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Sir John Lancelot Stirling (1849–1932)

John Lancelot Stirling, c1929

John Lancelot Stirling, c1929

State Library of South Australia, B 15668

Sir Lancelot Stirling, Grand Old Man of the South Australian Parliament, and one of the most notable figures in the public life of the State for more than half a century, died last night at his home at Strathalbyn, after a short, sudden illness. He was 82. Lady Stirling survives him.

He had an amazingly long Parliamentary career—51 years; and for the list 31 years he was President of the Legislative Council—a record in Australia for such a position. The name of Stirling is inseparably connected with the Legislative Council, for his father, Mr. Edward Stirling, was an original member of the Council, and it was a coincidence that Sir Lancelot's wife was a daughter of Sir William Milne, a former President of that Chamber.

He first entered Parliament as a representative of Mount Barker in 1881, and in 1890 he took his seat in the Legislative Council for the Southern District, which he represented up to his death. He held Ministerial office, being Chief Secretary in the short-lived Solomon Administration of 1899—it lasted a week —and was then leader of the Opposition, before, in 1901, he succeeded Sir Richard Baker as President of the Council. He then began his record tenure of that position.

He was one of the best-known public men in South Australia. He was a pastoralist and a director of many companies, including Elder Smith & Co. and the Adelaide Steamship Company, and was chairman of the South Australian board of the Australian Mutual Provident Insurance Company. His father was for several years a partner in the old firm of Elder, Stir ling & Co. now Elder. Smith & Co.

The name of Stirling is prominently associated with the nomenclature of South Australia. The township of Stirling was named after the family, the Hundred of Stirling commemorates the two brothers, and the Bill soon to be introduced altering the boundaries of local government areas provides for the creation of a Stirling District Council, a tribute to Sir Lancelot Stirling.

Sir Lancelot Stirling was born at The Lodge, Strathalbyn, on November 5, 1849. He was educated at St. Peter's College, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his law degree. He was admitted to the bar at the Inner Temple when he was 23, but did not practice law in England or Australia. On his return to South Australia he devoted himself to his pastoral interests. These he shared with his brother, Sir Edward Stirling, an eminent scientist, who was for years professor of physiology at the Adelaide University, and the foremost authority in the Commonwealth of his time on Australian anthropology and ethnology.

Sir Lancelot Stirling bred prize horses and Merino sheep, and won many awards at Adelaide and Melbourne Royal Shows. When in England he bought for Sir Thomas Elder Gang Forward, Peradventure, and Etta, three racehorses which were the foundations of the Morphettville Stud.

His interests were many. He was president of the Royal Agricultural Society, an office he had held for seven years in succession at the time of his death; he had been president of the Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals, the Pastoralists' Association, St. Peter's Old Collegians' Association, Caledonian Society, the South Australian Zoological and Acclimitisation Society, and chairman of the Strathalbyn District Council (for 25 years), chairman for many years of the South Australian division of the Australian Red Cross Society, and a member of the University Council.

He had been president of the South Australian Coursing Club, for which he acted as judge for more than 10 years; he was a steward of the South Australian Jockey Club, and was for many years on the committee.

He retained his interest in racing until within a few days of his death and was at the recent Adelaide Cup meeting at Morphettville. He and another long-lived legislator, Mr. A. von Doussa, were associated with the Onkaparinga Racing Club almost from its inception. He rode in the steeple chase at the first Central Australia races at Alice Springs, in 1876, being successful on The Prophet.

Sir Lancelot Stirling's university career was marked by brilliant athletic achievements. While at Cambridge he won the 120 yards hurdle race against Oxford in 15 1-5 sec.— the fastest time up to then. In 1870 he won the amateur hurdles championship of England, and though he was absent and unable to defend it the next year, he won the title again in 1872.

On his return he pioneered polo in South Australia, owning the first polo pony here and importing the first sticks. He was for a long time captain of the Adelaide polo team, which twice beat Victoria. For many years he was a familiar figure at Adelaide Hunt Club meets, of which he was master for a period. He was nearly 60 years of age before he gave up hunting to hounds and playing polo.

The Lodge—his home and birth place—is noted for its beautiful garden. He frequently invited the hunt to meet at Strathalbyn, where his bounteous hospitality was always notable.

He was knighted in 1902, and made a K.C.M.G. seven years later and received the order of the British Empire in 1918.

He married Florence Marion, daughter of Sir William Milne. There are three sons, Messrs. Guy, Tom, and Eric Stirling, of Strathalbyn, and two daughters, Mesdames L. Colley, of Clare, and H. Prockter, of Glenelg.

They were momentous days when Sir Lancelot Stirling entered Parliament, for Federation was the topic of paramount importance. It was unique that four outstanding personalities took their seats at the same session. They were Sir Lancelot Stirling, Sir Edward Stirling, Sir Josiah Symon, and Mr. C. C. Kingston, afterwards one of South Australia's most brilliant premiers.

Sir Josiah Symon recalled memories of those days yesterday. His friendship with Sir Lancelot Stirling, he said, lasted for more than half a century. It survived an incident when Sir Josiah Symon, considering it a national duty, actively supported the candidature of Mr. Kingston, who was then in England with the Commonwealth Constitution Delegation for the Strathalbyn vacancy in the Upper House, against Sir Lancelot Stirling. "That caused some feeling between our families," said Sir Josiah Symon, "but Sir Lancelot was too big a man to allow such a thing as that to disturb our personal relations. He and his brother were men of strong individuality, holding Liberal views. Sir Lancelot Stirling was not a great orator, and he made no outstanding speeches in Parliament, but, because of his soundness, he commanded great respect, and his prominent association with sport gained him the support of a big section."

"A truly great citizen has passed," said the Premier (Mr. Hill). "It is, indeed, difficult to sum up his fine achievements in public life, for his service was spread over so many fields, in each of which he was singularly capable. Sir Lancelot's Parliamentary career was one of brilliance and honor, and he invested all his actions with a charm that made him an altogether lovable personality."

On behalf of the Government and the State, said Mr. Hill, he extended to Lady Stirling and the members of the family the deepest sympathy.

Sir David Gordon, chairman and leader of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council, said the passing of Sir Lancelot Stirling would break many much-treasured, lifelong friendships. His Parliamentary career was unequalled in any part of the Empire. Sir Lancelot was a wise counsellor in the best sense of the term, and set a notable political example, distinguished by a fine dignity and great understanding.

"I have always thought," said Sir David, "that the President's unique personal touch had much to do with the decorum which has marked the conduct of business in the Legislative Council, where he was a brilliant ruler for so many years. He was approachable at all times, and encouraged members to confer with him regarding the procedure under the standing orders. The result was that points of order, calling for a considered ruling from the chair, were rarely raised. Thus Sir Lancelot came to be regarded, not merely as a high official commanding obedience, and formal respect, but as almost an elder brother."

The chairman of the S.A.J.C. (Mr. W. B. Carr) said sportsmen, in common with all sections, would regret the death of Sir Lancelot Stirling. He had sat with him as an honorary steward at Oakbank, and found that his sound judgment and practical experience were invaluable. As a judge at coursing meetings, his decisions were never questioned.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • profile, Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA), 15 July 1891, p 2
  • profile, Register (Adelaide), 25 July 1924, p 10
  • profile, Mail (Adelaide), 29 October 1927, p 2
  • is to have a state funeral, Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 May 1932, p 9
  • funeral, Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 May 1932, p 18
  • will, Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA), 23 August 1932, p 27

Citation details

'Stirling, Sir John Lancelot (1849–1932)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

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