Thomas Sturge

Last updated
Thomas Sturge junior
Born13 July 1787
Died14 April 1866
OccupationOil merchant, whaler, ship owner, cement manufacturer
Years active1800-1866
Notable work
philanthropist and social reformer

Thomas Sturge (1787–1866) was a British oil merchant, shipowner, cement manufacturer, railway company director, social reformer and philanthropist.


Family background and early life

Thomas Sturge was born in 1787, one of at least ten children of Thomas Sturge the elder (1749–1825), tallow chandler and oil merchant of Newington Butts, about a mile south of London Bridge. Thomas the younger joined his father's business early in the 19th century, as did at least three of his brothers, Nathan, George and Samuel. Thomas Sturge & Sons, oil merchants and spermaceti processors operated from premises near Elephant and Castle, Newington Butts, until 1840. [1]

He was a first cousin of social reformer and philanthropist Joseph Sturge.

Oil merchant and shipowner

Hunting the sperm whale Whaling of sperm whale.jpg
Hunting the sperm whale

Thomas Sturge junior had become the senior partner in the business by 1816, when he began to buy ships and send them to the Southern Whale Fishery to obtain whale oil, seal oil and spermaceti for processing and sale in London. [2] He became the principal owner of at least 23 vessels, most of them South Sea whalers. [3]

His Quaker faith and values were reflected in his business dealings. He tried to choose committed Christians to command his whale ships and in his sailing instructions gave his captains detailed advice on how to treat their crewmen. [4] His vessels each seem to have been supplied with a small library and at least five of his vessels carried a "surgeon" or ship's doctor. [5] One of these was Dr Thomas Beale who later wrote, The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (1839), which he dedicated to his employer. [6] Herman Melville drew on the book for his novel Moby Dick (1851). [7] The book also inspired three paintings of whaling scenes by J.M.W. Turner, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845 and 1846. [8] Turner tried to sell them to his patron, oil merchant, shipowner and art collector Elhanan Bicknell. Bicknell was an associate and friend of Sturge at Newington Butts. [9]

Social reformer and philanthropist

Sturge was a member of a committee to assist “distressed seaman” by 1818. [10] His firm donated £15 15 shillings in 1821 toward the cost of a suitable vessel to serve as a floating hospital for the “assistance and relief of sick and helpless seamen.” [11] The Seamen's Hospital Society was established that year, with William Wilberforce as one of the many vice presidents; Sturge was one of a couple of dozen men on its management committee, along with Zachary Macaulay and Captain William Young. [12]

He was a member of the Anti-Slavery Society and substantial financial contributor to the cause. [13] Another member of the society was the historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859) who became friends with Sturge. There were many Quakers in the abolition movement. Among these was his cousin the prominent anti-slavery abolitionist and philanthropist Joseph Sturge (1793–1859).

Thomas also made regular donations to a range of other charitable causes. [14] He provided transport to missionaries going to the South Seas on his whaling ships. Robert Moffat and his wife left their children in the care of Sturge and his invalid sister when they were in South Africa in the 1860s. [15] Thomas or his father, Thomas senior, was supporting the education of the deaf by May 1821. [16]

Contributor to Antarctic exploration

The Balleny Islands from a NASA satellite, December 2007. Sturge Island is the lower of the three main islands. Balleny Islands.jpg
The Balleny Islands from a NASA satellite, December 2007. Sturge Island is the lower of the three main islands.

In 1838 Sturge joined a group of London shipowners to purchase two vessels, the schooner Eliza Scott (154 tons) and the cutter Sabrina (54 tons). These were sent to the Antarctic, under the overall command of Captain John Balleny, to search for undiscovered offshore islands that might host seal colonies that could be harvested. [17] Among the discoveries made was a cluster of five previously unknown islands. They were given the collective name of the Balleny Islands with individual islands named after those who had funded the expedition. Sturge Island is 23 miles long and 6 miles wide and permanently covered in a mantle of snow and ice.

