Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Stewart, Alexander (1835–1918)

by A. L. Lougheed

This article was published:

Alexander Stewart (1835-1918), merchant and manufacturer, was born on 4 August 1835 at Caputh, Perthshire, Scotland, second of four children of Charles Stewart, veterinary surgeon, and his wife Elspeth, née Tait; his parents were cousins. Stewart migrated to Brisbane in 1858 and there, with few financial resources, established a small clothing retail business.

With William Hemmant, he set up a general drapery on the corner of Queen and Albert Streets. After their shop was gutted by fire in 1864, the partners re-established themselves on nearby Queen and Adelaide Streets. Their enterprise flourished due to their keen business sense, the central location of their store and Brisbane's increasing population; they even opened a branch in London. The partnership was dissolved when Hemmant entered parliament in 1871. As Alexander Stewart & Sons Ltd, the firm became a limited liability company on 31 July 1903 with a nominal capital of £140,000; Stewart remained manager for most of his life. The company's factory produced clothing such as moleskin trousers under the Manx brand and shirts under the Thistle brand. Retail branches were established in Sydney and Melbourne.

In the mid-1870s Stewart had purchased 250 acres (101 ha)—at what became the Brisbane suburb of Ashgrove—on which he built his home, Glenlyon. Constructed from bricks made on the property and covered with plaster to simulate stone, the mansion was erected by Melanesian labourers. When completed in 1877, it boasted imported Corinthian columns, a black-and-white marble verandah floor (which a maid polished with butter milk) and an exquisite interior. A stained-glass window above the first-floor landing incorporated part of a crest—a lion's head—and the motto 'semper fidelis'. With servants' quarters, a billiard and gun room, tennis court, gardens, terraced lawns and an avenue of Bunya pines, the estate had its own dairy herd, fowls, orchard, vegetable garden and a well.

Stewart married three times with Presbyterian forms: on 13 March 1862, in Brisbane, Maria Vine Martin (d.1865) who bore him a daughter; on 27 February 1866, also in Brisbane, Anne Killough (d.1905) who bore him seven children; and on 15 January 1907, in Melbourne, Edith Annie Best (d.1945). A considerate man and a philanthropist, Stewart cherished his Scottish background: he was a staunch Presbyterian, a trustee of St Andrew's Church, Brisbane, a member of the Scottish constitution of Freemasons and a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society.

Survived by his wife Edith, by the daughter of his first marriage and the six sons and daughter of his second, Stewart died at home on 12 August 1918 after a long illness and was buried in Toowong cemetery. His Queensland estate was sworn for probate at £4232.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Truscott, Alexander Stewart, 1868-1918, and Glenlyon House, Ashgrove (manuscripts, 1977, State Library of Queensland)
  • Brisbane Courier, 14 Aug 1918.

Citation details

A. L. Lougheed, 'Stewart, Alexander (1835–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 September 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


4 August, 1835
Caputh, Perthshire, Scotland


12 August, 1918 (aged 83)
Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.