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  • Captain James Stirling

    Admiral Sir James Stirling RN (28 January 1791 - 22 April 1865) was a British naval officer and colonial administrator. His enthusiasm and persistence persuaded the British Government to establish the Swan River Colony and he became the first Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Western Australia. In 1854, when Commander-in-Chief, East Indies and China Station, Stirling on his own initiative signed Britain's first Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty. Throughout his career Stirling showed considerable diplomatic skill and was selected for a number of sensitive missions. Paradoxically, this was not reflected in his personal dealings with officialdom and his hopes for preferment received many rebuffs.

    Stirling entered the Royal Navy at age 12 and as a midshipman saw action in the Napoleonic Wars. Rapid promotion followed and when he was 21 he received his first command, the 28-gun sloop HMS Brazen, and, in the War of 1812 between the US and the UK, seized two prizes. The Brazen carried the news of the end of that war to Fort Bowyer and took part in carrying to England the British troops that had captured the fort. On return to the West Indies, Stirling made two surveys of the Venezuelan coast and reported on the strengths, attitudes and dispositions of the Spanish government and various revolutionary factions, later playing a role in the British negotiations with these groups.

    In his second command, HMS Success, he carried supplies and coinage to Australia, but with a covert mission to assess other nations' interest in the region and explore opportunites for British settlements. He is chiefly remembered for his exploration of the Swan River, followed by his eventual success in lobbying the British Government to establish a settlement there. On 30 December 1828 he was made Lieutenant-Governor of the colony-to-be. He formally founded the city of Perth and the port of Fremantle and oversaw the development of the surrounding area and on 4 March 1831 he was confirmed as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the new territory, Western Australia, in which post he remained until in 1838 he resumed his naval career.

    From 1840 to 1844, in command of the 80 gun HMS Indus, he patrolled the Mediterranean with instructions to 'show the flag' and keep an eye on the French. In 1847 he was given command of the 120 gun first rate ship of the line HMS Howe and his first commission was to conduct Her Majesty, the Dowager Queen Adelaide on trips to Lisbon and Madeira and then back to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. After that, the Howe was assigned to the eastern Mediterranean, where she reinforced the squadron led by Vice Admiral Parker using gunboat diplomacy to secure an uneasy peace in the region.

    Stirling's fifth and final command was as Commander in Chief, China and the East Indies Station, and his flag, as Rear Admiral of the White, was hoisted on HMS Winchester on 11 May 1854. Shortly afterwards news arrived that war had been declared on Russia. Stirling was anxious to prevent Russian ships from sheltering in Japanese ports and menacing allied shipping and, after lengthy negotiations through the Goverrnor of Nagasaki, concluded a Treaty of Friendship with the Japanese. The treaty was endorsed by the British Government, but Stirling was criticised in the popular press for not finding and engaging with the Russian fleet.

    Sydney

    In 1826 the western side of Australia was still called New Holland, but the Dutch appeared to have no interest in its development. For the British, a port on the west or north coast might be a useful stage for trade with their settlements in the Cape of Good Hope, India and Singapore. However, the French were known to be have an intense interest and French ships were exploring the Australian coasts. The British needed to assess further the potential of the region and find out the extent of the French interest without creating a diplomatic incident. For this task, Stirling, with his record of exploration, diplomacy and covert missions, was a natural choice. New South Wales was running short of currency and the settlement on Melville Island was short of food and scurvy was rife. A supply mission to these would be excellent cover for intelligence gathering activities.

    The Success sailed on 9 July 1826, carrying cases of coins and a distinguished passenger, Admiral Sir James Saumarez, Knight Companion of the Bath, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Ellen and one year old Andrew remained at home at Woodbridge. One of Stirling's officers was 3rd Lieutenant William Preston, who would marry Ellen's sister Hamilla seven years later. The Success arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 2 September, discharged its passenger, took on provisions and set sail again, arriving at Sydney Heads on 28 November.

    Captain Jules d'Urville arrived in Sydney Harbour on 2 December on the French corvette L'Astrolabe. The L'Astrolabe was on a voyage of exploration, which gave Stirling an opportunity to assess French interest in the region. Stirling and d'Urville dined together several times and Stirling discovered that the Astrolabe had a detailed chart of the Swan River. Before leaving England, Stirling had studied the available charts of the west coast of Australia and had concluded that the Swan was a possible site for a harbour and settlement and had hoped to be the first European to explore and chart it. However, d'Urville indicated that the French did not consider that the Swan would be a suitable site for a harbour, because of the difficulty of access and lack of fresh water. This gave Stirling a free hand.

    A ship arrived from Melville Island on the same day as the L'Astrolabe, bringing reassuring news that scurvy was under control and the settlement was progressing more satisfactorily. The Governor, Major General Ralph Darling, advised Stirling to delay his visit to Melville until later in the year. Stirling then made a report to Darling, setting out detailed arguments for a mission to the Swan River. Darling gave his approval and, on 17 January 1827, the Success sailed from Sydney for the Swan, via Hobart in Van Diemen's Land, where several cases of coins were delivered. On board the Success were the Colonial Botanist Charles Frazer, the surgeon Frederick Clause and the landscape artist Frederick Garling.

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