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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Sturt, Capt. Charles

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Sturt, Capt. Charles, who is justly regarded as the greatest of Australian explorers, entered the army at an early age, and went with his regiment, the 39th, to Sydney, where, in 1828, he was selected by Governor Darling to head an expedition which he had determined to send out to further explore the Macquarie river. Finding no trace of the inland sea marked down on Oxley's (the previous explorer's) chart, the party, which included Hamilton Hume as second in command, took a more northerly course, and in Feb. 1829 discovered what they named the Darling river, and subsequently also what is now known as the Bogan. Still determined to penetrate the mystery of the inland sea, Sturt decided to solve the problem by tracing the course of the Murrumbidgee to its source. Accordingly, in 1829, he started on that second expedition, which, Mr. Blair not inaptly says, "commenced the history of the Australian colonies," being accompanied on the occasion by Mr. (afterwards Sir) George Macleay. They struck the river at Yass Plains, 200 miles from Sydney; but, after following the bank for a week, it became impossible to proceed farther with the heavily laden provision drays; so Sturt, with six picked men, now betook himself to a whaleboat, and decided to trust his fortunes to the current of the stream. The remainder of the party were sent back to Sydney, Sturt carrying what he deemed would be adequate rations on a hastily constructed raft, which was towed by the whaleboat. On the 7th day of the voyage Sturt and his companions suddenly shot out on to the waters of the Murray, a stream not unworthy to be ranked with the great watercourses of the old world, and which has fed the pastoral fortunes of Australia. The party now committed themselves to the more tranquil current of the Murray. and on the thirty-third day of their historic voyage found themselves in the midst of a vast inland sea, which was named Lake Alexandrina, in honour of the Queen, then Princess Alexandrina Victoria. They were now compelled by lack of provisions to commence their return voyage, which, owing to the difficulty of rowing up stream, was one of great labour and hardship. Ultimately, however, they reached their old camping-ground, and were relieved from Sydney just as they had divided their last morsel of food, and symptoms of insanity were developing themselves amongst the subordinate members of the party. As his discoveries had virtually created South Australia, it was not unfitting that Sturt's fortunes should be allied with its future; and in 1838 he took up his residence there, becoming in April 1839 Surveyor-General, with a seat in the Executive and Legislative Councils. In Oct. of the same year he exchanged this post for that of Commissioner of Lands. which he held till 1843, when he became Registrar-General until 1848, from winch time he was Colonial Secretary till 1851. In the meantime the Government were naturally anxious to provide for the expansion of their growing settlement. They therefore resolved to avail themselves of Sturt's admitted capabilities in the exploration of the interior of the new colony towards the unknown north. In 1844 he started from Adelaide with a well-equipped party, which included John McDouall Stuart as draftsman, and Dr. Browne as surgeon. Leaving Lake Torrens on their left, the party passed up the Murray and Darling, and then struck directly northwards. But now water failed them, and they were compelled to remain in inactivity for six months in what they called the Rocky Glen depôt, where there was a good pool of water. Whilst imprisoned here the heat of the summer became insupportable, and they were compelled to excavate an underground chamber, in which they took refuge during the day from the intensity of a heat which drew every screw from their boxes, caused the lead to drop out of their pencils, and their nails to become brittle as glass. Fortunately their water supply held out, and enabled them, when the winter rains fell, to push on through the seemingly trackless desert of the interior. At length even they could go no farther, and after innumerable hardships succeeded in retracing their steps to the Murray, reaching Adelaide after an absence of nineteen months, during which they had discovered Cooper's Creek. Captain Sturt's eyesight had been greatly impaired by his previous journeys, but the third rendered him almost totally blind. He managed, however, to discharge the duties of Colonial Secretary of South Australia for some time longer, but subsequently returned to England, where he died at Cheltenham on June 16th, 1869. Pensioned by the South Australian Government, the Imperial authorities tardily recognised after their manner triumphs in their way as valuable to the Empire as those of Clive or Hastings, and better than theirs, because blamelessly won. Whilst Captain Sturt was on his deathbed, the K.C.M.G., the normal reward of a very different class of service, was placed at his disposal, but he did not live to assume this lagging honour. The Colonial Office authorities, with an excess of grace remarkable in a body which has so resolutely sat on the safety-valve of Imperial expansion, procured the royal permission for his widow to have the same title and precedence as though her husband had survived to receive the title. Lady Sturt died on June 5th, 1887, aged eighty-five.