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James Stirling (Australian governor)

Sir James Stirling (1791 January 28 - 1865 April 23) was the first Governor of Western Australia.

He was the fifth son of eight of the fifteen children of Andrew Stirling, of Drumpellier, Lanarkshire. His mother, Anne was his father's first cousin, being the daughter of Admiral Sir Walter Stirling and the sister of Sir Walter Stirling, first baronet of Faskine.

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

He saw action off Cape Finisterre against the French and Spanish fleets, and later served under the flag of his uncle in the Sampson and the Diadem in the operations on the Rio de la Plata. After watching the fall of Montevideo and being incorrectly reported as killed in action, he served for a time on the Home Station and on 12 August 1809, at the age of 19 was promoted Lieutenant in the Warspite. In 1811 he was Flag Lieutenant to his uncle, now Vice Admiral in command at Jamaica.

On the 27 February 1812, he received his first command, the sloop Moselle, and soon afterwards the larger sloop Brazen in which he was employed during the American Civil War in harassing forts and shipping hear the Mississippi.

Later Stirling was sent to Hudson Bay, the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies and during this period was given full Captain's rank.

At Woodbridge, Surrey, he became acquainted with the Mangles family, whose wealthy head had extensive interests in the East Indies, had been High Sheriff for Surrey in 1808, was a director of the East India Company, and in 1832-1937 represented Guildford in Parliament. His third daughter, Ellen, attracted Stirling's attention and the couple were married at Stoke Church, Guildford on 3 September 1823 on Ellen's 16th birthday. They had five sons and six daughters.

Stirling's next appointment was in January 1826 when he was given command of the new Success and sent to form a settlement in Raffles Bay, Torres Strait because of French activity in the Pacific.

Following that expedition, the Governor of New South Wales next sent him on the same vessel later that year to visit and report on the west coast of Australia. Stirling was impressed with the land in the vicinity of the Swan River and in glowing terms described it as an ideal site for establishing a permanent settlement. Similarly impressed was the New South Wales government botanist, Charles Fraser, whose report added weight to Stirling's political and commercial arguments.

After returning to London in 1828, he lost no time in trying to enlist support for a settlement to be established in Western Australia. Stirling's persistent arguments attracted the attention of investors and speculators and with rumours that the French had designs on the region, he finally overcame official reluctance to establish a colony.

He was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the new settlement and accompanied by his wife and three year old son Andrew, set sail for the colony from Plymouth on 9 February 1829 in the chartered transport vessel Parmelia.

Packed into the 443 ton barque Parmelia were nearly 150 men, women and children, passengers and crew, together with their personal belongings, the stores, cattle and poultry and much of the equipment required to set up the new colony.

The Parmelia was accompanied by HMS Sulphur which carried a detachment of troops of the 63rd Regiment under the command of Captain F C Irwin. Shortly after the Parmelia sailed from Plymouth on her 16 week voyage to found the Swan River Colony, Mrs Stirling gave birth to a son, Frederick Henry who in after years took command of the British navy in Australian waters and married an Australian girl.

The Parmelia arrived off the Western Australian coast near the mouth of the Swan River on 31 May and on the 18 June Stirling proclaimed the foundation of the colony.

Stirling administered the Swan River Colony from June 1829 until August 1832 when he departed on an extended visit to England, where he was knighted.

A year later in August 1834, Stirling returned to Western Australia and continued to administer the colony until December 1838.

Stirling was 48 when he returned to England and doubly qualified as a naval commander and civil administrator. In October 1840 was appointed to command the Indus on the Mediterranean Station where he remained until June 1844. After another three years ashore he was appointed to the Howe which he commanded in the Mediterranean from April 1847 to April 1850 when he was knighted by the King of Greece.

In July 1851, Stirling was promoted Rear Admiral and in the following year served at the Admiralty. From January 1854 to February 1856 Stirling was commander in chief of the naval forces in China and the East Indies, and he was promoted Vice Admiral in August 1857 the year in which his youngest son Walter was killed at Cawnpore in the Indian mutiny.

Stirling became an Admiral in November 1862 and died in comfortable retirement at Guildford in Surrey on 22 April 1865 aged 74. His wife survived him by nine years and both were buried in the extension to the graveyard of Stoke Church where they had been married.

Numerous landmarks in Western Australia today stand as a memorial to him. In addition a hall complex attached to Stoke Church in Guildford is a memorial to him - 'The Stirling Centre'.

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