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Stewart, William (1769–1854)

by Theo Barker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

William Stewart (1769-1854), by unknown artist

William Stewart (1769-1854), by unknown artist

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18655

William Stewart (1769-1854), soldier and lieutenant-governor, was the son of William Stewart of Caithness, Scotland, and grandson of Donald Stewart of Appin, one of Prince Charles Edward's officers. Stewart joined the 101st Regiment as an ensign in 1794 and was transferred to the 3rd Regiment in 1796. He served in the West Indies, notably at Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia and St Eustatius until 1802, and on the Peninsula (1808-12). In Portugal Stewart took part in severe fighting, was wounded, decorated, and promoted lieutenant-colonel in August 1810. He commanded the 3rd Regiment in America in 1814 and in the army of occupation in France in 1815-18. He became a colonel in 1819.

In 1821 the 3rd Regiment was sent to New South Wales. Stewart disembarked at Sydney in April 1825. Before leaving England he had obtained a commission as lieutenant-governor but on 1 January 1825 this was amended by instructions that he was to associate the two senior members of the Legislative Council in any government of his. Stewart was senior military officer in the colony and a member of the Legislative Council. Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane held a poor opinion of him, and, although he had been authorized to leave Sydney any time after May, Brisbane delayed his departure, claiming that he could not trust the administration to the lieutenant-governor. The reasons for Brisbane's hostility are not clear but it is likely that he suspected Stewart's humanitarian and liberal views. Brisbane departed on 1 December 1825, and Stewart governed the colony for eighteen days until the arrival of Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling. His only important proclamation was on the fixing of postal rates. He also formed a small mounted police force and pardoned some convicts whom Brisbane had left under capital sentence.

Darling regarded Stewart highly and employed him in various duties, making him a member of the Land Board, the Board of General Purposes, and an inquiry in 1826 into the administration of the Female Orphan School. Conflict between the two men occurred only once, after the drumming-out of Privates Sudds and Thompson in November 1826. Stewart claimed that Darling had promised that the heavy irons used on the offenders would be worn only during the parade, but they were not removed until later. When Stewart discovered this after the death of Sudds he rebuked the governor for his failure to keep his promise.

In 1827 Stewart relinquished his position as lieutenant-governor when he went to India to command his regiment. He was promoted major-general in July 1830 and returned to New South Wales in 1832 to live in retirement near Bathurst on Mount Pleasant, an estate of 3200 acres (1295 ha) granted by Darling in 1826. After retirement Stewart took little part in public life, although he chaired a meeting at Bathurst in 1850 to protest against the proposed revival of transportation. He died on 8 April 1854 and was buried on his property.

Stewart married Sylvia Anne, née Wolfe, and was survived by three daughters and one son, James Horne Stewart. A portrait by an unknown artist is owned by a descendant, Mrs S. Jamieson, of Strath, Bathurst.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 12
  • Major-General William Stewart (privately held)
  • William Stewart papers (Bathurst Historical Society)
  • newspaper indexes under William Stewart (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Theo Barker, 'Stewart, William (1769–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stewart-william-2700/text3787, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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