Sturge, Joseph (DNB00)
|←Sturch, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55
STURGE, JOSEPH (1793–1859), philanthropist, son of Joseph Sturge, a farmer and grazier, of the Manor House, Elberton, Gloucestershire, by his wife Mary Marshall of Alcester, Worcestershire, was born at Elberton on 2 Aug. 1793. After a year at Thornbury day school, and three at Sidcot, Sturge at fourteen commenced farming with his father. Afterwards he farmed on his own account. Refusing conscientiously to find a proxy or to serve in the militia, for which he was drawn when eighteen, he watched his flock of sheep driven off to be sold to cover the delinquency. About 1818 he settled at Bewdley as a corn-factor, and soon made money. His firm, however, reduced their returns by refusing to receive consignments of malting barley, because they would have no share in the profits of drink. He removed to Birmingham in 1822, became one of the town commissioners, and, when the charter was granted in 1835, alderman for the borough. He warmly espoused the anti-slavery cause, corresponded from 1826 with Zachary Macaulay [q. v.], and was one of the founders of the agency committee of the Anti-Slavery Society, whose programme was entire and immediate emancipation.
Sturge and his friends engaged lecturers, and travelled through Scotland and Ireland arousing popular interest. A measure passed by the government, 8 Aug. 1833, granting compensation to slave-owners and establishing a system of apprenticeship, was regarded by the committee as entirely inadequate, and upon Lord Brougham complaining to Sturge of the difficulty of obtaining proof of the evils of the apprenticeship system, Sturge quietly remarked, ‘Then I must supply thee with proof,’ packed his portmanteau, and started for the West Indies. In six months he returned, published ‘The West Indies in 1837’ (London, 8vo), the first edition of which rapidly sold, and gave evidence for seven days before the committee of the House of Commons. In a speech before the lords, on 16 July, Lord Brougham paid a high tribute to Sturge's work. After several defeats the bill abolishing slavery was carried on 23 May by three votes. Sturge advanced sums of money to the freed negroes, assisted schemes for their education, and purchased an estate in the West Indies. In 1841 he travelled through the United States with the poet Whittier, to observe the condition of the slaves there, and published on his return ‘A Visit to the United States in 1841’ (London, 1842, 8vo).
Meanwhile political agitation in England was rising. One of the first members of the Anti-Cornlaw League, Sturge was reproached by the ‘Free Trader’ for his desertion of repeal when, in 1842, he lent active support to the movement, inaugurated by the chartists, for the wide extension of the suffrage. He stood for Nottingham in August of that year, but was defeated by John Walter of the ‘Times’ by eighty-four votes. His co-operation with Feargus O'Connor [q. v.], Henry Vincent [q. v.], and other chartists alienated many of his friends. With a view to uniting the chartists and the middle-class radicals, he summoned a conference to discuss the question of ‘complete suffrage’ at Birmingham on 27 Dec. 1842, but the violence and inconsistency of the chartist leaders led Sturge and his friends to withdraw from the chartist movement. From this time Sturge gradually relinquished political life and devoted himself to philanthropy.
After the exhibition of 1851 he received, at his house in Hyde Park, all foreigners interested in peace, anti-slavery, and temperance. He attended the peace congresses of Brussels, Paris, and Frankfort [see under Richard, Henry], and visited Schleswig-Holstein and Copenhagen with the object of inducing the governments of Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein to submit their dispute to arbitration. In January 1854 he was appointed one of the deputation from the Society of Friends to carry to the tsar their protest against the Crimean war [see under Pease, Henry]. Largely through Sturge's support, the ‘Morning Star’ was founded in 1855 as an organ for the advocacy of non-intervention and arbitration.
In 1856 he visited Finland to arrange for distribution of funds from the Friends towards relieving the famine caused by the British fleet's destruction of private property during the war. He founded the Friends' Sunday schools in Birmingham (where, in 1898, there was a weekly attendance of over three thousand). He died suddenly at Edgbaston, Birmingham, on 14 May 1859, as he was preparing to attend the annual meeting of the Peace Society, of which he was president.
Sturge's philanthropy was the mainspring of his political actions, which were unfavourably viewed by many of the Friends to whom he was all his life attached. The active and often unpopular part he took he conceived to be his duty as a Christian. Although no speaker, his power over numbers was shown in 1850, when he successfully stemmed the tide of anti-papal agitation in a great meeting at Birmingham. He illustrated his consistency by his opposition to the building of the Birmingham town-hall for the triennial festivals, from a conscientious objection to oratorio, while he privately gave to the funds of the General Hospital, which the festival was founded to assist.
He married first, in 1834, Eliza, only daughter of James Cropper [q. v.], the philanthropist. She died in 1835. Secondly, he married, on 14 Oct. 1846, Hannah (d. 19 Oct. 1896), daughter of Barnard Dickinson of Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, by whom he left a son Joseph and four daughters. Sturge's elder sister, Sophia, was his constant companion from 1819 until her death in 1845, and to her judgment and ability he owed much. His brother and partner, Charles Sturge (1802–1888), was associated with him in most of his philanthropic acts.
Sturge's labours for the town of Birmingham are commemorated by a fountain and statue, erected at Five Ways, Edgbaston, and inaugurated by the borough members, John Bright and William Scholefield, on 4 June 1863.
His portrait is included in B. R. Haydon's large picture of the anti-slavery convention 1840, at the National Portrait Gallery. It was also drawn by W. Willis. A third portrait, painted by Barrett, belongs to the corporation of Birmingham.
[Sturge's Life was written by Henry Richard, London, 1864, 8vo; a short memoir by W. Catchpool, 1877, was reprinted in Six Men of the People, 1882. See also Peckover's Life of J. Sturge, 1890; Christian Philanthropy, a sermon by J. A. James, May 1859; Stephen's Anti-Slavery Recollections, p. 130; Morley's Life of Cobden, ii. 173; Gammage's Hist. of the Chartist Movement, 1894, pp. 203, 241, 255; Life of William Allen, iii. 283, 293, 308, 421; Friends' Biogr. Cat. pp. 641–51; Whittier's Poems, of which four are addressed to Sturge; The Nonconformist, 1841–59, passim; Life and Struggles of Lovett, pp. 220, 273 et seq.; Addit. MS. 27810, ff. 99, 128, 132 (three letters from Sturge to Francis Place, with other information concerning Sturge's political life in the same volume, collected by Place); information from Joseph Sturge.]