Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stevenson, John Bryan (1876–1957)

by Robert Hyslop

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

John Bryan Stevenson (1876-1957), by unknown photographer, c1920

John Bryan Stevenson (1876-1957), by unknown photographer, c1920

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H42812

John Bryan Stevenson (1876-1957), naval officer, was born on 7 August 1876 at Toxteth Park, Lancashire, England, son of John Stevenson, insurance broker, and his first wife Eleanor Alicia, née Bryan, who died when young John was born. From the Royal Naval College, H.M.S. Britannia, he became a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1892, sub-lieutenant in 1896, lieutenant in 1898 and commander in 1911. He served continuously with the Royal Australian Navy from 1 July 1912, first on loan as commander, then as acting captain from 1 January 1913 and captain from 1 January 1919; he permanently transferred to the R.A.N. on 4 May 1919.

While serving in H.M.S. Camperdown in the Mediterranean in January 1893, Stevenson saw her collide with H.M.S. Victoria which then sank with the loss of 400 lives, including Admiral Sir George Tryon. Stevenson later watched the Russian fleet en route to its destruction by the Japanese at the battle of Tsushima in 1905.

His service in the R.A.N. in 1911-31 placed him in sea and shore commands, at courses and in liaison duties in Britain, and as a member of the Australian Naval Board.

His sea appointments included H.M.A.S. Encounter (1912-13), and command of Berrima (1914), Encounter (1916-18), Brisbane (1921-22), Adelaide (1922-24) and Sydney (briefly in 1928). He took Berrima to New Guinea in 1914 and Adelaide on a cruise to Britain in 1924 with the R.N. special service squadron led by Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Field in H.M.S. Hood.

Second naval member of the Naval Board from 1 September 1927 to 11 June 1929 (except for his brief command of Sydney from 10 April to 8 May 1928), Stevenson was acting first naval member from 12 June to 27 October 1929. His other appointments ashore included service at H.M.A.S. Cerberus, the naval depot at Williamstown, Victoria, in 1913-14, and then in 1915-16 in command. He was director of naval ordnance at Navy Office in 1918-20. In England he attended the senior officers' war course at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, in 1920-21 and was Australian naval representative in London from 10 October 1924 to 15 July 1927. On 28 October 1929 he succeeded Captain H. P. Cayley as captain superintendent Sydney; Captain H. J. Feakes took over from him when Stevenson retired as rear admiral on 6 August 1931.

At St David's Anglican Cathedral, Hobart, on 4 June 1914 Stevenson had married Olive Brooke Bailey (1886-1978), a nurse. Their first son, James, a spitfire pilot in the Royal Air Force, was killed over Dunkirk in 1940; their daughter, Noel, was mentioned in dispatches in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in World War II, and their second son, Captain John Stevenson, served in the R.A.N. in 1935-69.

Standing 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) and weighing 12 st. 12 lb. (82 kg), Stevenson had fair hair and brown eyes. He was well-spoken and of a retiring disposition. He had a penchant for quoting poetry, knew French, and played cricket in his youth and tennis into his mature years. A devoted family man, a non-drinker and non-smoker, he cloaked a sense of humour beneath a formal personality that earned him the nickname 'Stiffy Steve'. Although conscious of his status, he was not overly ambitious. He was an active member of the United Service Institution, the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia and the Navy League (president 1937). While given more to reading than to public speaking, he did indicate a strong conviction that Australia needed to continue to develop her naval forces and should remain a close naval partner of Britain.

Stevenson was appointed C.M.G. in January 1925. He received the thanks of the Admiralty in 1927 for his work as Australian naval representative. In 1931 the Naval Board sent him their 'deep appreciation' that he had 'played an important part in the successful development of the Australian Navy'. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died at Wahroonga, Sydney, on 13 July 1957 and was cremated after a Presbyterian service.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Jose, The Royal Australian Navy 1914-1918 (Syd, 1928)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), May 1931, p 2100
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Nov 1924, 1 Jan 1925, 2 Sept 1927, 18 July 1929, 11 Apr 1930, 16 July, 24 Sept 1931, 20 Nov 1935, 13 Apr 1939, 15 July 1957
  • Bulletin, 24 July 1957
  • MT 856, MP 981 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Hyslop, 'Stevenson, John Bryan (1876–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stevenson-john-bryan-8656/text15135, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

John Bryan Stevenson (1876-1957), by unknown photographer, c1920

John Bryan Stevenson (1876-1957), by unknown photographer, c1920

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H42812