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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cumbrae-Stewart, Francis William Sutton (1865–1938)

by Harrison Bryan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Francis William Sutton Cumbrae-Stewart (1865-1938), lawyer, university administrator and teacher, was born on 27 January 1865 at Riversleigh, Canterbury, New Zealand, son of Francis Edward Stewart, grazier, who had been in the Gladstone colony in Queensland, and his wife Agnes, née Park. Another child was Janet Agnes. Educated at Melbourne and Geelong Church of England grammar schools, Francis junior took second-class honours in modern history at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1887, was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in November, and returned to Melbourne next year. He took his B.C.L. with third-class honours in 1897, when he was known as Cumbrae-Stewart.

Stewart read with Henry Bournes Higgins and Sir Edward Mitchell in 1889; he practised at the Victorian Bar in 1890-92 and later as a country solicitor. Admitted to the Queensland Bar in September 1890, he practised in Brisbane in 1898-1903, then joined Thynne and Macartney as managing clerk. As a member of the Anglican diocesan council and the cathedral chapter, he helped draft a successful provincial constitution. At the same time he was the inaugural editor of the Queensland State Report. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Brighton, Victoria, he married Zina Beatrice Selwyn Hammond on 24 January 1906; they had one son. Cumbrae-Stewart became the proud chief of part of the clan Stewart in 1908.

Appointed foundation registrar and librarian of the new University of Queensland in 1910, Cumbrae-Stewart also conducted the State public examinations and sometimes examined in French himself. He was an assistant district censor and interpreter in World War I. Universally known as Cumbrae, he was a commanding figure in the university. Severe, with an erect military bearing and a fiercely waxed moustache, he was always formal and pontifical in public. Though he mellowed with age, he attracted respect rather than affection. The thesis, 'Actio Pauliana; its origin development and nature', with which he won an Oxford D.C.L. in 1922, was admired by authorities.

Energetic and intensely curious, Cumbrae-Stewart was a voracious reader and an almost compulsive writer. By 1925 he was a founder and president of the (Royal) Historical Society of Queensland and editor of its journal. He was president of the Queensland branch of the Dickens Fellowship, chairman of the Queensland Place Names Committee, vice-president of the Queensland Authors and Artists Association, a founder and trustee of the Oxley Library and a member of both the Royal and the Royal Geographical societies of Queensland. For years he regularly contributed to the Saturday edition of the Brisbane Courier and gave short radio talks.

In January 1926 Cumbrae-Stewart became Garrick professor of law and was appointed K.C. in 1927. He gave eleven lectures a week, established law as a discipline in the university almost single-handed and laid the foundation for the full faculty that was set up when he retired in 1936. He settled in Melbourne to be near his son, died at South Yarra on 24 March 1938 and was buried in Burwood cemetery.

A fluent and sometimes witty writer, Cumbrae-Stewart published little substantial work, but his innumerable short pieces reached a wide audience, are still respected by historians, and enhanced the reputation of the university.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian (Melbourne), 3 Feb 1906, 16 Apr 1927
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 25 Mar 1938
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Mar 1938.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Harrison Bryan, 'Cumbrae-Stewart, Francis William Sutton (1865–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cumbrae, Francis
  • Stewart, Francis William Sutton

27 January 1865
Riversleigh, Canterbury, New Zealand


24 March 1938
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence