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Stuart, Francis (Frank) (1844–1910)

by Francis Stuart

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

Francis (Frank) Stuart (1844-1910), manufacturer and politician, was born on 21 May 1844 at Penrith, New South Wales, son of Robert Stuart, estate manager to Sir John Jamison, and his wife Elizabeth, née Matthews. At 13 Frank was apprenticed to a Sydney draper.

He next worked for a Penrith storekeeper and at 22 eloped with his employer's daughter, Matilda Coulter. They married in Sydney on 24 March 1866 and sailed for Melbourne where Stuart joined the fashionable Collins Street mercery store of Alston & Brown. After being employed by Dixon Bros, warehousemen of Flinders Lane, in 1871 he entered another 'Lane' softgoods firm, L. Stevenson & Sons. In 1884 he joined McIvor & Lincoln; on the death of the senior partner, Lincoln Stuart & Co., clothiers, was registered as a limited company in February 1889; when Lincoln retired, Stuart was sole proprietor. A prosperous business, among its early successes was a contract in 1885 to supply uniforms within seventeen days for the hastily raised New South Wales Sudan contingent. Alert to new opportunities, Stuart recognized possibilities in the rubber industry and joined with Barnet Glass & Sons Co. to manufacture waterproof clothing; he became a director of the company which was later taken over by Dunlop. Stuart was president (1885) of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and chairman (1887) of the Clothing and Manufacturers' Association.

In April 1889 he was elected with the free-trader, E. L. Zox, to the two-member seat of East Melbourne in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. When the Munro ministry was formed on 5 November 1890 Stuart, with (Sir) Simon Fraser and (Sir) Alexander Peacock, was appointed minister without portfolio. He resigned from the ministry in April 1891 and remained a private member until he lost his seat at the next election. Although a protectionist, he argued persistently for the duty-free import of goods which could not be produced locally. When he contested East Melbourne in 1894 the Argus described him as an advocate of tariff reform, while the protectionist Age denounced him for having stood on the Liberal ticket to become 'a mere Tory tool … a political prostitute of the worst sort. No Liberal can tolerate his return to the House with anything but loathing'.

A vigorous and long-standing advocate of intercolonial free trade, Stuart campaigned for Federation, particularly through the Australian Natives' Association. In June 1904 he was returned to the Legislative Council as member for North Melbourne. His parliamentary energies were concentrated on the improvement of education, public health and military training; he denounced dependence on London's money market, politically-motivated railway development, and French imperialism in the New Hebrides; and he opposed plural voting, property qualification, income tax and female suffrage. He resigned in May 1907 to have more time for business.

Stuart had speculated in real estate, registering 51 land titles in 1870-90, mostly in Hawthorn and at the Gippsland Lakes. He had retired from these ventures before the land boom reached its peak, but reduced his fortune by re-entering the market (in 1891-1910 he acquired 14 titles) and by guaranteeing colleagues who emerged bankrupt. Deciding in 1910 that 'land and shares is not our business', he liquidated all except two country properties to finance an imaginative walkway from Collins Street to Flinders Street railway station which was to be engineered by (Sir) John Monash.

'A stalwart man of average height' with a clean-shaven, square-set face and jaunty air, Stuart held a commission in the Victorian militia. He achieved acclaim as an oarsman, cyclist and marksman; he was founding captain of the Victoria Golf Club and a pioneer motorist who drove in the 1905 Sydney to Melbourne Dunlop Reliability Trial. A voracious reader, he founded the Melbourne Beefsteak Club, patronized the arts and funded Bertram Mackennal's move to Paris. Stuart was an ardent Australian nationalist and proud of being country-born. Although an enthusiastic subject of Queen Victoria, he criticized Imperial strategy in the Pacific and declared that Switzerland had shown that republicanism was 'the right form of government'.

Returning from a world tour, Frank Stuart died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 16 October 1910 in the Otranto and was buried at sea off Aden. His wife and three sons survived him. His property Nyerimilang, Lakes Entrance, Victoria, became a national park.

Select Bibliography

  • J. F. Deegan, The Chronicles of the Melbourne Beefsteak Club 1886-89 (Melb, 1890)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Table Talk, 7 Aug 1891, 18 Mar 1892
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Oct 1910
  • Australasian, 22 Oct 1910
  • Stuart correspondence (privately held).

Citation details

Francis Stuart, 'Stuart, Francis (Frank) (1844–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stuart-francis-frank-8704/text15233, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 2 October 2014.

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

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