Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Stuart (1860–1940)

by Terry Kass

This article was published:

William Stuart (1860-1940), builder, was born on 13 December 1860 at Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of Alexander Stuart, carpenter, and his wife Ann, née Grant. Educated at the Mechanics' School of Arts, Aberdeen, he came to Sydney in 1882. After working briefly as a joiner for Smith & Bennett he went to western New South Wales. On 6 November 1883 he married Sarah Jane Whittaker at Blayney. Back in Sydney, in 1886 with his brother James he founded Stuart Bros, builders.

Their first job was altering the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. The firm went on to build numerous woolstores, offices for the Sydney Morning Herald, Evening News, Colonial Sugar Refining Co. and Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney, stores, theatres and two pavilions at the showground. In undertaking such projects Stuart Bros made itself as independent as possible with its own quarries and joinery works; it oversaw all parts of the building process; at one time it claimed to employ 1000 men. After the death of James in 1914, two of William's sons joined the business.

Despite his Scottish ancestry, William looked to North America for models and often visited there to keep abreast of developments. The introduction of 'modern stone facings' for buildings and the early use of welding in structural steel were among his innovations: the offices of Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand in George Street were claimed to be the first large concrete structure in Sydney (c.1912).

Deeply involved in his business, Stuart shunned politics. He strongly supported the Master Builders' Association (president, 1896) and, as a founder and vice-president of the Employers' Federation of New South Wales, actively promoted a viable arbitration system with the building workforce. He was a founder of the Sun Newspaper Ltd, Sydney Steel Co. Ltd and New South Wales Brick Co. Ltd. He also endowed a ward at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, was a trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground and represented the city commissioners on the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board (1928-31).

A short, slightly stooped man, with a drooping moustache, Stuart projected a quiet and thoughtful air. His main interests were boating and motoring, although he never learned to drive a car. He belonged to the (Royal) Automobile Club of Australia and the Highland Society of New South Wales. Retiring from active involvement with Stuart Bros in 1930, he died on 7 December 1940 at his home, Glenhurst, Yarranabbe Road, Darling Point, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of South Head cemetery. His wife, one of his three sons, and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Home (Sydney), June 1925
  • Building (Sydney), Dec 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1914, 9 Dec 1940
  • Stuart Bros, Plans (Faculty of Architecture, University of Sydney).

Citation details

Terry Kass, 'Stuart, William (1860–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 May 2024.

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, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 December, 1860
Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


7 December, 1940 (aged 79)
Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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