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Stuart, Athol Hugh (1893–1954)

by Gavin Souter

This article was published:

Athol Hugh Stuart (1893-1954), journalist and general manager, was born on 19 May 1893 at Louth, Lincolnshire, England, elder son of Alexander Kedslie Stuart, chemist's assistant, and his wife Julia, née Gresswell. Educated at James Gillespie's Schools for Boys and Girls, Edinburgh, Hugh contributed articles to local newspapers from the age of 15. After being employed by the Louth and North Lincolnshire News, he migrated to Australia in 1913. He worked as a reporter for three years on the Lismore Northern Star, then, with a reference declaring him possessed of 'savoir faire beyond his years', gained a similar position on the Sydney Morning Herald, published by John Fairfax & Sons Ltd.

During the next ten years Stuart distinguished himself as a graceful descriptive writer, sub-editor and occasional leader-writer. In 1926-28 he managed the Fairfax office in London; in 1930 he became the firm's assistant manager and in 1933 its general manager, responsible to the managing director, (Sir) Warwick Fairfax. That year he became a council-member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. Although Stuart's term as chief executive lasted only five years, it was notable for certain initiatives both inside and outside the firm. In 1933 the Herald responded to the challenge of the new Australian Women's Weekly by incorporating a weekly 24-page tabloid women's supplement; next year the company purchased S. Ure Smith's magazines, Art in Australia and the Home.

After negotiations in which Sir Keith Murdoch of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd took the leading part and Stuart was closely involved, the two main organizations sending cable news from London — the Australian Press Association and the Sun-Herald Cable Service — were amalgamated in 1935 to form a non-profitmaking co-operative, Australian Associated Press Pty Ltd. In 1934 Stuart had suggested to Murdoch a merger between Paper Makers Pty Ltd, in which John Fairfax was the largest shareholder, and Derwent Valley Paper Pty Ltd. From that overture came Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd.

Stuart had sleek hair parted in the centre, widely spaced eyes and a plump face. He enjoyed golf and motoring and belonged to the Australian Club. His career ended abruptly in August 1938 when he was requested to resign on medical grounds. Diabetes may have contributed to the sudden and alarming change in his behaviour which finally obliged him to step down. In September he led a government-backed expedition to the Northern Territory to collect material for an exhibition in Sydney and was impressed by the potential for irrigation in the north. During the rest of his life Stuart, who was unmarried, caused his mother and brother such concern that in January 1942, on the brother's written request, he was declared insane and confined at Bayview, a licensed psychiatric hospital in Sydney. Nine months later the minister for health ordered Stuart's release. His period of confinement later provided material for the canard (spread in one notorious instance under parliamentary privilege on 23 March 1954 by a State attorney-general, W. F. Sheahan) that the Fairfax organization had 'incarcerated its former manager in a mental institution'. John Fairfax & Sons denied the allegation.

Stuart died of arteriosclerosis on 10 April 1954 in Winchester Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 23 Mar 1954
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 1 May 1954
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Oct 1942.

Citation details

Gavin Souter, 'Stuart, Athol Hugh (1893–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 August 2022.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

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