Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stewart, Charles Jackson (1876–1954)

by Margaret Cook

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Charles Jackson Stewart (1876-1954), hotelkeeper, was born on 22 March 1876 at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, third of four children of Robert Stewart, a Scottish-born farmer, and his wife Mary, née North, who came from Ireland. Mary died in childbirth in 1878. Her two surviving children, Charles and William, were raised by their maternal grandmother and an aunt, while their father worked as a miner. Their grandmother's death in 1889 and their aunt's move to Cooktown obliged the boys to join the workforce.

Charles worked as an office-boy in the legal firm of Rees R. & Sydney Jones, Rockhampton, but lacked the money to be articled. Seeing no future in the law, he trained at night to become a tailor. He was initially employed by a Jewish master tailor, from whom he learned business acumen, before becoming shop manager at Charles Gilbert's large tailoring establishment in Queen Street, Brisbane. His first marketing coup came when he visited Sydney and obtained orders to supply suits to Queensland soldiers returning from the South African War.

In 1902 Stewart entered into partnership with E. J. Carroll who was leasing unprofitable railway refreshment-rooms at Gympie, Landsborough and Ipswich. Despite his lack of catering experience, Stewart developed them into profitable businesses within three years. Both partners returned to Brisbane where they leased the Albion Hotel, as well as the Osbourne Hotel, Fortitude Valley, which Stewart managed. The Queensland Turf Club appointed him caterer at Eagle Farm racecourse in 1908, thereby beginning an association that was to continue until his death. In 1909 he moved to the Criterion Hotel, George Street. He and Carroll owned it by 1914. On 12 October that year at St Mary's Catholic Church, South Brisbane, Stewart married 26-year-old Jessie Dobbie.

By 1922 Stewart was sole owner of the Criterion and was offering a free delivery service in an unmarked van. A further innovation, Stewarts Home Supply, a bottle shop, opened the market to female customers. In 1926 he rebuilt the hotel. Rivalled in opulence only by Tattersall's Club, the Criterion featured marble throughout, and boasted Brisbane's largest cellar and first en suite. At various times Stewart also leased the Waterloo, Paddington and Boundary hotels.

Although he was an active anti-prohibitionist during the 1920s, Stewart never sought public office because he doubted his ability to address an audience. Essentially an entrepreneurial, hard-working businessman, he was extremely adept with figures and an astute negotiator. He was philanthropic, ethical and law-abiding, and firm but kind to his family, friends and staff alike. Passionate about football and cricket, he was vice-president of the Queensland Rugby Union, and a long-time member of the Queensland Turf and Tattersall's clubs.

Never physically robust, Stewart confined his activities to the Criterion and to Eagle Farm racecourse after his health deteriorated in the 1930s. A series of heart attacks left him an invalid for the last ten years of his life. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and son, he died on 24 October 1954 in his beloved Criterion and was buried in Toowong cemetery. In 1956 his son (Sir) Edward Stewart became chairman of Stewarts Hotels Pty Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Freeland, The Australian Pub (Melb, 1966)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 26 Oct 1954
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Cook, 'Stewart, Charles Jackson (1876–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stewart-charles-jackson-11766/text21045, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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