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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stedman, Ivan Cuthbert (1895–1979)

by Harry Gordon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ivan Cuthbert Stedman (1895-1979), swimmer, was born on 13 April 1895 at Oakleigh, Melbourne, second son of Victorian-born parents James Cuthbert Stedman, merchant, and his wife Lesbia, née Allee. Ivan was educated at Brighton Grammar School and briefly (1905-07) at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). At the age of 12 he contested his first race, a 50-yard (46 m) event for boys, at Melbourne's Middle Park Baths, but 'got kicked in the face and pulled out'. In 1910-11 he won Victorian junior championships over 100, 200 and 300 yards (91 m, 183 m and 274 m).

Swimming styles began to change in the first decade of the twentieth century. Variations of side-stroke were followed by the English trudgen—which involved a frog-like kick and alternate sweeps out of the water with either arm—and finally the crawl, pioneered by Arthur and Richmond Cavill and Alick Wickham. Stedman switched in 1911 from what he called 'pure trudgen' to a two-beat version of the crawl, imitating Cecil Healy, the swimmer he admired most.

In 1912 Stedman won the 220-yards (201 m) championship of Victoria, his first senior title, and joined the Melbourne Swimming Club. Respiratory troubles and a throat operation made him withdraw from a trial for fourth place in Australia's 4 x 200-metres freestyle relay team for the Olympic Games that year. After leaving school, he had taken a job with the tobacco merchant Joseph Kronheimer & Co., and 'flirted with Lady Nicotine'.

On 13 June 1916 Stedman enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He joined the 5th Field Artillery Brigade on the Western Front in August 1917, but was wounded at Passchendaele, Belgium, two months later when a shell burst in his gun-pit. Following a convalescence in England, he rejoined his unit in France in May 1918. For diving into the dark waters of the Hallue River on 23 June and rescuing a British soldier, he received an award from the Royal Humane Society, London. In September Stedman learned that his hero, Healy, had been killed at Mont St Quentin.

Discharged from the A.I.F. on 4 December 1919 in Melbourne, Stedman was chosen for the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, Belgium. He led the Australian team in the procession at the opening ceremony. With (Sir) Frank Beaurepaire, Harry Hay and William Herald, he won a silver medal in the 4 x 200-metres relay. Back in Victoria, he took up a farming block at Red Cliffs under the soldier-settlement scheme. In 1921 he was victorious in 100 (91 m) and 200 yards (183 m) breast-stroke races at a carnival of champions in Hawaii. His Australian championships included the 100-yards (91 m) freestyle (1920 and 1921), 220-yards (201 m) breast-stroke (1921, 1924 and 1927) and 440-yards (402 m) breast-stroke (1927). In 1924 he competed in freestyle and breast-stroke events at the Olympics in Paris.

From about 1927 to 1931 Stedman owned and managed a factory which processed dairy products at Lang Lang, Victoria. At Christ Church, Essendon, on 6 September 1930 he married with Anglican rites Violet Livingstone Jackson, an opera singer. He worked successively as a sales representative for B. Seppelt & Sons Ltd, as a contracts officer with the Department of Supply and Development, and as office manager for Peter Isaacson Pty Ltd. Having turned to long-distance swimming, he won the three-mile (4.8 km) handicap along the Yarra River in 1946 (in record time) and in 1952. With his friend Percy Cerutty, he studied ways of delaying the process of ageing. Stedman died on 7 January 1979 at Prahran and was cremated. His wife and their son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gordon, Australia and the Olympic Games (Brisb, 1994)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1921
  • Stedman collection (Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Harry Gordon, 'Stedman, Ivan Cuthbert (1895–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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