This thesis is the first in-depth biography of Dr James Stewart (1829-1906), an Ulster Presbyterian doctor who spent his prime years in Victoria between 1852 and 1869. It answers the question of who James Stewart was and why such an important actor in the history of Ballarat and colonial Victoria has been almost completely ignored by the historical record.
The thesis explores the themes of identity and class by revealing the elements that shaped who Stewart was as well as his contributions to Ballarat and the colony through his medical work, civic duty, philanthropy and capitalist investment. Beginning with his early life in rural Ulster and medical education in Dublin, insight is provided into his emigration as a ship’s surgeon to the Ballarat goldfields in the context of the Irish diaspora. New light is thrown on the formative experience of ships’ surgeons and their role in the development of colonial medicine and civic duty; medical care available on the goldfields and during the events of the Eureka Stockade; and the professionalisation of medicine in colonial Victoria.
In pursuing the biographical method advocated by Robert Rotberg, in the absence of personal records, it makes extensive use of newspapers and the archives of the institutions to which he contributed significantly. Interpretative and speculative methods are employed to carefully analyse his detailed will and obituaries.
This study finds that Stewart’s flexible identity facilitated his involvement with a variety of community, class and social groups. Examination of his religious influences provides new understanding of Ulster Presbyterians and the Anglo-Irish in Victoria and challenges Patrick O’Farrell’s claim that the Anglo-Irish in Australia were right-wing conservatives. A major contributor to the development of Ballarat, a visionary and generous benefactor, James Stewart’s legacy continues to have an impact more than a century after his death.