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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Ellen Stirling

c. 1828
Thomas Phillips

oil on canvas (frame: 86.0 cm x 74.0 cm depth 12.0 cm, support: 76.5 cm x 63.5 cm)

Ellen Stirling (née Mangles, 1807–1874) was known in her lifetime as the ‘mother of Western Australia’. The daughter of James Mangles – an East India Company director and Member of Parliament – Ellen was thirteen when she snared the attention of naval officer James Stirling (1791–1865), a family acquaintance. Described as ‘adventurous, not yet introduced to the simpering ways of high society, well–educated, amusing and attractive’, Ellen is held by family lore to have been appealing to Stirling for her energy and lack of affectation. They were married on her sixteenth birthday in September 1823 and their first child was born the following year. In 1827, Stirling was given command of a voyage commissioned with identifying a new site for a British garrison on the west Australian coast. On his return to London, he presented the Colonial Office with a case for the establishment of a settlement on the Swan River. He was appointed lieutenant-governor of the new colony and in early 1829 Ellen sailed with him to the place that became Perth. Ellen’s unpretentious manner served her well in a colony that, for the early part of Stirling’s tenure, was a dishevelled assortment of tents and timber houses. Stirling’s surveyor-general, John Septimus Roe, considered her ‘affable and unaffected’ and her friend Georgiana Molloy wrote of Ellen as ‘exceedingly amiable and pleasingly natural’.

Ellen maintained a gentrified style of living and as the colony’s pre-eminent lady presided at race meetings, hunts and other ‘entertainments’. Her charm and youth are said to have reflected well on her husband, softening some of the criticism of his governorship. Ellen had seven children during her ten years in Western Australia and another three following her return to Britain. Sir Thomas Phillips (1770–1845) was one of Regency London’s most prolific and fashionable portraitists. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1792 and by 1796 was primarily occupied with portraiture. Among his subjects were botanist Sir Joseph Banks; explorer Sir John Franklin; poets William Blake and Lord Byron; and scientist Michael Faraday. Records held by the National Portrait Gallery in London show that Ellen Stirling sat for Phillips just before she left for Australia, at which time she was several months pregnant with her second child. Her portrait was displayed in the Mangles family home in Surrey and remained in the possession of Ellen’s descendants until acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 2008.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds from the Ian Potter Foundation 2008

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Thomas Phillips (age 58 in 1828)

Lady Ellen Stirling (age 21 in 1828)

Subject professions

Government and leadership

Supported by

The Ian Potter Foundation (13 portraits supported)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Ellen Stirling
Ellen Stirling
Ellen Stirling
Ellen Stirling

Duty bound

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2009

Joanna Gilmour explores the life of colonial women Lady Ellen Stirling, Eliza Darling, Lady Eliza Arthur, Elizabeth Macquarie and Lady Jane Franklin.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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