Cement producer

The Knight, Bevan and Sturge Cement works in the second half of the 19th century. Knight, Bevan and Sturge cement works, Northfleet.jpg
The Knight, Bevan and Sturge Cement works in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1837 and 1838 he purchased two adjacent blocks of land on the Thames near Northfleet at a cost of £9,313. [18] On that 74-acre plot he built a cement works to make Portland cement. Construction of the cement kilns started in 1851 and production began in 1853. [19]

Railway investments

He was interested in the building of new railways and in 1842 he spoke at a public meeting in favour of the construction of the Dean Forest and Gloucester railway line. [20] He became a significant shareholder in the Eastern Union Railway Company and a major shareholder and director of the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company. [21]

Later life

In 1842 he left London and moved downriver to Northfleet, where he had purchased Northfleet House, a mansion under construction, for £3900. [22] Thomas Sturge the younger died there on 14 April 1866. [23] He never married and most of his estate, valued at about £180,000, was left to his brother and business partner, George. [24]


  1. London Metropolitan Archives, index to the records of the Sun Fire Assurance Office, 1840.
  2. "British Southern Whale Fishery - Voyages".
  3. Howard, p.414.
  4. Howard, p.433.
  5. Howard, p.425.
  6. Thomas Beale, The Natural History of the Sperm Whale, London, John Van Voorst, 1839; reprinted by The Holland Press, London, 1973, p.ix-x.
  7. Howard P. Vincent, The trying-out of Moby Dick, Houghton Miffin, Boston, 1949, p.128.
  8. Beale (1973) dustjacket.
  9. Philip Hoare, (2009) Leviathan or, the whale, London, Fourth Estate, p.250-1, 277. ISBN   978-0007230143
  10. Morning Chronicle, 9 January 1818.
  11. Morning Chronicle, 15 March 1821.
  12. The annual subscription charities and public societies in London. 1823. p. 24. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  13. Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter, 3, June 1829-December 1830, p.268; William Lloyd Garrison, The letters of William Lloyd Garrison; No union with the slaveholders, 1841-1849, Cambridge, MA, 1974, p.187.
  14. Jones, p.480; "The Times, 3 May 1826 & 10 June 1823.
  15. Letter from Robert Moffatt dated 22 June 1861 to Thomas Sturge. Cambridge University Library, Add Ms8830 3/2/101.
  16. List of Governors and officers of the asylum for the support and education of the deaf and dumb children of the poor, London, 1821, p.175.
  17. "Discoveries in the Antarctic Ocean, in February 1839. Extracted from the Journal of the schooner Eliza Scott, commanded by Mr John Balleny, communicated by Charles Enderby, Esq., Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 9 (1839) pp.526-7.
  18. British Parliamentary Papers, HC 1842, Vol 25, p.26.
  19. "Cement Kilns: Bevans".
  20. Berrows Worcestor Journal, 15 December 1842.
  21. Sturge v Eastern Union Railway Co., 2 May - 2 June 1855, Hein online Legal Database, 7 DE G.M. & G. 162; House of Lords Sessional Papers, 1863, Vol.XXXIV, p.58.
  22. Howard, p.423.
  23. Entry for Thomas Sturge, England & Wales National Probate Register, 1858-1966.
  24. A.J. Francis, The cement industry, 1796-1914: a history, Newton Abbott, 1978, p.165.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Balleny Islands

The Balleny Islands are a series of uninhabited islands in the Southern Ocean extending from 66°15' to 67°35'S and 162°30' to 165°00'E. The group extends for about 160 km (99 mi) in a northwest-southeast direction. The islands are heavily glaciated and of volcanic origin. Glaciers project from their slopes into the sea. The islands were formed by the so-called Balleny hotspot.

History of whaling

This article discusses the history of whaling from prehistoric times up to the commencement of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. Whaling has been an important subsistence and economic activity in multiple regions throughout human history. Commercial whaling dramatically reduced in importance during the 19th century due to the development of alternatives to whale oil for lighting, and the collapse in whale populations. Nevertheless, some nations continue to hunt whales even today.

Northfleet Human settlement in England

Northfleet is a town in the borough of Gravesham in Kent, England. It is located immediately west of Gravesend, and on the border with the Borough of Dartford. Northfleet has its own railway station on the North Kent Line, just east of Ebbsfleet International railway station on the High Speed 1 line.

Joseph Sturge English Quaker, abolitionist and activist

Joseph Sturge was an English Quaker, abolitionist and activist. He founded the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. He worked throughout his life in Radical political actions supporting pacifism, working-class rights, and the universal emancipation of slaves. In the late 1830s, he published two books about the apprenticeship system in Jamaica, which helped persuade the British Parliament to adopt an earlier full emancipation date. In Jamaica, Sturge also helped found Free Villages with the Baptists, to provide living quarters for freed slaves; one was named "Sturge Town" in his memory.

HMS <i>Hecla</i> (1815)

HMS Hecla was a Royal Navy Hecla-class bomb vessel launched in 1815. Like many other bomb vessels, she was named for a volcano, in this case Hekla in southern Iceland. She served at the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816. Subsequently she took part in three expeditions to the Arctic. She then served as a survey vessel on the coast of West Africa until she was sold in 1831. She became a merchantman and in 1834 a Greenland whaler. She was wrecked in 1840.

