On May 30 1912, The Northern Star newspaper announced that Dr Bracken of Bangalow had sold his practice to Scottish born Dr J.M.Y Stewart, late of Sydney and Melbourne.  Dr and Mrs Stewart moved into the departing Dr Bracken’s old home. The couple settled in and were soon part of the community.  In mid November they were guests of honour at a fundraising Presbyterian fair in a neighbouring town;

‘On the arrival of Dr. Stewart of Bangalow, the Rev. Mr Miller introduced him to the few present (chiefly workers) and in a neat little speech the genial doctor declared the Fair open. Mrs W. Gay, on behalf of the Ladies Guild, then presented Mrs Stewart with a handsome bouquet, as a memento of the occasion.’ 

Additionally, Dr Stewart provided a valuable service to the residents of Byron Bay, where there was no resident doctor.


All was going well, but two and a half years later things began to unravel. It turned out that Dr Stewart was actually  from Perth, where he had been a highly respected gynaecologist. He was a founding member of the WA branch of the British Medical Association, a magistrate, and a member of the volunteer military forces.   He was also a married man with a family, including two dependent children;  Ian, aged 12 and Robin, just 7.

In 1911 he had met and fallen  passionately  in love with Muriel Meallin, an independent young woman who had graduated from a business college. She had been working in the city  as a shorthand typist/telephonist and residing with her widowed mother..  Early the following year he told his wife he was going to leave.  Annie  Stewart tried to change her husband’s mind, but on March 31 he disappeared.

Now here is a strange thing. Around the time Dr Stewart  announced his intention to leave, Muriel’s mother sold all her furniture and household goods  in Perth and went to live  in Victoria. One item advertised in the auction  was ‘a typewriting machine’, which had surely belonged her daughter.  I suspect  the idea of losing Muriel was too much for Stewart,  prompting his  decision to share his life with her, regardless of the cost.

The following information may have been inserted in the paper to put  poor Annie  off the trail!

SUNDAY TIMES (Perth) April 21 1912  – Dr. J.M.Y Stewart has gone to America. He left on the 6th, via Sydney. 

The lovers had actually fled to New South Wales, establishing their new life together at Bangalow.  Dr Stewart, now a   general practitioner, supported his legal wife and family financially via his Sydney solicitors.

It appears that Muriel fulfilled her role of Doctor’s wife very well. The following tribute published  in May 1914 specifically includes her;


TROUBLE IN PARADISE

Annie  Stewart eventually discovered  her errant husband’s whereabouts.  A photo of her was  sent to Bangalow solicitor Charles Adrian. When Mr Adrian  confirmed  the  woman he knew  as the local doctor’s wife  looked nothing like the photo, divorce papers were served.  32 year old Muriel was cited as co-respondent.  Dr Stewart had no choice but to admit guilt and from that moment on it was impossible for them remain in the town.

By this time war had been declared.  It has to be said that the timing was convenient for Dr Stewart.  He was a veteran of the Boer war, and re-enlisted on October 16,  joining the medical corps with the rank of Major.  He was on board the hospital ship Kyarra, which  sailed from Melbourne on December 5 carrying staff and equipment for the field hospitals in Cairo.

Naturally it wasn’t long before details of the divorce proceedings came out. The whole story appeared in the Lismore Star on December 10. The newspaper was widely read in nearby Bangalow. Even if Mr Adrian the solicitor had been discreet, everyone now knew the whole  truth behind Dr and Mrs Stewart’s unannounced departure. What  a shock it must have been for friends, neighbours and patients.

Some accounts of the matter were more lurid than others, especially in Western Australia.

Sunday Times (Perth), December 13 1914 – The wife of Dr. J.M.Y Stewart has got a divorce in the New South Wales Court, When run to earth, the frail sawbones was living at a place called Bungalow [sic] with the buxom partner of his indiscretions, and he tacitly admitted the soft impeachment. He has since gone to the war. Where the Juno-figured damsel has gone to isn’t stated.  

Like her defacto husband, the ‘damsel’  was at sea.  On December 3 1914 she had embarked  on the mail steamer Mongolia as Mrs Stewart, bound for England.

The mail ship SS Mongolia

The Mongolia, circa 1910


The Kyarra  arrived in Alexandria on January 13.

Hospital ship Kyarra moored in Alexandria

Hospital ship Kyarra moored in Alexandria.

The  ship was due to return to Australia almost immediately, carrying  several hundred sick and ‘undesirable’ servicemen. Major Stewart was  appointed to act as the medical officer onboard, but with Muriel now in London this was not something he was happy about.

A SOLUTION?

Shortly after arriving in Egypt, Major Stewart met  Captain Victor Ratten, Regimental Medical Officer of the AIF’s 12th Battalion. Ratten had been in Cairo since December 10.  He was bored, and fed up with the flies, mosquitoes  and heat. At some point the two medicos came to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.  On February 3, Major Stewart officially transferred to the 12th Battalion as RMO.  Victor Ratten took Major Stewart’s  place on  the Kyarra,

Importantly, few people thought the war would last long. Many eager young Anzacs  training in Egypt felt they would never  see action.  After demobilization Stewart planned to meet up with Muriel in London.  And if he went to France with the 12th Battalion…..well there would be leave that could be spent with his beloved  in London.  As soon as  his divorce became final the couple would be able to marry and to settle down a world away from the controversy their relationship had created back home.

But of course the war was not won quickly. And instead of  the 12th Battalion proceeding to France, the men were sent  to the Gallipoli Peninsular  to secure the Dardenelles.  At dawn on April 25, the middle aged Stewart found himself scrambling ashore at Anzac Cove  under enemy fire.

Anzac Cove

The Landing

 

FOR THE SECOND PART OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments
  1. Quite the character! It’s amazing the tangles some people get their lives into. Thanks for sharing this interesting story. I’m looking forward to the continuation.

    • Pauline

      Thanks. I came across this story when I was researching my biography of Captain Victor Ratten. Changed my whole view of why the ‘exchange’ re the Kyarra took place.

  2. How intriguing can’t wait for the next instalment. I’m sure it will be sad.

  3. Wow! What a story – looking forward to the next instalment!

    • Pauline

      Thanks Ann. Funny you how stumble across these stories while researching someone else.

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