STURT, Henry Charles (1795-1866), of Crichel House, Wimborne Minster, Dorset
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Family and Educationb. 9 Aug. 1795, o.s. of Charles Sturt† of Crichel and Brownsea Castle, Poole and Lady Mary Anne Ashley Cooper, da. of Anthony, 4th earl of Shaftesbury. educ. Harrow c.1806; Christ Church, Oxf. 1814. m. 15 Aug. 1820, Lady Charlotte Penelope Brudenell, da. of Robert Brudenell†, 6th earl of Cardigan, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. 1812. d. 14 Apr. 1866.
Sheriff, Dorset 1823-4.
Sturt’s quixotic, Foxite father, who matched his wife in the adultery which wrecked their marriage and exposed them to public humiliation in 1801, encumbered his son’s inheritance. After his death in 1812 his personalty was sworn under £10,000, and the following year his estate was in chancery. Fortunately for Sturt, who was granted letters of administration in 1832, his father’s executors were able to rectify matters.1 In 1817 he sold Brownsea Island in Poole harbour, where he had spent much of his boyhood, for £8,000; but he came to enjoy ‘a splendid inheritance’ of land in Dorset, together with the valuable Pitfield estate at Hoxton in east London, which had been brought into the family by his paternal grandmother. He lent £1,000 to his cousin Charles Sturt (1795-1869), the Australian explorer, who had saved him from drowning off Weymouth in 1813.2
Sturt, whose politics were indeterminate, made no mark in the House as Member for Bridport, where the family interest was evidently in decline. He ‘relinquished his pretensions’ there at the dissolution in 1820, when a contest loomed.3 Remaining neutral as sheriff, on 12 Feb. 1823 he told his friend Henry Bankes* that he was bound to win the vacant Dorset seat; however, at the by-election that month he declared the show of hands to be in favour of Bankes’s opponent, Edward Portman.4 At the request of his uncle the 6th earl of Shaftesbury, Sturt seconded Bankes at the Dorset by-election in February 1826, repeating the courtesy at the two following elections.5 As had been rumoured during the previous two years, at the general election of 1826 he stood for Poole, competing for the second seat with the Whig William Ponsonby*, who was married to his first cousin Barbara, daughter of the 5th earl of Shaftesbury.6 On the hustings Sturt declined to
enter into any detail upon politics because it is unnecessary ... I am generally inclined to ministerial measures because I imagine them to be the most correct, but I am not tied or pledged to any measure whatever. I am free and uncontrolled as the winds.
He was beaten into third place in the contest, which cost him at least £500, but did not carry out his threat to petition against Ponsonby’s return.7
In April 1830, when he became a freeman of the borough for the purpose, Shaftesbury brought him in for Dorchester in the room of one of his sons.8 There was no opposition, but he was quizzed by one voter, who wished to know whether, if Shaftesbury subsequently required him to vacate his seat, ‘he would come forward as a candidate for the free votes of the electors’. Sturt refused to answer and spoke mainly in conventional platitudes, though he was reported to have declared that
wherever he saw a willingness to diminish undue patronage, wherever he saw a willingness to diminish the expenditure and burdens of the nation, and a desire to relieve it from its distress, he should deem it his duty to support such measures.9
There is no evidence that he acted up to these professions in the House, where he took his seat, 26 Apr. He divided with the Wellington administration against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May, and for the grant for South American missions, 7 June, when he voted against the abolition of the death penalty for forgery. He is not known to have spoken in debate and at the general election of 1830 he made way for Shaftesbury’s heir, Lord Ashley.10 He voted for the sitting Members Bankes and Portman, who were opposed by John Calcraft*, at the general election of 1831.11 The Hollands heard him spoken of as a possible reform candidate for the vacancy created by Calcraft’s suicide in September 1831, but it was Ponsonby who came forward.12 He signed the requisition to Bankes, who declined, and voted for the eventual anti-reform candidate Ashley, whose brother had feared that he was ‘inclined to Ponsonby’.13 Sturt was also touted as a replacement for Ponsonby at Poole, but it was reported that while ‘his friends appeared anxious to introduce him’ there, ‘unless he will pledge himself to the support of a full and complete reform, the electors will not think of him’.14
Sturt secured a county seat as a Conservative in 1835 and occupied it until 1846 when, with his cousin Ashley, he resigned it, being then a convert to free trade, but representing an overwhelmingly protectionist constituency. To the prime minister, Peel, who tried to make him sit tight, he administered a ‘gentle’ rebuke, by wondering whether repeal of the corn laws ‘might not have been managed without stranding others and myself’.15 Sturt, who was ‘not generally prominent in the management of the county business’, preferring to pursue his interests in science and archaeology, was described as ‘a man of mark in his generation’, and cred