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James Rivers Barrington Stewart (1913–1962)

by R. S. Merrillees

This article was published:

James Rivers Barrington Stewart (1913-1962), archaeologist, numismatist and gentleman farmer, was born on 3 July 1913 at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, only child of Albyn Athol Stewart, a native-born marine engineer and later company director, and his wife Frances Landseer, née Morris, who came from South Africa. Descended from Major General William Stewart of Mount Pleasant, Bathurst, James attended (1927-30) The King's School, Parramatta, between his education in England at Pembroke House School, Richmond, and the Leys School, Cambridge. He read archaeology and anthropology at Trinity Hall, Cambridge (B.A., 1934; M.A., 1938). While an undergraduate, he took part in the last season of excavations conducted at Tell el-'Ajjul, Palestine, by Professor Sir Flinders Petrie. At All Saints parish church, Kingsdon, Somerset, England, on 1 July 1935 he married Eleanor Mary Neal; they were to have a son before being divorced in 1952.

After graduating, Stewart went to Turkey on a Wilkin studentship. In 1935 he visited Cyprus: thenceforward he devoted himself to exploring its Early Bronze Age civilization and its archaeological links with Anatolia, Turkey. He ran his first excavations (1937-38)—under the auspices of the British School at Athens—in the cemetery of Bellapais (Vounous) on the island's north coast. On 24 July 1940 Stewart was commissioned in the Cyprus Regiment, which garrisoned the Suez Canal. In April-May 1941 he fought successively in mainland Greece and on Crete where he was captured. His experiences as a prisoner of war heightened the bond he had formed with his Cypriot soldiers; his reliance on cats for warmth turned his fondness for them into a deep attachment. He also managed to do some research and acquire rare German books on archaeology.

Once liberated and demobilized, Stewart was encouraged to return to Australia by Professor A. D. Trendall and W. J. Beasley, founder of the Australian Institute of Archaeology, Melbourne. In 1947 he was appointed a teaching fellow in the department of history at the University of Sydney. He became senior lecturer (under Trendall) in the new department of archaeology in 1949, acting head of the department in 1954 and Edwin Cuthbert Hall professor of Middle Eastern archaeology in 1960. Meanwhile, he also worked as curator of the Nicholson Museum. From 1951 he lived at Mount Pleasant, which he farmed and treated as an extension of the department of archaeology. He became a substantial property owner and a man of independent means. His students, stimulated by his enthusiasm for the archaeology of the Levant, were expected to spend time at 'the Mount' which housed his exceptional research library (ultimately bought by the Fisher Library), rooms full of Bronze Age pottery and other antiquities, and 'upwards of twenty indoor and outdoor cats'. On 11 March 1952 at the registrar-general's office, Sydney, he married Dorothy Evelyn (Eve) Dray, a technical assistant.

Throughout his professional life, Stewart remained attached to northern Cyprus, not only because it faced Anatolia, but also because of its beauty and the friendliness of its inhabitants, Greek and Turkish Cypriot alike. Eve's property at Tjiklos provided a local base for his archaeological explorations. As director of the Melbourne Cyprus expedition, he dug more cemeteries at Nicosia and Vasilia (1955), and around Karmi (1960-61). In addition to his excavation reports, he wrote extensively on Cypriot and Palestinian archaeology, notably in the second edition of the Handbook to the Nicholson Museum (1948), and on 'The Early Cypriote Bronze Age' in The Swedish Cyprus Expedition (Vol.IV, Part 1A, Lund, Sweden, 1962).

From his schooldays Stewart built up a large and outstanding collection of coins, particularly of Rome, Cyprus, Byzantium and the Crusades. He was a vice-president of the Numismatic Society of New South Wales and a fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society, London. His comprehensive work on the Lusignan history and coinage of medieval Cyprus remained unpublished until 2001.

Endowed with boyish good looks, Stewart was capable of much personal charm. He was accustomed to having his own way and had little patience with those who frustrated his ambitions. For all his efforts, he failed to establish an Australian archaeological school in Cyprus. No less galling was the refusal by Professor Einar Gjerstad, editor of The Swedish Cyprus Expedition, to publish the whole of Stewart's corpus of Early Bronze Age Cypriot antiquities.

A Presbyterian by upbringing, Stewart regularly stayed at St Andrew's College, University of Sydney. He belonged to the Australian Club. In November 1960 he was elected to the Australian Humanities Research Council. Suffering from hypertension, he died of cardiac failure on 6 February 1962 at Bathurst and was buried in the vegetable garden at Mount Pleasant. He was survived by his wife and by the son of his first marriage. His estate was sworn for probate at £262,066.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. Merrillees, '''The Ordeal of Shaving in a Frozen Lake'', Professor J. R. Stewart and the Swedish Cyprus Expedition', in P. Åström et al, The Fantastic Years on Cyprus (Jonsered, Sweden, 1994)
  • R. S. Merrillees, 'Professor James R. Stewart, Near Eastern Archaeologist', Ancient Society: Resources for Teachers, vol 14, no 1, 1984, p 17
  • J. M. Webb, Cypriote Antiquities in Australian Collections (Jonsered, 1997)
  • Australian Humanities Research Council, Annual Report, 1961-62
  • University of Sydney Union, Union Recorder, 8 Mar 1962, p 15
  • King's School Magazine, 1962, p 40
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Oct 1958, 6 June 1961, 7 Feb, 25 Sept 1962
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 10 Sept 1962
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. S. Merrillees, 'Stewart, James Rivers Barrington (1913–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 July, 1913
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


6 February, 1962 (aged 48)
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

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