Captain Charles Sturt
39th Foot (Dorsetshire) Regiment
Soldier, early Australian Explorer and Servant of the People
Born in India on April 28, 1795, Captain Charles Sturt is by any measure one of the most important figures in the history of the early European Exploration of Australia. His discovery of the ‘Darling’ river on February 2, 1829 and subsequent exploration of the ‘Murrumbidgee’ and ‘Murray’ rivers in 1829/30, must rank in importance with that of the historic crossing of the ‘Blue Mountains’ by Wentworth, Blaxland and Lawson in 1813.
Just as the discovery of that passage over the mountains opened the way for the settlement of the fertile lands of the ‘Bathurst Plains’ and beyond, so too Captain Sturt’s discovery of the Darling River in 1829 and his subsequent 1829-30 Murray River expedition was to unlock the riddle of the river system of south eastern Australia. It was his 1833 publication of the story of that momentous event that resulted in the settlement of the ‘Murray/Darling’ Basin and ushered in the colourful era of the paddle steamers that were to ply their trade along that inland river system and bring prosperity to the fledgling colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It was also to prove the catalyst for the establishment in 1836 of the Province of South Australia, whose citizens were to be in the forefront of social change and the events that culminated in the Proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia on January 1, 1901.
The Grange: Sturt’s home in South Australia
Built in 1840/41 for the Sturt family, the ‘Grange’ took central stage in a property of 390 acres in the Reed Beds of the Port River creek and the Torrens River. One of the earliest homes built in the district, it also had the distinction of being constructed of brick and was deemed by Sturt as the most English looking residence in the colony.
The two distinct sections were constructed a year apart. The initial red bricked section housed the main living areas whilst the white rendered section known as the Nursery Wing afforded the children accommodation with bathroom and toilet plus a kitchen, laundry and eating areas for the servants.
The location was ideal for Sturt, the wide beach reminiscent of his home county of Dorset England. A keen gardener and President of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of South Australia, he exchanged a variety of native and imported plant species for planting. The property had an extensive orchard of grapes, pear, plum and apples trees while the house garden was the typical ‘survival garden’ of the 1840s.
As described by his biographer, his daughter in law, Beatrix Sturt,
“The little paradise was peopled by a variety of friendly beasts and birds. Here the kangaroo lay down with the dog and the cockateel with the household. Cattle, poultry and bees were carefully tended; to Mrs Sturt the dairy was a source of pride, if not of profit. Among the horses were veterans of the Central Expedition”.
The Sturt family remained in their home until 1853 when the education of their sons required that they return to England. The property was then leased to various tenants until 1877, when it was sold by ‘Lady’ Sturt, to Spence, Murray and Harvey in 1877 and subdivided to create the village of Grange. Ownership of ‘Grange’ remained in private hands until 1957 when the Henley and Grange Council purchased the property.
This iconic property was declared an Historic Relic on March 6, 1969 and placed on the Register of the National Estate on March 27, 1978. On July 24, 1980, it was registered as an item on the State Heritage of South Australia.