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Stott, Robert (1858–1928)

by R. G. Kimber

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Robert Stott (1858-1928), by unknown photographer, c1900

Robert Stott (1858-1928), by unknown photographer, c1900

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B39124

Robert Stott (1858-1928), police commissioner, was born on 13 July 1858 in the blacksmith's croft at Nigg, Kincardineshire, Scotland, son of James Stott, fishery overseer, and his wife Catharine, née Cruickshank. Of his early life nothing is known, save that his correspondence shows that he had a good education. He served with the Lancashire constabulary and migrated with three friends to Australia in 1882. In August he joined the South Australian Police Force as a foot constable, 3rd class, but in December 1883 transferred to the Northern Territory Police, becoming a mounted constable who often went on long patrols. For a decade he was posted at Burrundie, Roper River, where the 'blacks were wild and the “cattle-duffer” had free scope', but he also spent time at the Victoria River. At Palmerston (Darwin) on 27 November 1899 he married English-born Mary Duggan at the Wesleyan Church; after her death, on 21 April 1902 at Darwin he married Agnes Heaslop of Cooktown.

From 1908 Stott was a 1st class mounted constable at Borroloola. In 1911 he transferred to Alice Springs as sergeant in charge of the vast central Australian region of some 200,000 sq. miles (518,000 km²). A month's journey from his immediate superiors, he was head of police, and also by proxy mining warden, lands department official, stock inspector and protector of Aborigines. He was firm yet humane in his attitude toward the Aborigines, encouraging his children to befriend them and to respect Aboriginal customs and beliefs: they gained fluency in the local Aranda language. Short and burly, with his own codes of conduct, Stott was known by all station managers and hands, and respected wherever he went. He ruled with only a riding crop and the force of his remarkable character. When the surveyor-explorer, Captain H. V. Barclay, made complaints against the Hermannsburg Mission, Stott held an inquiry in 1912 and played an ameliorating role, acknowledging some criticisms but generally giving support to the missionaries. Accepting people on their merit, his family was hospitable to the roughest of bushmen as well as to touring dignitaries among whom was Lord Stradbroke. In 1914 Stott saw that the family of a dead goldminer was housed, found a job for the eldest son and ensured that the children attended school. He was chairman (1918-26) of the committee that led to the establishment of Adelaide House, Central Australia's first hospital.

By the late 1920s he had become a legendary figure, careering about in one of the earliest motor cars in Central Australia and widely known to enjoy a whisky. When the local school children were paraded for the benefit of a visiting official who asked them to name the King, they replied: 'Sergeant Stott'. In 1927-31 the Territory was divided into northern and central districts, each with its own resident and commissioner of police. Stott was first commissioner of the Central Australian Police Force until his retirement in 1928 when the office reverted to the government resident.

Stott died on 5 May 1928 in Adelaide Hospital after having been struck by a train. He was buried in West Terrace cemetery. His wife, four sons and two daughters survived him. Stott Terrace, Alice Springs, and a mountain, north-east of the Alice, are named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Bridges, A Walk-About in Australia (Lond, 1925?)
  • C. T. Madigan, Central Australia (Melb, 1944)
  • R. G. Kimber, Man from Arltunga (Perth, 1986)
  • P. Donovan, Alice Springs (Alice Springs, 1988)
  • Citation, Dec 1965
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 May 1928
  • Observer (Adelaide), 12 May 1928
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 Dec 1965
  • Centralian Advocate, 27 Sept 1985
  • CRS A659, item 42/1/2696 (National Archives of Australia)
  • information from the National Trust, Alice Springs.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. G. Kimber, 'Stott, Robert (1858–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stott-robert-8690/text15203, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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