Who was Charles Sturt?
Charles Sturt was an English military officer and explorer who led three major expeditions towards the interior of eastern Australia. Born in India, as the eldest son of an East India Company judge, he received his education in England and was enlisted in the British army at the age of 18. After serving in the military for the next 13 years, he was appointed the military secretary to the governor of New South Wales. While serving on the post, he developed a keen interest in exploring the interiors of Australia, especially its rivers. He was driven by a conviction that it was his destiny to discover a great salt water lake, known as 'the inland sea', in the middle of Australia. Subsequently, he led the first of his major expeditions, tracing the Macquarie, Bogan, and Castlereagh rivers and discovered the Darling River. He followed this with another voyage down the Murrumbidgee river, discovering the Murray River and the Lake Alexandrina. After being completely exhausted and nearly blinded because of poor diet and overexertion on his trip, he spent the next few years recovering in England. Later, he led his last expedition in search of an inland sea but extreme weather and bad health prevented his crew from traveling much farther on the voyage. Although they discovered no fertile land and were eventually driven back, his party was the first to penetrate the center of the continent.
Childhood & Early Life
Charles Sturt was born on April 28, 1795, in Bengal, British India, to Thomas Lenox Napier Sturt, a judge under the British East India Company. He was the eldest son among the 13 children in his family.
At the age of five, he was sent to his relatives in England to receive his education. After attending a preparatory school, he was further sent to Harrow in 1810.
His father was not wealthy enough to send him to Cambridge University or to establish him in a profession. Thus, on the appeal of an aunt to the Prince Regent, he was gazetted as an ensign with the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot in the British Army in 1813.
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Charles Sturt served with the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War and was later commissioned in the American war. He also fought in the Battle of Waterloo before returning to Europe.
In April 1823, he became a lieutenant and was later promoted to the post of captain in December 1825. Following a detachment from his regiment, he escorted convicts aboard the Mariner to New South Wales, arriving in Sydney in 1827.
He found the conditions and climate in New South Wales soothing and developed a great interest in the country. The Governor of New South Wales appointed him the major of brigade and military secretary, and he struck friendships with other explorers.
In 1828, he received the approval for his first expedition which involved exploring the area of the Macquarie River in western New South Wales. In the voyage, the courses of the Macquarie, Bogan and Castlereagh rivers were followed, and the party also discovered the Darling River. In 1829, the crew returned to Wellington Valley.
His expedition deepened the mystery of where the western-flowing rivers of New South Wales went, and to solve it, he proposed another expedition down the Murrumbidgee River. In January 1830, his party reached the confluence of the Murrumbidgee and a much larger river, which he named the Murray River.
He then proceeded down the Murray, until he reached the river's confluence with the Darling River and proved that all the western-flowing rivers eventually flowed into the Murray. In February 1830, the party reached a large lake which Charles named ‘Lake Alexandrina’.
After returning from the expedition, he nearly lost his vision because of over exertion and briefly served as Commander on Norfolk Island before moving to England.
In mid-1835, he returned to Australia and began farming on his own 5,000 acres of land which was granted to him by the New South Wales government on the lower reaches of Ginninderra Creek.
In December 1839, he and his wife accompanied a few other people on a Murray River expedition which culminated in the discovery of Mount Bryan.
In August 1844, he set out on his third and last expedition to explore north-western New South Wales and to advance into central Australia. After traveling for a while, the crew got stranded for months because of the extreme summer conditions. He later made a second attempt to reach the center of Australia, but his health deteriorated and he was forced to abandon the expedition.
Between 1829 and 1830, he led expeditions down the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers, considered as one of the greatest explorations in Australian history. The expedition disclosed extensive areas of land for future development in New South Wales and South Australia.
Awards & Achievements
In 1847, Charles Sturt was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Gold Medal.
Personal Life & Legacy
In September 1834, Sturt married Charlotte Christiana Greene, daughter of an old family friend.
Charles Sturt died on June 16, 1869, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, at the age of 74. He was survived by his wife and three children.