Meet our president 1916–1917: Rt Hon George Francis Stewart

Fiona Haggett FRICS

UK Valuation Director (RICS)

Following on from previous articles on RICS Presidents from 100 years ago, our president from 1916–1917 proved to be a very different personality from his predecessor, Mr Hanson. Indeed, not only was he the first president to hail from Ireland, but he also seems to have been very active in the politics of that country at the time.

george_francis_stewart_120117_rt

Early life

George Francis Stewart was born in Gortleitragh County Dublin on 1 November 1851. He was the eighth son of James Robert Stewart, Deputy Lieutenant of Ireland. As such George had a privileged upbringing, studying at Marlborough College and at Trinity College Dublin, from where he graduated in 1872 with the distinction of a Senior Moderatorship and a Gold Medal.

In his early career he lived in Killney County Dublin and set up as a land agent in County Leitrim where, over the years he accrued extensive land interests. He finally became the senior partner in the firm Messrs J R Stewart and Sons (Dublin) which notably acted for the large Kingston Estate.

Career

G F Stewart joined the Surveyors’ Institute late in his career – in 1895, but quickly went on to become a member of the council (1904).  His initial speech as president of the Surveyors’ Institute reflected his interests and concentrated on his concerns around the Irish issue of Land Purchase and its impact on the landowners, land agents and tenants. The meeting also recorded that it was noteworthy that the first Irish president ‘came concurrently with the separation of the governments of the two countries’ and that we can all ‘expect some alteration in the relations of the two countries in the future’.

RICS records also note that members had ‘heard a rumour’ that their president devoted some of his valuable time to politics – indeed, the members looked forward to ‘exhibiting’ their president at distinguished functions as a novelty and curiosity: a member of the Irish Parliament!’

Political interests

The reference to G F Stewart’s political interests could not have been truer, as, in addition to the presidency of the Surveyors’ Institute, his distinguished career saw him holding a number of high profile public positions amongst which are the following:

  • Chairman if the Irish Branch of the Surveyors Institute
  • Chairman of the Land Agents Association
  • Governor of Bank of Ireland (1919)
  • Member of the Dublin University Senate
  • Member of the British Currency Commission
  • Deputy Lieutenant of Ireland
  • High Sheriff of Leitrim (1893 & 1913)
  • Unionist member of the Irish Convention, and
  • Vice Chair of the Irish Unionist Alliance
  • Privy Councillor for Ireland (1921)

His political career came at a time when there was a good deal of unrest in Ireland. In 1891 he is recorded as being a founder member of the Irish Unionist Alliance (IUA), a party closely allied with the English Conservative party.

Home Rule Bill

This party opposed plans for home rule in Ireland and campaigned actively with a view to preventing the passage of the Home Rule Bill. At this time there were huge divisions in the Irish Unionist party, particularly between the southern Irish and the Ulster Unionists. The feeling was that the growing dominance of the Ulster members of the party posed a risk that southern Ireland may be overlooked in negotiations with the British government for a favourable settlement. In 1913 Stewart was the vice chair of IUA and is recorded to have written to the leader, one Edward Carson, to complaint that the concerns of the south were being overlooked. Indeed, this concern spilled over into demonstrations in Dublin in 1914.

In July 1917, as the unrest continued, Lloyd George proposed the convening of an assembly, known as the Irish Convention. Stewart was appointed to this assembly and the members were challenged with addressing the problems in Ireland and also suggesting the best process for enacting self-government. This group produced a final report in March 1918, though the findings of the report were never implemented, as the events of the ongoing war in wider Europe intervened, prompting the British government to decide to introduce home rule and to apply conscription in Ireland – thus changing the Irish political landscape permanently. Despite this, Stewart’s contribution resulted in his elevation to the Privy Council, which warranted a mention in the London Gazette of June 1921.

The London Gazette Of FRIDAY, the 3rd of JUNE, 1921.  PRIVY COUNCILLORS (IRELAND). The KINiG1 has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His- Majesty's Birthday, to declare that .the following .shall be sworn'of His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in Ireland: —George Francis Stewart, Esq., J.P., D.L. Represented Southern Unionists on the Irish Convention, where he took a leading part in the effort to effect a settlement. He was Chairman of the .Surveyors' Institute in Great Britain, and also of the Land Agents' Association. Has been Governor of the Bank of Ireland for two years. A D.L. for the County of Dublin.

This brought with it the title Right Honourable.

Personal life

G F Stewart had married Georgiana Lavinia Quin (the daughter of a rear admiral) in June 1881. Together they had four children – Robert, Clement, Mary & Ethel. He died on 12 August 1928 at the age of 77. His obituary in the Surveyors’ journal records him to be "a man of handsome presence and great charm of manner". He was clearly a man of strong views and great influence.

Comments (0)

Only Registered Members and Registered site users can comment on our content.

Please use the log in button to sign in and leave your comment.


Read the next page in this section