Edward Charles Stirling was born on September 8th, 1848. He was educated at St Peter's College in Adelaide and left with his parents and family for England in 1865. Having gained a Westminster Scholarship the previous year. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated with the degree BA (Hon Ngt Science) in 1869.
In 1870 he visited Ireland. In 1872 while a student at St George's Hospital he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and also was admitted MA and MB. Five years after this he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and became D.Sc (Cantab.) also MD Melbourne.
Stirling returned to South Australia in 1881 and was elected to the Council of the University of Adelaide in June of the same year; very soon afterwards he was elected to the SA Institute Board as a representative from the University. Apart from representing North Adelaide in the Legislature from 1884-1887 he was lecturer on Physiology at the University, where he was chief founder of the Medical school. In 1889 Stirling was appointed Hon. Director of the South Australia Museum.
In 1890-91 through the kindness of the then Governor of South Australia, the Carl of Kintore enabled Stirling to accompany him and his party to Central Australia and Northern Territory. In 1893 Stirling became CMG in recognition of his services to South Australia and to science, in the same year he was made fellow of the Royal Society of London. Queen Regent of Holland awarded him a gold medal for services to art and science. At the beginning of 1894 Stirling as Anthropologist and Medical Officer accompanied the Horn Expedition to Central Australia. In 1895 Stirling was appointed salaried Museum Director. He resigned from this position in 1912 and then in 1914 he was appointed curator of Ethnology, a position he retained until his death 5 years later.
In 1917 the Honour of Knight Bachelor was bestowed upon him in recognition of his long contained services to science.