STURT, Charles (1763-1812), of More Critchell and Brownsea Castle, Dorset.
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Family and Education
b. 20 Mar. 1763, 2nd s. and event. h. of Humphry Sturt† by Mary, da. and event. h. of Charles Pitfield of Hoxton, Mdx. educ. Poole. m. 14 Apr. 1788, Lady Mary Anne Ashley Cooper, da. of Anthony, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1786.
Midshipman RN c.1780; capt. Brownsea vols. 1798.
Sturt continued to represent Bridport, on the interest established there by his father, until he was defeated in 1802. A member of the Whig Club since 1786, he remained in opposition and voted steadily with the Foxites. He was in the habit of entertaining Fox and his friends at his maritime residence of Brownsea Castle. He was listed a supporter of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. He consorted with the Friends of the People and the Friends of Freedom and assured his constituents that he was ‘a Friend to Peace’, which his votes confirmed. He was also a firm friend of the Prince of Wales and on 1 June 1795 deplored the raising of the question of the Prince’s debts in the House, acting as teller for the amendment. A year later he let Critchell House to the Prince, until in August 1799 the latter gave it up because of his landlord’s negligence.1 On 24 Dec. 1800 he joined Brooks’s Club.
On 23 Nov. 1795 Sturt presented to the House a petition signed by 12,000 supporters of the London Corresponding Society against the sedition bills, having attended the Palace Yard meeting against them the week before. ‘Although not in the habit of public speaking’, he defended the Society, particularly in their espousal of parliamentary reform. He defended a radical pamphlet (King killing no murder) and attacked a Tory one (John Reeves’s Thoughts on English government), reading a passage from it which he claimed was a libel on the House. This allegation led to a lively debate.
Returned after a contest in 1796, Sturt became even more critical of government. He thought a French invasion could best be averted by feeding the starving poor, 3 Nov. 1796; warned of the danger of rebellion in Ireland, 3 Mar.; spoke in favour of the dismissal of the ministry, in view of their incompetent handling of the naval mutiny, 19 May; and was alone in resisting the third reading of the bill to prevent intercourse with the mutineers, 5 June 1797. He was one of the friends of parliamentary reform who met at the Crown and Anchor on 18 May 1797 and voted in favour of it on 26 May.2 He followed Fox’s line of secession thereafter, putting in an appearance in January, May and June 1798 and February 1800, until he resumed regular attendance with opposition in December 1800. He again championed poor relief, 9 Dec. 1800. On 19 Feb. 1801, after being made to wait ten days by ministers, he moved for an inquiry into the fiasco of the Ferrol expedition, claiming that the correspondence of army and navy officers (which he read) showed there was no good reason for retreat. The motion was defeated by 149 votes to 75.
The Marquess of Blandford, Sturt’s friend and his wife’s lover, protesting at not being allowed access to her, wrote to her at this time, ‘I suppose the eloquence of a certain person has produced more effect at Critchell than it did in the House of Commons’. Soon afterwards Sturt discovered their secret correspondence and that a daughter born in January 1801 was not his, and sued Blandford for £20,000 damages. In view of his own proven adultery with Madame Krumpholtz, the harpist, by whom he had a son, he was awarded merely £100, 27 May 1801. He was in the minority on the civil list, 29 Mar. 1802. On 12 Apr. he seconded Burdett’s motion for an inquiry into the conduct of Pitt’s administration and on 7 May voted retrospectively in favour of Pitt’s removal from office. The Admiralty forestalled a notice of his to draw attention to the inadequacy of naval half-pay rates that month.3
After his defeat in 1802, Sturt went to France, ‘driven by domestic calamity to seek a change of scene’, only to become one of Buonaparte’s detainees. He escaped with his dog Coco in 1809, his health ruined. The real state of France in 1809 was the product of his experiences. In 1811, still supposed favourable to parliamentary reform, he prepared to recapture his seat for Bridport and was set fair for success, but died before the dissolution, 12 May 1812. A ‘complete sailor’, he once rescued four seamen from a wreck (1799) and was himself rescued by four seamen when his cutter got into difficulties during a race (September 1800). Described by Henry Bankes as ‘as good a neighbour, as he is a bad politician’, Sturt was a man of ‘unbounded philanthropy’ who left an encumbered estate.4
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 551; iii. 1187; iv. 1448; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZWF7/2/115/11; Courier, 14 Jan.; Sun, 21 Mar. 1795.
- 2. Colchester, i. 108; The Times, 13 May 1797.
- 3. Report of the cause between C. Sturt plaintiff and the Mq. of Blandford defendant for crim. con. (1801); St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 248.
- 4. Gent. Mag. (1800), ii. 891; (1812), i. 596; (1866), i. 912; Mrs Napier Sturt, Life of C. Sturt, 7-10; Sidmouth mss, Bankes to Addington, 20 June 1800.