Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Alfred Stearn, a man of quiet ways

When able seaman Alfred Charles Stearn arrived in Sydney as part of the crew on the sailing ship “David Brown” in 1877, he liked what he saw and chose to remain. 

Alfred was born in London in 1857 and with his limited education elected to go to sea. After arriving in Sydney he found work in an oyster saloon and regularly visited Windsor in his spare time. He was fond of Windsor and eventually moved to the town, where he established the Windsor Oyster Saloon which also sold prawns several days a week. In 1881, he married Mary Jane Mills in Sydney. Mary was born at Rouse Hill, the daughter of James Mills although she was adopted by James and Cecilia Hough as a baby, when her mother died. At the time of his marriage, Alfred’s occupation was recorded as an oyster and fish salesman. The couple had five children, Alfred James, Elysse Marie and William Oswald with Clara and Erich dying as infants. 

Alfred Stearn’s shop, 74 George Street Windsor.
Detail from postcard, personal collection

Eventually he expanded his business to include a general store situated in George Street where he was able to offer a wide selection of goods and services. During the 1880s he held a hawker's license, allowing him to travel around selling goods. Later, Alfred purchased land in Thompson Square opposite the Macquarie Arms Hotel, and constructed a shop with a residence above. It was two-storey with a cast iron verandah, and the parapet was decorated with a lion. Officially opened in August 1907, the building still stands today at number 74.  In the new store, Alfred continued to conduct his grocery business, as well as selling fancy goods and produce. The business also sold tobacco, fireworks, musical instruments, jewellery, optical glasses and insurance.

Stearn was described as, “Good-hearted and generous natured, he was one of the fine old type of Englishmen, but he loved the country of his adoption.” On every patriotic occasion he flew a selection of flags and was an admirer of the Monarchy and Empire plus a respected member of the local Masonic Lodge.

With a love of music, he often sang in concerts and musicals in Windsor and was a committee member of the Windsor School of Arts.

His death on 14 June 1925 was quick. He “came out to the front of his shop at about 10.30 o'clock where he collapsed and fell on the footpath. He died almost immediately.” His lengthy obituary appeared in the Windsor & Richmond Gazette, partially duplicated below. At the time he was aged 68 years old. Alfred was buried in St. Matthews Anglican cemetery, Windsor. In his memory, flags were flown at half-mast in Thompson Square, as well as at the Fire Station and McQuade Park.  Mary Stearn and her children were staunch Catholics. She died in 1940 aged 76 years and is buried in the Windsor Catholic Cemetery. Her husband Alfred was known as “a man of quiet ways and dealings — inoffensive and unassuming” an honest and respected resident of Windsor, the likes of whom not often seen today.

Obituary from Windsor & Richmond Gazette 10 June 1925, p. 3
Today, Stearn’s shop, 74 George Street Windsor houses Windsor Seafoods.


  1. How wonderful to find such a detailed obituary, and with so many leads as well. His life makes a very interesting story.

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