About Australia's South West

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Admiral James Stirling

Sir James Stirling became the first governor of Western Australia after a distinguished career in the Royal Navy.

Born in 1791 in Drumpellier, Scotland, James was the fifth son of the 15 children born to Andrew and Anne Stirling. The Stirlings were a highly regarded naval family and it was only natural that James would uphold the family tradition.

At the age of 12 he joined up as a first-class volunteer, embarking on the store ship Camel for the West Indies. Soon after arriving in the West Indies, young Stirling became midshipman of the Hercules and in 1805 he went to serve on his uncle's flagship the Glory.

In August 1809 after having fought in the Napoleonic wars against the French and Spanish fleets he was promoted to lieutenant. In February 1912 at the rank of flag lieutenant James was placed in command of his first vessel the sloop Moselle and soon after this the larger sloop, Brazen, in which he saw action in the wars of 1812 on the Mississippi River. He was promoted to commander and then captain in this year.

After retiring from the navy in 1915, James became close with the Mangles family and married their third daughter, Ellen, at Stoke Church in September of 1823 on Ellen's 16th birthday. The couple had five sons and six daughters.

James was recalled to the navy in 1826 and led an expedition to the west coast of Australia on board the Success for the governor of New South Wales. Stirling was impressed with the land in the vicinity of the Swan River describing it as ideal for establishing a permanent settlement.

On his return to London in 1828 Stirling lobbied officials to enlist support for a settlement to be established on the Swan River. He finally succeeded and on board the Parmelia departed Plymouth in February 1829 arriving at what was to become the Swan River Colony in May of that year.

Stirling was made the first governor for Western Australia in 1829 and held the position until his resignation in 1837. Over his years as governor Stirling oversaw settlement throughout the South West and many of his decisions impacted on the way the region developed.

An example of this is the large land claim he made in Port Leschenault (that would later become Bunbury) which created enormous problems as it forced later colonists to struggle with a small town site on marshy land and nowhere to graze their animals or plant crops. Reverend Wollaston, noted the following on his maps of the time:

. . .and so the government in its wisdom allowed all the good land at the back to an insensible extent to be monopolized by a single grant. How can this town rise and be supported?

Stirling and his wife returned to England in 1839. After leaving Perth Stirling continued his naval career and was promoted to rear admiral in 1851. From January 1854 to February 1856 Stirling was commander in chief of the naval forces in China and the East Indies.

Stirling was promoted vice admiral in August 1857 and became an admiral in November 1862. He died in comfortable retirement in Guildford, Surrey in 1865 aged 74. His wife survived him by nine years and both are buried in the extension to the graveyard of Stoke Church where they had been married.