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Edward Stirling's legacy uncovered

By Mike Weir
BBC News

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image copyrightSociete jersiaise
image captionThis recently unearthed image is believed to be the only likeness in existence of Edward Stirling (centre)

A mystery over the legacy of a forgotten Victorian explorer may have been solved.

Glasgow-born Edward Hamilton Stirling died a wealthy divorcee in Jersey in 1873, but unknown to his relatives, owned a tract of Australian outback.

It accumulated decades of unpaid rates bills, which the local council has collected by selling the property.

An English firm of "heir hunters" now says it knows of 83 people entitled to the remaining sale proceeds.

Jersey law firm, Carey Olsen, has been appointed as Stirling's executor in a case described by Jersey Royal Court as "somewhat surprising".

Each descendent stands to inherit about £1,800 after the heir hunters deduct their 30% fee and charges such as VAT are paid.

image captionPurchases by 19th Century speculators and long forgotten are known as Dead Man's Lands

A northern Australian local authority, Litchfield Council, bought the land via forced sale two years ago to recover unpaid rates bills totalling A$91,000 (£50,000).

The remaining £230,000 belongs to Stirling's descendants, but finding them has been complicated by the passage of time.

Every member of every subsequent generation has to be identified and either contacted, or have their wills taken into account.

David Lisson, the Northern Territories public trustee, currently holds the sale proceeds.

He said properties sold to London investors in the 1860s were often forgotten and are now colloquially known as "Dead Man's Lands".

image copyrightSociete jersiaise/BBC
image captionStirling Castle was built by Edward Stirling in the 1850s but has since fallen into disrepair

Stirling worked for the East India Company and enjoyed travelling.

Dr Jonathan Lee, an academic who has researched the explorer's life, said Stirling was the first European to return from northern Afghanistan alive, leading to the suggestion that he "discovered" the region.

Stirling retired to Jersey in 1846 and bought land upon which he built Stirling Castle, which still stands outside St Helier.

A society sex scandal in Victorian Jersey

image copyrightSociete jersiaise
  • Aged 53, Edward Stirling married 23-year-old Anna Isabella Glascock, but the marriage failed within weeks
  • According to an 1851 issue of Chronique de Jersey, Stirling lodged 19 grounds for divorce
  • During their honeymoon she allegedly sneaked out of the couple's hotel room for a 45-minute liaison with another guest
  • She also, apparently, had an affair with the priest who married them
  • Before they divorced, Glascock eloped with £800 of jewellery (£100,000 in modern money) and a man named Benjamin Page
  • Stirling became a recluse, but outlived his ex-wife, who died in 1859, aged 31

Source: Anna Baghiani, Société Jersiaise

image copyrightErin Smithers
image captionMarion Leeper, a professional storyteller, is one of Edward Stirling's descendants

Marion Leeper, nee Stirling, lives in Cambridge and was surprised to hear she might be entitled to a share of her great-great-great uncle's legacy.

"To begin with we thought it sounded like a scam," she said.

"I had visions of retiring to sunny Darwin - I love Australia - but I don't think it's going to work out like that.

"The more exciting thing is that it's put us in touch with these other family members, which is really interesting."

image copyrightSociete jersiaise
image captionAn old photograph shows the grand monument which originally marked Edward Stirling's grave
image captionThe monument has collapsed, but is still clearly readable complete with his misspelt name

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