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Cumbrae-Stewart, Zina Beatrice Selwyn (1868–1956)

by Nancy Bonnin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Zina Beatrice Selwyn Cumbrae-Stewart (1868-1956), community worker, was born on 30 August 1868 at Brighton, Victoria, daughter of Robert K. Hammond, stock and station agent, and his wife Jessie Duncan, née Grant. Her father died in 1875 leaving a widow and ten children. Archdeacon R. B. S. Hammond was a brother. Zina grew up in the lively social life of well-to-do Brighton society until the bank crash of 1893 ruined her mother. Educated at Mrs R. Sadleir Forster's Ladies School, St Kilda, she returned there to teach drawing. Janet Cumbrae Stewart was a pupil. On 24 January 1906 at St Andrew's Church of England, Brighton, she married Janet's brother Francis William Sutton Cumbrae-Stewart.

They lived in Brisbane and their only child was born in 1908. Her husband became registrar of the University of Queensland. A deeply committed evangelical Anglican, Zina undertook community and charitable service. She was an executive member of the Australian Red Cross in Queensland for twenty-two years and won its long service medal. She became an original member of the Mothers' Union and was its president for nine years. President of the National Council of Women of Queensland in 1926-35, she led campaigns against the exploitation of children and for domestic science education; she sought different sections for the sexes in community organizations. In 1931 she helped found the Queensland Social Service League to cope with Depression problems, joined its executive and became vice-president of the women's division. Through the National Council of Women she was on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's education committee for four years. A fluent speaker, she gave some radio talks.

Mrs Cumbrae-Stewart was usually on the executive of the twenty or more societies to which she belonged; they included the Mothercraft Association, the Traveller's Aid Society, the Bush Nursing Association and the Shakespeare Society. Brusque in public, she had a lively sense of humour in private. She regarded her own abilities as giving her a right to leadership and to the exercise of a formidable dignity. She enjoyed putting down pretentious or silly people but believed none the less that her first responsibility was to be a good wife and mother. To her son 'she was like those grand old ladies whose pictures hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh who plainly had no need of rights'.

On her husband's retirement in 1936, the Cumbrae-Stewarts visited Britain. Representing the Queensland Red Cross, she had planned a busy programme of public work which was cut short when his illness forced a hurried return to their new Melbourne home. After his death she lived with her bachelor son; when he moved to Hobart as deputy parliamentary draftsman, she joined him there, making her first flight in 1948. She died in Hobart on 31 July 1956 and her body was returned to Melbourne for burial in Burwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A Biographical Register of Queensland Women (Brisb, 1939)
  • National Council of Women (Queensland), The First Fifty Years in the History of the National Council of Women of Queensland (Brisb, 1959)
  • Australian Red Cross Society (Queensland), Annual Report, 1935-36
  • Brisbane Courier, 15 Apr 1930
  • F. W. S. Cumbrae-Stewart papers (University of Queensland Library)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Nancy Bonnin, 'Cumbrae-Stewart, Zina Beatrice Selwyn (1868–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cumbrae-stewart-zina-beatrice-selwyn-5843/text9929, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 19 January 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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