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Can You Help Solve Mystery Of Admiral’s Lost Bones?

Published on: 28 Nov, 2012
Updated on: 29 Nov, 2012

Can you help solve a mystery that links Guildford and Western Australia? The Guildford Dragon News has been contacted by Aussie Sid Breeden who is painstakingly trying to pinpoint where the bones lie of a man who is well known to the community where he lives, but largely forgotten here…

Admiral Sir James Stirling, the first governor of Western Australia, buried somewhere in Guildford.

It is indeed an astonishing mystery that surrounds the Guildford gravesite of the founder and first governor of Western Australia, Admiral Sir James Stirling, and his wife Ellen.

Stirling created the British Swan River Colony in 1829, later renamed Western Australia. His wife was a daughter of the influential Mangles family who lived in a large house beside the River Wey at Woodbridge, Guildford, now the site of the Wickes store.

Red and green kangaroo paw plant. In Australia some call it the Mangles kangaroo paw.

Western Australian heritage holds the Stirlings in high esteem with many places named after them. The state’s floral emblem, the red and green kangaroo paw Anigozanthos manglesii is named after Robert Mangles, and forms part of Western Australia’s coat of arms.

James and Ellen were married at St John’s Church, Stoke, Guildford, on September 23, 1823. After returning from Australia, James died at Woodbridge Park in 1865 and was buried at St John’s Stoke. Burial records simply state grave location as “side of hill”.

The ancient graveyard around the church became full so was closed in 1869 when the extension graveyard was opened on the other side of Stoke Road. Ellen died in 1874 with a wish to be buried with her husband.

Her burial record states “with husband”. This is where the mystery starts. It appears most probable they reinterred James from the ancient to the new extension graveyard.

Western Australia state crest.

Unfortunately, detailed records cannot be located. Over time both grave and the departed became forgotten.

In 1974 authorisation was given to officially remove a number of west side old graves and deconsecrate part of the extension cemetery to create a building plot. Detailed removal records have not been found.

On April 2, 1977 a Western Australian TV Producer, John Izzard, visited Guildford unsuccessfully seeking the Stirling grave for filming as part of a TV series on WA’s upcoming Sesquicentennial anniversary. Giving up and about to return to London, a Joseph’s Road resident drew John’s attention to a pile of tombstone rubble about to go to the rubbish dump.

Pile of tombstone rubble in Stoke Church, Guildford, 1977.

This resident was upset over the method of graves destruction. Out of curiosity, Izzard inspected the rubble and by sheer good fortune found the Stirling grave cover stone smashed into eight pieces.

These circumstances indicate their grave was among those removed and, with the names of both James and Ellen Stirling inscribed on the cover, indicates they were both within that one grave.

The cover stone was eventually reassembled and in 1981 relocated as a memorial between the church and adjacent then newly opened community centre named the Stirling Centre.

Sid Breeden and his wife Carole with a statuette of Admiral Sir James Stirling, pictured at Stoke Church on a visit to Guildford and the UK in 2010.

Sid Breeden says: “Western Australian interests are hoping The Guildford Dragon News community knows someone who can help unfold any of the mystery. Fours questions come to mind….”

  • Exactly from where within the graveyard were graves removed in 1974-75?
  • Where were the human remains reinterred?
  • Where within the graveyard was the pile of rubble? (see photo).
  • Where was this tombstone rubble finally dumped?

Hopefully someone will know who carried out these works. Anyone with information is asked to contact David Rose on 01483 838960. Or email He will pass all details on to Sid Breeden.

Entrance to Stoke Churchyard (west side). New information suggests that Stirling’s bones were re-buried just inside on the left?

Stop press: With his many local history and community contacts, David Rose has been helping Sid by making a number enquires into the mystery. Just recently he was informed that in about the late 1970s there was a re-interment of a number of bones in Stoke Churchyard (west side). They were, evidently, buried in two plots just inside the entrance on the left-hand side. Interestingly, prior to the re-burial there was a short service, but this was not held at St John’s Church, but at St Nicolas’ Church in Guildford.

The cover stone from the Stirling family grave is currently positioned between the church and the Stirling Centre. Their bones are not underneath it.

The cover stone.

St John’s Church, Stoke Road, Guildford.

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Responses to Can You Help Solve Mystery Of Admiral’s Lost Bones?

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    November 29, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Guildford played such an important part in the birth of Western Australia, and as such perhaps we should attempt to strengthen our ties with these people with whom we have so much in common.

    Surely we need as many friends as we can retain in this unsettled world of political extremes

  2. Roger Marjoribanks Reply

    November 30, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Nearly 20 years ago I visited Guilford in Western Australia, now a pleasant little suburb of Perth. I’d endorse Bernard’s call to strengthen our ties with that area – Sue and I found that the natives were most friendly!

  3. Nick Booth Reply

    December 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    When I worked in Guildford I was always told that Stirlings grave was moved to build the new house at the corner of the grave yard over the road from the church. From the opposite corner from where the last photo was taken i think… Good luck with the search!

  4. Peter Edman Reply

    December 15, 2013 at 8:35 am

    I am writing this from Western Australia. I have a 13 metre (30 tonne) steel trawler and just yesterday we had a day on the water in Cockburn Sound near Freemantle.

    We visited the site of the first settlement in 1829, where Governor Stirling landed.

    If you want to see it on Google Earth type in Cliff Head Garden Island, Western Australia. You will see pictures of the Cliff Head Memorial.

  5. Bernard Parke Reply

    December 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    We should strengthen our ties with Western Australia.

    I wonder if Peter Edman or any other reader knows of any body or organisation who could drive this forward?

    Many of my relations went to Australia from Ireland (some quite voluntarily).

    One of my ancestors was Sir Henry Parkes and my cousin’s son is Don Walker of rock band Cold Chisel.

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