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Sir James Stirling
1791– 1865

 


Born
28 January 1791 in Drumpellier, Lanarkshire, Scotland the ninth of the sixteen children, of Andrew Stirling, Esq. of Drumpellier near Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, and his father's second cousin, Anne Stirling.
Early Years

The Stirling family was well-known and celebrated in the naval annals of the 18th century.

His maternal grandfather was Admiral Sir Walter Stirling and his uncle was Admiral Sir Charles Stirling.

With such a family background, it was natural for James to enter the Royal Navy.

His education at Westminster School was interleaved with periods of training on board British warships, and on 14 January 1804, at the age of 12, he entered the navy as a First-Class Volunteer, embarking on the storeship HMS Camel for the West Indies.

Thus he began a distinguished career.

Founding of Perth

Rapid promotion followed and when he was 21 he received his first command, the 28-gun sloop HMS Brazen, and, in the

War of 1812 between the US and the UK, seized two prizes.

The Brazen carried the news of the end of that war to Fort Bowyer and took part in carrying to England the British troops that had captured the fort.

On return to the West Indies, Stirling made two surveys of the Venezuelan coast and reported on the strengths, attitudes and dispositions of the Spanish government and various revolutionary factions, later playing a role in the British negotiations with these groups.

In his second command, HMS Success, he carried supplies and coinage to Australia, but with a covert mission to assess other nations' interest in the region and explore opportunites for British settlements.

He is chiefly remembered for his exploration of the Swan River, followed by his eventual success in lobbying the British Government to establish a settlement there.

On 30 December 1828 he was made Lieutenant-Governor of the colony-to-be.

He formally founded the city of Perth and the port of Fremantle and oversaw the development of the surrounding area and on 4 March 1831 he was confirmed as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the new territory, Western Australia, in which post he remained until in 1838 he resumed his naval career.

New Holland

In 1828, Stirling lobbied the Foreign Office and the Admiralty for support for a settlement in the vicinity of the Swan River, describing it as ideal for a permanent establishment.

He emphasised the defensive prospects of Mount Eliza, the large hill on which Kings Park is now situated, "as it is near the narrows of the Swan River, which would make defending the colony from gunships easy, with just a few cannons."

His efforts were unsuccessful at first, but rumours of renewed French interest in the region led Sir George Murray on 5 November to request the Admiralty to send a ship-of-war "to proceed to the Western Coast of New Holland and take possession of the whole territory in His Majesty's name."

This task was given to HMS Challenger under the command of Captain Charles Fremantle and, a week later, a further order was issued to prepare HMS Sulphur to carry a detachment of troops to the Swan River.

On 31 December Murray wrote to Stirling confirming his title as Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony and on the same day his Under-Secretary, Robert Hay, confirmed the appointment of the members of the civil establishment including Colonial Secretary Peter Brown, Surveyor-General John Septimus Roe, Harbourmaster Mark John Currie, naturalist James Drummond, a surgeon, a storekeeper, a cooper, a blacksmith and a boatbuilder.

After hectic preparations, on 6 February 1829 these pioneers, with their assistants, families, servants and livestock, departed Plymouth in the Parmelia under Captain J H Luscombe out of Spithead in company with the Sulphur, carrying 100 men of the 63rd Regiment of Foot, under the command of Major Frederick Irwin, and three years' of army stores, 10,000 bricks and £1,000 to meet all expenses of government.

On arrival on 31 May at Garden Island, at what became known as the Swan River Colony, they re-erected a wooden house that had first been assembled at Lieutenant Preston's home in Sutton Green that would become the Governor's home.[45] These pioneers were responsible for laying the foundations of Perth, Fremantle and the market-town named Guildford that is now a suburb of Perth.

Swan River Settlement Administration

Stirling administered the Swan River settlement from June 1829 until August 1832, when he left on an extended visit to England where he was knighted, and again from August 1834 until December 1838.

However, he was commissioned as Governor of Western Australia only from 4 March 1831, rectifying the absence of a legal instrument providing the authority detailed in Stirling's Instructions of 30 December 1828. Stirling had said
"I believe I am the first Governor who ever formed a settlement without Commission, Laws, Instructions and Salary."

With the creation of the Western Australian Legislative Council in 1830, Stirling automatically became an official member.

Pindjarep Aboriginal people

In October 1834 Stirling led a detachment of 25 armed troopers and settlers including Septimus Roe and Thomas Peel that attacked an encampment of 60-80 Pindjarep Aboriginal people.

The Pindjarep fled into the bush and were later encircled near a crossing on the Pinjarra River,
Stirling referred to this as the Battle of Pinjarra.

Settlers accounts claim between 10-80 aboriginals died compared to aboriginal oral history which claim 150 people died.

Stirling remained entirely unsympathetic to the needs of Aboriginal people in Western Australia, and never recognised their prior ownership of the land despite the fact that the Buxton Committee of the British House of Commons informed him that this was a mistake for which the new colony would suffer.

Stirling mentioned in dispatches that the Aborigines "must gradually disappear" and the "most anxious and judicious measures of the local government [could] prevent the ulterior extinction of the race".

Died

Stirling was promoted Vice Admiral in August 1857.

He became an Admiral in November 1862 and died in comfortable retirement at Guildford in Surrey on 22 April 1865 aged 74.



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