From Hooves to Highways

Dr J. M. Y. Stewart

Stewart (1).jpg


Dr John Mitchell Young Stewart CBE DSO VD MB OM Glas, was the older brother of Dr James Fergusson-Stewart and WA’s first female doctor, Roberta Jull. He came to WA in 1887 and, after a few years in Albany then York, moved to a magnificent, 14-room home on five acres of river frontage in Market Street, Guildford in the mid-1890s. There he lived with his wife, Annie nee Taylor, and their three surviving children. He then established a medical practice in which he was soon joined by his siblings in partnership.

Mitchell, as he was known, was a major in the militia (Medical Corps), district government medical officer, resident magistrate, an early governor of Guildford Grammar School, Boer War veteran, JP, and one of the earliest members of the Automobile Club of Western Australia.

In 1906, the year after the birth of his youngest child, he set up a gynaecology practice at 199 St George’s Terrace and in 1910, moved to 229 St George’s Terrace and sold their Market Street home. In early 1912 he told Annie he was leaving her and their children (18, 11 and 6), resigned his commission in the militia, sold all of their household furniture, and moved to NSW.

In October 1914 Mitchell (49) applied for a commission in the AIF and embarked at the rank of major on 28 November. Within days of Annie hearing he had left for the front, she sued him for divorce:

“...from July, 1912, to September, 1914, the respondent resided in the town with a woman whose name the witness did not know, but whom the respondent passed off as his wife. The respondent when served with the petition and citation admitted the allegations of adultery. His Honour granted a decree nisi returnable in six months.”

The Daily News, 9 December 1914

In January 1915 Mitchell’s companion, Muriel Freda Heaverside Meallen (34), travelled to London under the name Fredda Muriel Stewart. Mitchell was evacuated from Gallipoli to hospital in Camberwell in May, with loose knee cartilage. In July, days after the decree nisi became absolute, they married.

Mitchell was not deployed to France until November 1916, but there he served with distinction, and returned highly decorated, at the rank of colonel.

“Lieut-Colonel Stewart joined the Division and took over command of the 15th Australian Field Ambulance on 22 May 1917 and has shown industry and ability of the highest order in re-organising the Unit.”

“While in command of the Divisional Rest Station Bellevue Farm, in the early part of this period the number of patients to be attended to was exceedingly heavy in proportion to the personnel available for administering the station, but the management was such that not only was the comfort of patients placed on a better footing than before, but the most rigid economy was practised in every direction.”

“The same high standard of work has been maintained ever since, and has been due to Lieut-Colonel Stewart’s very thorough work and ability in the organisation and training of the personnel of the Ambulance.”

“During the three months prior to joining the 5th Australian Division, he commanded the 4th Australian Field Ambulance, earning the highest opinion of his ADMS. This officer came away from Australia in November 1914 with No: 2 AGH and has served in various capacities since Gallipoli and France”

J T Hobbs [J J Talbot Hobbs], Major General, Commanding 5th Australian Division.

After the war Mitchell and Muriel returned to NSW but moved to Victoria in 1920. By 1924 Mitchell was in financial strife and unable to keep up with his alimony payments:

“Mention in the Divorce Court recently that Dr J M Y Stewart is suffering from financial stress in Victoria, after years of struggling in NSW, calls to mind the fact that … he was one of WA’s most popular doctors. A surgeon of exceptional skill, he had only to reach out for big honours to crown himself with laurels. But as is frequent with men of exceptional talent, he had his weakness, which finally led to his leaving the State with ‘the other woman.’ However there are many families in this State who have a tender spot in their memories for ‘Doc’ Stewart, as he was familiarly called, although the paisley of that hypocritical respectability, dear to the little hearts of conventional folk, would, no doubt, smother those feelings, or at least any outward and substantial indication of them, should he ever essay a return to this side. Mention in the recent proceedings was made of the doctor’s large practice, and there is no doubt that it was large. It might have been more lucrative if it had not been so large, for in dealing with the sick, sore and distressed, the doctor did not make flesh of one and fowl of the other. Indeed much of his highly-skilled service was given free, and more than free, for in many cases where the home visited was in parlous financial circumstances, the prompt production of ‘a few shillings’ or the sudden delivery of a basket of groceries was a favour of Doctor Stewart’s visit. He was a man who served for service sake, and his richer clients, who provided him with his living, were not better dealt with than those whom his tender heart prompted to aid financially as well as administer to medically. Dr Stewart’s prescription often meant that money was going out of his pocket to pay for it, and he never expected it returned. Between Midland Junction and Perth the doctor has seen a fine crop of young Westralians in the world; some of them born with silver spoons in their mouths and some lucky to have a clean finger to suck. Probably if those whom he has in the past aided in their extremity suddenly became conscious-stricken, now that his luck is out, the payment of some of the flock of unpaid bills owing to him might help him through his trouble. But that sort of thing only happens in novels, and then not often. Whatever the doctor’s sin may have been, he is no worse than many a less worthy man who has not yet committed the unpardonable crime of being found out; and the good he has done leaves his ledger still with a handy credit balance when it comes to real worthiness.”

Truth, 21 June, 1924

A few years later they moved to Brighton in Sussex, England, where Mitchell died in April 1940, aged 74. Muriel returned to her home state of Victoria and died there in 1966, aged 85. 

Where, What, When

Mitchell is standing beside his newly-purchased 1907, short wheel base Humber in early 1908.

The purchase of Mitchell Stewart’s car reported in Western Mail, 8 February, 1908.

Humber (10-12 H.P., 4 cyl.) the property of Dr. J. M. Y. Stewart