Stuart, Alexander (DNB00)

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STUART, Sir ALEXANDER (1825–1886), premier of New South Wales, son of Alexander Stuart of Edinburgh, was born in that city in 1825, and educated at Edinburgh Academy and University. Embarking on a commercial career, he went into a merchant's office in Glasgow, then to Belfast as manager of the North of Ireland Linen Mills, and in 1845 to India, whence, not finding the climate suit him, he moved to New Zealand, and eventually in 1851 to New South Wales. After about a year on the goldfields Stuart became in December 1852 assistant secretary to the Bank of New South Wales; in 1854 he was made secretary and inspector of colonial branches. His abilities attracted the notice of the head of the firm of Towns & Co., which he joined in 1855 as a partner.

In 1874 Stuart for the first time appeared in public life as the champion of the denominational system in primary education, and as the ally of Frederick Barker [q. v.], bishop of Sydney. In December 1874 he entered the colonial parliament as member for East Sydney. On 8 Feb. 1876 he became treasurer in the ministry of Sir John Robertson [q. v.], holding that post till 21 March 1877, when the ministry went out. In 1877 he was re-elected for East Sydney, but resigned in March 1879, upon appointment as agent-general for the colony in London, though he did not, after all, take the post up. At the general election of 1880 he was returned for Ilawarra, and became leader of the opposition against the Parkes-Robertson ministry, defeating them on the land bill of 1882 [see under Robertson, Sir John]. The ministry dissolved parliament and was defeated at the polls, and Stuart on 5 Jan. 1883 became premier. He at once, and without adopting the usual formal methods, arranged for the appointment of a committee of inquiry into the land laws, and in October brought in a land bill, based on their recommendations, which was discussed with heat and acrimony during the longest session on record in New South Wales, and finally passed into law in October 1884. The question of regulation of the civil service was the other principal matter which had Stuart's personal attention in that session, but at the end of the year the question of Australian federation was much debated, and he was a member of the conference which drew up a scheme of federation. Early in 1885 he had a sudden paralytic stroke, and after a holiday in New Zealand he came back to office so enfeebled that on 6 Oct. 1885 he retired. He was then appointed to the legislative council, and later in the year became executive commissioner for the colony for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886; after being publicly entertained at banquets at Woolongong and Sydney, he came to England to carry out his special service, but died in London, after the opening of the exhibition, on 16 June 1886. The legislative council adjourned on hearing of his death; but in the assembly Sir Henry Parkes successfully opposed a similar motion.

[Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1886; New South Wales Parl. Debates, passim.]

C. A. H.