Major General William Stewart

During his appointment as the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony William Stewart conducted the affairs of the colony with great proficiency. His effective administration was marked with many successes and the most notable was the formation of a Mounted Police Force in New South Wales. From his wartime experiences he knew the value of well-armed mounted infantry that could rapidly deploy and subdue an enemy, bushranger, outlaw or tribesmen.

He used the best officers and men of the Buffs to provide a well-disciplined body of Police. This force became locally known as ‘Stewart’s Police’. The force spread throughout New South Wales and centred on the settlements such as Sydney Cove, Parramatta, Bathurst, Morpeth, Maitland, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, and Campbelltown. As the Colony grew so did crime and Bathurst saw a crime boom with escaped convicts, drunken settlers, freebooters, and bushrangers. With the breakdown of law and order roads, towns, villages, and farms were plundered and became unsafe and the settlements suffered. The Governor declared Marshall Law around Bathurst and the Mounted Police crushed the lawlessness.

While conducting the affairs of the Colony William Stewart was appointed in September 1825 to the position of Acting Governor. During this appointment William Stewart carried out some important duties that included: placing a value on the Spanish silver dollar coin so that it could be used for the payment of allowances to the Military, prohibiting the assignment of mechanics to any individual because public works were suffering, approving the landing of convicts from the transport ship ‘Henry Porcher’, appointing members to the Legislative Council, and proposing postal arrangements for the districts of Evan, Penrith, and Bringelly. However, his most notable achievement was the pardoning of five men from hanging for stealing sheep as he believed that no man should suffer the extreme penalty except for murder and he reprieved them.

On the 18th December 1825 the streets of Sydney Cove were lined with the soldiers of the Buffs and William Stewart welcomed Sir Ralph Darling and his family to the Colony of New South Wales. The new Governor urged Lt Col William Stewart to make his selection of Land near Bathurst to encourage others to settle there and he agreed to grant William Stewart his estate at Mount Pleasant, Bathurst in 1827. His son James later wrote that he had a letter in his possession from Governor Darling requesting his father to ‘ run up and make his selection to facilitate settlement’. William Stewart chose 3000 acres on the west side of Mount Pleasant along the Evans Plains Creek.

Lt Col William Stewart regrouped his Battalion in 1827 and deployed it to Madras in India. He was promoted to Colonel and appointed to the command of a Brigade in the presidency of Bengal and Commandant of Meerut. The advance party proceeded in early 1827 to India and the rear party left on 27 November 1827 for Calcutta, India.

He decided to retire on half pay and returned to his beautiful estate in Australia in 1830. His wife and children followed in 1832 and travelled from Scotland to Sydney. They built a home called ‘Strath’ on the property. William received the Brevet of Major-General on his return to Bathurst, New South Wales. Before he left the Colony in 1827 he had secured a lease for a further 12,000 acres around Mount Pleasant. He purchased a further 9,000 acres where his monument and family home now stand. In 1838 he added a further 2,400 acres to the estate. William and his wife played an important role in the development of the Bathurst region until his death on 8 April 1854.

He died at his property at the age of 85 years and left a widow, three daughters, and his only son James Horne Stewart who succeeded to the family estate. The General was buried on the pinnacle of an evergreen hill known by the family as Mount Pleasant. His coffin was hauled up the Mount by a bullock team, as it was too steep for horses.

Major General William Stewart was one of the most famous Commanding Officers of the Buffs and led the Regiment through the worse years of the Peninsula War, and the hardship years in Australia defending the Colony.

He was a talented administrator during his years as Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales and the Founder of the first Mounted Police in the World.

This strong willed pioneer helped to settle the Bathurst district, establish the City of Bathurst, and maintain Law and Order with his Mounted Police Force. He was a man of strength, determination, vision, and a true leader. May his memory be honoured and his story retold to future generations.

Our member Peter Denham and his wife Moya visited Bathurst during January researching Major General William Stuart and his regiment the 3rd foot “The Buffs”.

Peter would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any details on any of “The Buffs” or their descendants, particularly those who may have settled in the Bathurst region