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Sturrock, Alexander Stuart (Jock) (1915–1997)

by Tony Dingle

This article was published online in 2021

Alexander Stuart ‘Jock’ Sturrock (1915—1997), yachtsman and businessman, was born on 14 May 1915 at Brunswick, Melbourne, only child of Alexander Stuart Sturrock, timber merchant, and his wife Dorothy Clarice, née Munt, both Melbourne born. The third generation male Sturrock to be called Alexander Stuart, he was nicknamed ‘Jock’ to avoid confusion. His father, a competitive yachtsman, encouraged Jock to begin sailing by providing him with a small dinghy when he was eight years old. Raised in the bayside suburb of Brighton, he attended the local state primary school and Brighton Grammar School (1926–30), from where he absented himself some afternoons to sail on Port Phillip Bay. He won the Victorian championships in the 12-foot Cadet dinghy class in 1930 and 1931, and the national championship in Perth in 1932.

Leaving school at fifteen, Sturrock went straight into the family timber business, Alexander Sturrock & Sons Pty Ltd. He worked solidly during the week and continued to sail successfully at weekends. Switching to Star-class yachts, he won the first of eight national championships in 1935. By 1937 his talents were widely enough recognised for the Royal Yacht Squadron to invite him to sail in two English regattas, in one of which he won the Coronation Cup for international 14-foot dinghies.

World War II interrupted Sturrock’s budding yachting career. From February 1940 he trained part time with the 46th Battalion, Citizen Military Forces, and in February 1941 was promoted to lieutenant. He began full-time duty on 31 October 1941 at the headquarters of the 3rd Division, rose to temporary captain in March 1942, and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in July. As a liaison officer on the division’s staff in New Guinea (March–September and November 1943), he made hazardous journeys on foot and in the air to other headquarters and to an observation post in enemy territory. Between May and August 1944, he was back in New Guinea as a company commander in the 27th Battalion. He was hospitalised on five occasions owing to injury or dengue fever. A broken leg in 1944 resulted in his being invalided out of the army on 22 September, the injury affecting his mobility for the rest of his life.

Quickly resuming sailing, Sturrock won national championships in 1946 and 1947. He competed in the first of four successive Olympic Games in London in 1948, where he came seventh in the Star class. In 1952 at Helsinki he came twelfth in the Dragon class, while at his home town of Melbourne in 1956 he won a bronze medal in the 5.5-metre class. After carrying the flag for the Australian team at the opening ceremony in Rome in 1960, he came tenth in the 5.5-metre class.

In September 1962 Sturrock’s growing fame as a yachtsman saw him included in Australia’s first attempt to win the America’s Cup at Newport, Rhode Island, United States of America. The media magnate Sir Frank Packer chose two crews and two helmsmen to compete to sail his boat Gretel, informing Sturrock that he would be the challenging helmsman only on the eve of the first race. He won the second race narrowly, the first time since 1934 that any challenger had taken a race from the American defender. Although Gretel went on to lose the series 4–1 after some close racing, Sturrock became an international media sensation, attracting acclaim for his sportsmanship. He was named the inaugural Australian Yachtsman of the Year and selected as Australian of the Year by the Victorian-based Australia Day Council in January 1963.

A second tilt at the America’s Cup by a Melbourne consortium in 1967, with Sturrock as skipper, was an unhappy experience. The boat Dame Pattie was clearly inferior to the innovative American defender in strong breezes and the result was a 4–0 drubbing. Declining Packer’s invitation to try out as helmsman for the 1970 challenge, Sturrock instead threw his considerable skills and energies into ocean racing, representing Australia at the 1971 Admiral’s Cup in England and winning the 1978 Clipper Cup in Hawaii. He also competed in many local events, including eleven Sydney to Hobart races.

Sturrock put a great deal back into the sport he loved. He managed two successful campaigns (1970 and 1972) for the Little America’s Cup in C-class catamarans, was an active member (1972–80) of the Olympic fund-raising committee, and served on many race and club committees. In 1979 he published Classic Racing Yachts in Australian Waters, with illustrations by Bob Booth. Meanwhile, he continued as managing director (1971–85) of the family firm, before retiring and moving to Surfers Paradise, Queensland.

Appointed MBE in 1975, Sturrock was an inaugural inductee in 1985 into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and was elevated to the status of a ‘Legend of Australian Sport’ in 1994. He was posthumously inducted into the Australian Sailing Hall of Fame in 2018. It has been estimated that he won more than four hundred international, national, state, and club championship races in everything from dinghies to ocean racers. Gifted helmsmanship, finely honed tactical skills, versatility, and the ability to get the best out of boats and crews made him one of Australia’s greatest yachtsmen.

Sturrock’s unconventional private life included four marriages and three divorces. On 1 November 1945 at St Andrew’s Church, Brighton, he married Nancy Felicia May, née Johnson, a widow. They divorced in 1964 and in January 1966 he married Elizabeth Elsa Risum, née Jones, also a widow. In February 1967 an English-born medical doctor named Anna Margaret Ashton brought a breach of promise action against him in the Supreme Court of Victoria, using the name of Anna Sturrock and claiming that he had promised to marry her and was the father of the child, Julia Gretel, that she bore in June 1966. Sturrock divorced Elizabeth in 1980 and married Elaine Patricia Tutton in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 10 April 1988, then divorced her two years later. On 14 October 1995 at Noosa Heads, Queensland, he married Lynette Marian Adcock, née Maxwell. In his last two years he suffered two strokes which finally stopped him sailing. Survived by his wife, and the three daughters of his first marriage, he died on 10 July 1997 at Noosa Heads and was cremated. The National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, holds a portrait (1962) by Graham Thorley.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne). ‘America’s Cup Man in Breach Suit.’ 22 February 1967, 3
  • Herald Sun (Melbourne). ‘Alexander “Jock” Stuart Sturrock: Set Sail for Greatness.’ 14 July 1997, 72
  • Mundle, Rob. ‘Yachtsman Sailed into Record Books.’ Australian, 24 July 1997, 13
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX108128
  • Sturrock, Jock. Interview by Daniel Connell, 18 April 1995. Transcript. Australians of the Year oral history project. National Library of Australia

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tony Dingle, 'Sturrock, Alexander Stuart (Jock) (1915–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sturrock-alexander-stuart-jock-31881/text39339, published online 2021, accessed online 7 December 2022.

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