William Sturt remains “famous” in the memory of Goudhurst for the role he played in organising the “Goudhurst Militia” in their battle against the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers on 21st April 1747.
The illegitimate son of Elizabeth Sturt (or possibly Start) he was baptised 24th August 1718 in St Mary’s Church. Thus at the time of the Battle of Goudhurst he would have been 29 years of age. It is generally accepted that in April 1747 he had recently left the army where he had gained the rank of Corporal in Henry Harrison’s Regiment of Foot, (later the 15th Foot) although no muster lists appear to survive for the regiment at this date to confirm this.
The lack of muster rolls has made it impossible to discover exactly when and where William Sturt would have joined the army. However, there are two possible periods when he could have been recruited; firstly, during the 1730s and secondly, during the early 1740s. A history of the 15th Foot, tells us that in the 1730s when war broke out between Great Britain and Spain the regiment started recruiting. Could this have been when Sturt joined up? By 1740 the regiment was stationed on the Isle of Wight and in October that year sailed for the West Indies, arriving in Jamaica in 1741. The Regiment had returned to England by 1742 and commenced recruiting again, so Sturt could have joined up then. It remained in England for the next two years and it is in 1744 that Sturt may have gained some experience in dealing with Smugglers as in that year it is thought that 30 men of the regiment ambushed a gang of about 50 smugglers at Bexhill in Sussex.
With more battles taking place in Europe the regiment was sent to Ostend, in 1745, where it helped the Austrian troops defend the town against a siege by the French. 1745 was also the time of the Jacobite rebellions by the young pretender Charles Edward Stewart and the regiment was recalled to England because of this threat, but remained in the South of England in case of invasion by the French. It was sent to France again in in September 1746, to Port L’Orient and Quiberon although it had returned to England at the end of the year. It was probably about this time that Sturt left the army.
Sturt married Ann Beeching in 1753 and they had two daughters, Elizabeth who did not survive infancy and was buried in Goudhurst on 19th September 1756 and Ann who was baptised in St Mary’s on 27th June 1760, as the daughter of William and Ann Start. Nothing is known of Sturt’s life at this time or indeed if he still lived in the parish. In addition no death has, so far, has been traced for his wife Ann, suggesting that they may have moved elsewhere. The only thing that can be certain is that she must have died between 1760 and 1763 for it was in the latter year that the marriage registers of St Mary’s show that Sturt, described as a widower, married Elizabeth Dudley, widow, by licence.
In 1765, on 27th March, William Sturt, now aged 47 was appointed Master of Goudhurst Workhouse by the members of Goudhurst Vestry. This would have entailed living in the workhouse and he was allowed to take his wife, Elizabeth and family with him. He was also expected to teach the workhouse children to read. For this he was paid £5 5s a year which is considerably less than his predecessors who had received £15 a year. This apparent low wage may be because he had board and lodging for his family. It is not known how long he remained as Master. His wife was buried in Goudhurst on 16th May 1791 and Sturt lived only a few years longer; his burial took place on 25th June 1797. Unfortunately there is no headstone to mark his grave.