One of Australia’s great
industrialists, Stewart was born at Wick, Scotland on 28 May 1876 the
eldest of nine children to Robert Stewart, a ship carpenter and Sarah née
Geddes. After his father’s death placed him in a position of assuming
responsibility for the family, he gained his chief engineer's certificate and while
working with the
“Aberdeen White Star Line” had the fortune to fall in love
with Grace Cuming (later to marry on 4 January 1905 at Yarraville), whose
father James (Footscray Cemetery) founded “Cuming Smith & Co” in 1875
that would later merge with the “Felton, Grimwade & Co” empire in 1897. But
rather than take advantage of marrying into a wealthy family, Stewart would
make a name of his own. In an enduring partnership with fellow Scot William
Fyvie (“Stewart & Fyvie”) that lasted over twenty five years they acquired
the German patents and pioneered the industrial gas industry in Australia.
In 1903 they were the first to demonstrate the use of an oxy-acetylene
(welding) blowpipe; (Sir) Russell Grimwade (1879-1955) who was also keenly
interested in the concept and for a time worked together with Fyvie and
Stewart to develop the large-scale production of liquid air gas, but
ultimately both went their own way and in 1911 Stewart formed “Commonwealth
Oxygen Company” in partnership with “British Oxygen Company” (B.O.C) opening a
plant at Alexandria in New South Wales. It wasn’t until 1935 that their
companies merged to form “Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd” (C.I.G) (now “B.O.C
Limited”) with Stewart serving as first chairman. Knighted in 1937, for
over three decades, Stewart served on the board of some of Australia’s major
industrial organisations and along with W. L. Baillieu (1859-1936), Sir
Colin Fraser (1875-1944), Sir Herbert Gepp (Kangaroo Ground
Cemetery), Sir Walter Massy-Greene (1874-1952), William Watt (1871-1946) and others, was a member of
the powerful Collins House group of business leaders that was formed to
expand and safeguard common interests during a time of great uncertainty in
the 1920s and 30s; very few outside the business world acknowledged
Stewart’s power and influence. Among the notable companies he held
directorships included “Broken Hill South Ltd”, “Electrolytic Zinc of
Australasia Ltd”, “The Trustees Executors & Agency Co”, “Mercantile
Insurance Co Ltd” and “Dunlop Rubber of Australia Ld”; at the time of his
death he was chairman of six major Australian companies and a director of
fifteen others. Described as a “very private person with few interests
other than business and family”, he resided at Cliveden Mansions -
Wellington Parade, East Melbourne and died on 6 May 1956 aged 77. His
estate was sworn for probate at £282,475.
(above) Sir Alexander
ADB Volume 12 1891-1939 (Smy-Z).
The Argus 7 May 1956.
The Age 7 May 1956.
The Herald 7 & 8 May 1956.
The Sun 7 May 1956.
The Advertiser (Footscray) 7 January 1905.
Poynter, J., “Russell Grimwade” (1967).
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