<i>Northfleet</i> (ship)

The Northfleet was a British full-rigged ship that is best remembered for her disastrous sinking in the English Channel in January 1873.

Sperm whaling

Sperm whaling is the hunting of these marine mammals for the oil, meat and bone that can be extracted from their bodies. Sperm whales, a large and deep-diving species, produce a waxy substance that was especially useful during the Industrial Revolution, and so they were targeted in 19th-century whaling, as exemplified in Moby Dick. Sperm oil is no longer needed, but another unusual product, ambergris, is still valued as a perfume fixative. Although the animal is classified as a vulnerable species, aboriginal whaling in limited numbers is still permitted, notably from two villages in Indonesia, for subsistence.

Samuel Enderby & Sons was a whaling and sealing company based in London, England, founded circa 1775 by Samuel Enderby (1717–1797). The company was significant in the history of whaling in the United Kingdom, not least for encouraging their captains to combine exploration with their business activities, and sponsored several of the earliest expeditions to the subantarctic, Southern Ocean and Antarctica itself.

Charles Enderby (1798–1876) was one of three sons of Samuel Enderby Junior (1756–1829). He was the grandson of Samuel Enderby (1717–1797), who founded the Samuel Enderby & Sons company in 1775. Samuel Enderby & Sons was one of the most prominent English sealing and whaling firms, active in both the Arctic and Southern Oceans. Charles and his two brothers, Henry and George, inherited Samuel Enderby & Sons when their father Samuel Junior died in 1829. They moved the company headquarters in 1830 from Paul's Wharf to Great St. Helens in London.

HMS <i>Swan</i> (1767)

HMS Swan was launched on 21 November 1767 at Plymouth as the lead ship of the 24 ships in the 14-gun Swan-class of ship-sloops built in the 1760s and 1770s. She served during the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolutionary War. She bore the name HMS Explosion between 1779 and 1783; at the time she was classed as a fireship. She was laid up in 1801 and finally sold in 1814. Swan then became a whaler in the Northern Whale Fishery, sailing out of Kingston-on-Hull. She also made one voyage to the Southern Whale Fishery (1819–1821) and one merchant voyage to Brazil and Hamburg, before returning to the Northern Whale Fishery. She was broken up circa. 1841.

Britannia was a ship launched at Sunderland in 1783. In 1791 she received a three-year license from the British East India Company to engage in whaling in the South Pacific and off New South Wales. Britannia engaged in a small amount of sealing and whaling during her absence from Britain. She was also employed shuttling between Port Jackson and other ports bringing supplies to the new colonists. Shortly after her return to Britain in 1797 she temporarily disappeared from Lloyd's Register. From 1800 to 1822 she was a Greenland whaler, and then from 1822 to 1837 she was a Southern Whale fishery whaler. Between 1840 and 1844 she was a London-based collier. After a 61-year career, she was no longer listed in 1845.

DuBuc was a vessel captured in 1797 and sold that year for mercantile use. She initially became a West Indiaman, but then the whaling company Mather & Co. purchased her. She made four voyages for them, being condemned at Hobart in October 1808.

George Hayley (1722-1781) was a British merchant, shipowner, whaler and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1774 to 1781.

Elhanan Bicknell

Elhanan Bicknell was a successful London businessman and shipowner. He used his wealth as a patron of the arts, becoming one of the leading collectors of contemporary British art.

Whaling in the United Kingdom

Commercial whaling in Britain began late in the 16th century and continued after the 1801 formation of the United Kingdom and intermittently until the middle of the 20th century.

Thomas Sturge the Elder (1749–1825) was a London tallow chandler, oil merchant, spermaceti processor and philanthropist. He was a Quaker.

Thomas Sturge (1787–1866) was a British oil merchant, shipowner, cement manufacturer, railway company director and philanthropist.

Alexander Birnie was a Scottish merchant and shipowner.

HMS Coquette was launched in 1807 and spent her naval career patrolling in the Channel and escorting convoys. In 1813 she engaged an American privateer in a notable but inconclusive single-ship action. The Navy put Coquette in ordinary in 1814 and sold her in 1817. She became a whaler and made five whaling voyages before she was lost in 1835 on her sixth.

John Ellerker Boulcott British shipowner and merchant (1784–1855)

John Ellerker Boulcott (1784-1855) was a London merchant and shipowner. He was a director of the London and Dublin Bank and also a director of the New Zealand Company and he served as the sheriff of Merioneth in Wales. He owned considerable land and buildings in London and other property just outside the city by the time of his death in 1855.