back by the paralyzing heat and an outbreak of scurvy.

Once again, he served his country as registrar general and colonial treasurer before he left Australia to settle permanently in England (1847). It was there that he wrote Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia (1849). He lived in England on an annual pension of 600 pounds ($3,500). Sturt died in 1869.

GERALD F. HALL

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