by Norma Leach

Panorama No.24 included an article on The Sturgeons of South Ockendon and Grays by Barry Barnes. A copy was ordered by an Australian Sturgeon descendant a few years ago and since then further information has come to light on the Sturgeons.

The head of the family, Thomas Bennett Sturgeon was born about 1790 in West Wratting, Suffolk and married Lydia Cocks. They moved to Essex in 1823/4, and were tenant farmers, first at Rainham (Moor Hall), then at South Ockendon (Hall Farm, Grange Farm and Middle Farm) and Grays (Grays Hall Farm). They had nine children, five sons and three daughters surviving into adulthood. Three of Thomas’s elder sons were in co-partnership with their father, the business being known as Sturgeon & Sons.

Thomas Bennett Sturgeon purchased several Negretti merino ewes and rams from George III’s depleted stock, probably in the early 1820s, earlier sales from this stock being made in 1804, when John Macarthur (a well-known Australian sheep breeder) made his mark. Merino sheep were considered unsuitable to our damp climate, dying from various diseases and causes. However, T B Sturgeon was more successful and claimed that his flock had been ‘bred without stain from the Royal flock, imported from Spain in 1791 by his late majesty, King George III’ by him and his sons.

However, about 1850 Mr Sturgeon introduced some fresh blood from the purest Continental flocks. The best stud rams were purchased from Prince Lischnowsky and Baron Bartenstein in Silesia, a province that had become famous for the excellence of its sheep and fine quality of their wool. A few rams were later obtained from Count Plessen, in Mecklenburg Schwerin.

In Quench Not the Spirit by Bertha Mac. Smith, it says of the Sturgeon flock:

“The effects of climate, food, and judgment in selecting suitable sires for each ewe has been that the sheep have increased in size, improved in form, and are now covered from nose to hoof with fleeces of the thickest and finest wool to be found in any sheep, while their deep, well-sprung ribs and good short legs, give unmistakable proof of the sound constitution, a point of the greatest importance in every animal which has to get its living on a scanty pastorage in a hot climate. Sheep from this flock have been used in Australia and other Colonies for many years with the greatest success. The progeny of the Sturgeon ram is found to do well in all hot countries, their thick fleece enabling them to resist sun better than wet. One great feature in this flock is the strength and evenness of the wool”.

Thomas Bennett Sturgeon died on 21st May 1855 and he, together with his wife (who had died four years earlier) are buried in the churchyard at Grays, a stone slab marking their resting place lying between the church and the front wall. In his Will he stated that he wished the co-partnership existing between him and his sons Thomas, Charles and Alfred to continue and for them to maintain and support his other four children, Lydia, Mary Ann, Edwin and Ellen until the youngest was 24 years old. His other son Henry (who farmed Middle Farm, South Ockendon and emigrated with his wife and most of his children to New Zealand in 1875) was left a sum of money.

Thomas Sturgeon of the Elms


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