Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sturt, Evelyn Pitfield Shirley (1816–1885)

by Alan Gross

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Evelyn Pitfield Shirley Sturt (1816-1885), police magistrate, was born in Dorset, England, son of Thomas Lenox Napier Sturt, puisne judge in Bengal under the East India Co., and his wife Jeannette, née Wilson. His brother was the explorer Charles Sturt. Evelyn was educated at the Sandhurst Military College but in 1836 migrated to New South Wales, arriving in the Hooghly on 12 October. On 20 February 1837 he was appointed commissioner of crown lands based on Yass, and was sometimes spoken of as 'the boy commissioner'. Of an ebullient temperament, in 1853 he wrote to Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe: 'It has often been a source of regret to me that all the charms attending the traversing of a new country must give way to the march of civilization … I look back to those days as to some joyous scene of school-boy holidays'.

Sturt resigned in 1839 to overland sheep and cattle from Bathurst to Adelaide. After occupying country at Willunga in the Mount Lofty Ranges, he took up Compton station in the Mount Gambier district in 1844. He encountered many difficulties and, although he did not dispose of his run until 1853, he accepted appointment as police magistrate in Melbourne in 1849. Next year he became superintendent of the Melbourne Police but had to contend with 'the great inefficiency of the District (Melbourne and County of Bourke) Police Force arising from their scattered and isolated stations' and insufficient constables. His troubles were greatly intensified by the gold rushes; in December 1851 he reported that forty of his staff of fifty had resigned. When (Sir) William Mitchell took charge of the police early in 1853, Sturt was reappointed as magistrate for Melbourne and for the next twenty-five years presided over the city bench.

In 1854 Sturt was appointed to the commission of inquiry into the Bentley hotel affair at Ballarat. While the report by no means satisfied most of the diggers, it recommended dismissal of some corrupt government officers and compensation to some who had suffered losses. Sturt was a member of the royal commissions on the Burke and Wills expedition in 1861 and on charitable institutions in 1871. For many years he was a member of the Church of England assembly. In 1852 he had married Mary Frances, daughter of Rev. J. C. Grylls; in March 1869 he took leave of absence and with his wife visited England and was present at the death of his brother Charles. In 1875 he was one of the three executors of the Victorian estate of La Trobe. Dismissed in the Black Wednesday retrenchments of January 1878, Sturt accepted a pension and in December left with his wife for England. On their return to Victoria in April 1881 they lived at Brighton.

Sturt was described by Rolf Boldrewood as the hero of many local legends, 'a very grand-looking fellow—aristocratic, athletic, adventurous; an explorer, a pioneer, a preux chevalier in every sense of the word, a leading colonist, with a strong dash of Bayard about him; popular with the men of his set, and, it is unnecessary to say, a general favourite with the women'.

On another trip to England Sturt suffered from severe bronchitis. He was returning with his wife in the Pekin to retire in Victoria when he died, aged 69, on 10 February 1885, a day before reaching Port Said; his body was taken back to England for burial. Childless, he was survived by his wife. In Victoria his estate was valued for probate at £17,715. Sturt Street, Ballarat, is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. G. Sturt, Life of Charles Sturt (Lond, 1895)
  • R. Boldrewood (T. A. Browne), Old Melbourne Memories, (Lond, 1896)
  • T. F. Bride (ed), Letters from Victorian Pioneers (Melb, 1898)
  • C. Fetherstonhaugh, After Many Days (Syd, 1918)
  • V. S. Devenport, ‘Links with Captain Charles Sturt and his family’, Victorian Historical Magazine, 22 (1947-50)
  • Australasian, 21 Feb, 21 Mar 1885
  • N. Sturt, History of the Sturt family (privately held)
  • Kenyon papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Gross, 'Sturt, Evelyn Pitfield Shirley (1816–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sturt-evelyn-pitfield-shirley-4663/text7709, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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