Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Walter Tyrell Stanford (1839–1880)

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William Walter Tyrell Stanford (1839-1880), sculptor, was born in London, son of Thomas Tyrell, contractor, and his wife Frances, née Trevor. He came to Australia when 13, probably as a ship's boy, and went to the gold diggings. In 1853, immediately before the official opening of the Bendigo Racecourse, he galloped down the empty track on a smart bush horse and collided with Police Magistrate Lachlan McLachlan, almost unseating him. According to J. A. Panton, McLachlan, not a good horseman, tried to arrest Stanford on the spot and the incident probably ensured that he was not treated with leniency next year when he was convicted for horse-stealing: he received a ten-year sentence and his bitterness and resentment led to much of it being spent in solitary confinement at Pentridge, then under the severe discipline of John Price.

In 1860 Stanford was released on a ticket-of-leave. He lost his job on the Malmsbury Viaduct when work was suspended and made his way to Bendigo, where he was arrested and charged with horse-stealing and two robberies, one with arms and the other with violence. With McLachlan conducting committal proceedings and then assisting on the bench, Stanford was convicted and sentenced to eight years on the roads, the first two in irons, for his part in the robberies, and eight years with hard labour for the other charge. At the trials Stanford conducted his own defence with 'remarkable self-possession'; he admitted to only one of the charges, that of robbery of £17 10s.

In his prison notebook, filled with sketches and notes in exquisite handwriting, Stanford copied the motto: 'I will either find my way or make it' and he showed determination in making it against great odds. He became a difficult, intransigent prisoner, his behaviour and an escape in November 1861 alienating the prison authorities; but the chaplain discovered by chance Stanford's great talent in carving and persuaded the prison governor to allow him tools and facilities. With his behaviour transformed, he found that 'the work has engrossed the whole of my time … so that the injustice of my convictions has weighed but lightly upon me'. Charles Summers tutored him in basic principles of design, and amongst other works Stanford planned and executed the graceful bluestone fountain now standing near Parliament House, Melbourne. A petition for his release was rejected in 1869 but the new gaol governor Claude Farie became convinced that Stanford was the victim of injustice. He promised him freedom once the fountain was finished and public pressure, including Dr L. L. Smith's, forced the government to grant it.

Stanford was released in October 1871; he became a 'monumental mason' at Windsor and did some fine work. About 1872 at Melbourne he married Mary Ann Protty; his second wife was Mary Ann, née Bienvenu, whom he married at Prahran about 1879; she survived him with their three-month-old daughter when, aged 40, he died of 'ulceration of the stomach' on 2 June 1880 at Prahran. A novel by Mrs Katherine Andrews, Stephen Kyrle: An Australian Story (Melbourne, 1901) is based on Stanford's life.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Moore, Studio Sketches (Melb, 1906)
  • D. Prout and F. Feely, 50 Years Hard (Adel, 1967)
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 9, 16, 19, 23, 30 Apr, 1-3 May 1860
  • J. A. Panton autobiography (State Library of Victoria)
  • Stanford notebook (State Library of Victoria)
  • Crown Law Office, letters, 1875/2674 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

'Stanford, William Walter Tyrell (1839–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


2 June, 1880 (aged ~ 41)
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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