Australia’s Founding Fathers: James C. Stewart

James C. Stewart
Labor Senator & Campaigner for Queensland

J. C. Stewart hails from the Highlands of bonny Scotland, and was born in 1851, at Granttown-on-spey. After receiving the sound education which most Scottish schools gave liberally, many opportunities of employment befell James, He worked variously as a railway servant, lawyer’s clerk, worker in the coal mines and quarries, seller of coals and otherwise the many tasks of employment in his region of Scotland at the time.

Stewart in his youth continued on to Glasgow where he remained five years, working in the coal trade: he had no particular affection for what he called “the second city in the Empire.” On May 1st, 1888 he landed in Rockhampton, Queensland – which he affectionately called his “real home.”

Rockhampton and the surrounding regions have James many opportunities of work, at which he took up employment at the Lake-Street meat works, and continued farming on his own land. Stewart soon took up an active role in the Queensland Labor Movement and became Secretary to the local Labor Union; continuing to be secretary to the District Council, Rockhampton.

In 1890 he became a member of the first General Council of the Federal Labour Movement. In 1891 he was elected a member of the Shop and Factories Commission in Brisbane; Stewart continued to stand for parliament in 1896 and was defeated; only to try again and take victory for Rockhampton North in 1899 and retained this seat until the federal elections.

Stewart was among the three candidates chosen to stand for Labor in the federal senate and in 1901 was elected along with his comrades.  Our founder was a medium-sized man with characteristic sandy hair and whiskers, small but deep-set eyes, a kindly expression and a finc Scotch accent. He is not a dude, he troubles little about clothes; but in his woolen shirt and smart cap he looks much more dignified than most conventional, brainless, collar and cuff politicians.

He speaks his mind freely, but not dogmatically; his manner is the kind without being ostentatious or formal; He has much of the soundness, the common sense and the dry humor of his Scottish heritage; though none of the “dourness” so often associated with his fellow Scots which in his time still observed the Sabbath day.

James C. Stewart’s foremost crusade was that for a White Australia; He being a Queenslander had seen the ill-effects of the intermingling of the islanders and other coloured migrants with the whites in Queensland. His powerful speech regarding the Immigration Restriction act in in Parliament: 1901 reflected this sentiment:

“There is no doubt that this Bill is the most important piece of legislation which has yet been before the Senate. It deals with a question which vitally concerns the people who are living in Australia, and is of vast importance to the much larger population who will inevitably occupy the continent hereafter.

We have coloured people in every State, or about 100,000 in all Australia. They are coming into Western Australia in large numbers ; they are in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, and I believe there are a few in Tasmania. Given the necessary opportunity, in the course of events we shall have a coloured problem here just as dangerous to the welfare of the Commonwealth as is the position which faces the people of the United States.

We do not desire to keep out these coloured people simply because they are inferior to us, but because for racial, social and economic reasons we cannot permit them safely to enter. With regards to race, we cannot mix with them. There is no natural affinity between them and us. If an attempt were made to confide them and us within one bottle, so to speak, one or the other must be precipitated to the bottom. A compacted homogeneous community cannot be formed out of such heterogeneous compounds. The thing ought not to be attempted, because it is. absolutely impossible.

With regards to the social aspect of the question, these people are brought up under institutions entirely different from ours. Their religion, position and customs are different;

I should be a traitor to my country, to my race and to those of our ancestors who have conferred benefits upon us, if I were a party to anything which would allow these Asiatics to come here and destroy at one fell swoop all the efforts of centuries. For these reasons I think, we are all agreed that the coloured man must be kept out, whether he is Japanese, a Chinaman or an African.

This is really a matter of life and death to the Australian people.”

Stewart continued his senatorial career after his crusade for a White Australia was completed; He remained senator for Queensland from 1901 to 1917 – in which he took a seat on the select committee on old age pensions, the committee on the tobacco monopoly, in 1905 the joint committee of Public accountants and 1914-17 the select committee on Mt. Balfour post office.

Stewart was also a campaigner for breaking up the land-barons, saying in March, 1909   “On the question of land monopoly, Australia has no parallel in the earth in this respect.” he argued landlordism was one of the key factors harming Australia; phrasing the term “The dead hand of land monopoly”

Briefly after his death in 1932, his companion Senator Matthew Reid said:

“Senator Stewart was reserved and did not make many close friends He prepared his speeches with great care, delivered them in an incisive and telling manner. He could always get the ear of the house whether you agreed with him or not. He was not good in either impromptu debate or stonewalling tactics such as were often used in the early days of Labor’s adventure into parliament.

His first speech in the Senate startled some of the older Senators from the other states with his advanced views, set forth in clear and good language, his sincerity and earnestness. He commanded their attention in spite of the changes he demanded in Labour’s name.  Senator Stewart was a close student of public affairs; a clear thinker and did not play the gallery. His convictions were deep and earnest, and his retiring disposition did not bring him to the position he deserved to have in the party.”

Stewart died in quiet circumstances, leaving behind one son and three daughters; but we must never forget his contributions to Australia – in particular his cause for the welfare of Queenslanders, a strongly convicted man who played a critical role in the steady strength of the Labor movement in the north; which eventually lead the foreigner off the plantation and placed honest wages into the pockets of honest white families for decades to follow after his death.




Nativist Herald