Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Beatrice Anne Stewart (1897–1990)

by Marianne Payten

This article was published:

Beatrice Anne Stewart (1897-1990), florist, was born on 20 January 1897 at Auckland, New Zealand, second of eight children of New Zealand-born parents John Frederick Stewart, railway blacksmith, and his wife Mary Ann Elizabeth, née Donkin.  In her early twenties Beatrice, already trained as a florist, embarked for Sydney 'with £5 in her purse'.

By 1929 Stewart had her own shop at 52 Strand Arcade.  After she bought premises in King Street in the 1940s, in competition with Searls Florists, her business expanded.  She employed up to twelve staff.  Her customers included the socialites Gladys Penfold Hyland, Nola Dekyvere, Mary Fairfax, Elsa Albert and first-class passengers on board the Orion in 1947.  In addition to weddings, funerals and orchid corsages for American soldiers courting nurses at Sydney Hospital during World War II, Stewart provided decorations for the Black and White Ball, Prince’s Restaurant and the Australia Hotel and, for the 1954 royal visit, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, and Government House, Canberra.  In 1943 she made a huge wreath for the United States Navy to commemorate the first anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea; it was taken offshore and cast on the open waters.  She used overnight trains to obtain unusual blooms from interstate and to transport flowers to country weddings.  In the late 1940s she airfreighted cymbidium orchids to the United States of America.  She attended an Interflora meeting with two thousand florists from twenty-seven countries in Paris, in 1952, six years after the global network had been formed.

On 14 June 1935 at the district registrar’s office, Paddington, Stewart had married Roland Instone, a divorced manufacturers’ agent from New Zealand.  The couple lived at Fairfax Road, Bellevue Hill, and in a historic stone cottage, Everton, at Faulconbridge, the garden of which was used for growing cold-climate flowers such as lilac.  They shared a love of art and the walls of their homes were covered with a significant collection of Australian, British and European art.  In 1948, after Roland’s retirement, they took an eighteen-month trip, touring the great galleries of Europe.  A foundation member (1953) of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, Stewart donated (Sir) William Dobell’s 'Souvenir' (1943) and Francis Lymburner’s 'The Red Petticoat' (1952) to the gallery in Roland’s memory, after his death in 1956.

Attractive and about 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall, 'Miss Beatrice Stewart', as she was known professionally, delighted in jewellery, furs, fashion and antiques.  She was intelligent, forthcoming and generous, and a very successful businesswoman.  A foundation member (1939) of the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Sydney, she was vice-president of its first executive committee, president in 1950-52 and a life vice-president (1960).  During World War II she was responsible once a month for the Young Women’s Christian Association’s 'Open House' for servicemen and women; a YWCA board-member in the 1950s, she continued fund-raising until she was in her eighties.  Keenly involved in the Sydney Day Nursery and Nursery Schools Association, she was president of Erskineville Nursery School for thirteen years.  She served on the Lady Mayoress’ Relief Fund and was elected a life member of the Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship in New South Wales.  Childless, she died in her home at Bellevue Hill on 28 November 1990.  She was cremated following a funeral service at St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Macquarie Street.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 August 1950, p 7
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 October 1952, p 18
  • Art and Australia, September 1968, p 112
  • News Bulletin (Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women, Division of New South Wales), June 1985, p 12
  • J. Arnot papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Marianne Payten, 'Stewart, Beatrice Anne (1897–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Instone, Beatrice Anne

20 January, 1897
Auckland, New Zealand


28 November, 1990 (aged 93)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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