Liverpool Town Councillors

Mr. John Stewart

Mr. John Stewart

Mr. John Stewart was born in Liverpool, in the year 1791. His father, Mr. Daniel Stewart, was a builder during the latter end of the last century, but gave up the building business, and became well known as a surveyor and measurer. He was a man of talent, and many are yet living who well remember his graphic stories and the train of original thought which characterised him. He was a tradesman of the old school, and was an importation from Scotland – we believe from Kilmarnock. When a boy, his only surviving son, the present Mayor, displayed marks of great talent, and was a fair proficient in mathematics. After quitting school, he learnt the measuring business in his father’s office, and was early noticed for the correctness of his judgment and his quickness in arithmetical calculations. He joined his father in the measuring business, and during many years had a large practice as a surveyor and valuer, and then acquired that knowledge of the value of property, which has made him an authority in this respect. About the year 1824 Mr. John Stewart left the measuring business, and joined the late Mr. William Foster as a builder; and for many years they carried on the business as builders and contractors, under the well-known firm of “Foster and Stewart.” Twice were their premises burnt down, and it was feared that on one, if not on both occasions, the fires were the work of an incendiary. A friend who was present in his professional capacity during one of these conflagrations, and when a turn-out of men in the building trades had taken place, solemnly remembers the fiendish exultation with which some men viewed the extensive conflagration.

Mr. Stewart subsequently retired from the building business, and recommenced his professional and useful course as a surveyor. In that capacity he has enjoyed the confidence of all classes, and it may with truth be said of him, in the words of the poet Tupper –

The labourer accounted him his friend,
And magnates did him honour at their table.

At length –

Some casual hearer loudly praised his talents,

And said –

Why should he be buried in obscurity? Could
He not still be doing good?

And he was, in consequence, put in nomination as a candidate for municipal honours, and was returned for St. Peter’s Ward. Naturally modest, Mr. Stewart did not take much part in the debates during the time that he sat for St. Peter’s Ward. A question was mooted about the period when he had to present himself for re-election (we think it was that of rating dock warehouses to the relief of the poor); and Mr. Stewart, not taking the popular side, was opposed by the late Mr. Ferguson, of Bold Street, a respectable infant clothes manufacturer, and, strange to say, was defeated by a considerable majority. For some years Mr. Stewart was excluded from the Council. About four or five years ago a vacancy occurred in South Toxteth Ward, and Mr. Stewart was returned for it, principally through the influence of the timber merchants, who are all-powerful in that locality. Since then he has taken a more decided part in the discussions of the Council Chamber, having filled the office of deputy-chairman of the Finance Committee, and having also been an active member of the Committee for building St. George’s Hall. In November, 1854, he was put in nomination for the mayoralty, but was defeated by Mr. James Aspinall Tobin by four votes. Many persons thought at that time that, considering the youth of Mr. Tobin, and the advanced age of Mr. Stewart, the former might have gracefully retired in favour of the latter. In November last, on the retirement of Mr. Tobin, Mr. Stewart was elected Mayor by the unanimous voice of the Council.

His worship is known to have an extraordinary aptitude for calculation, and is a sort of municipal Bidder in that respect. Without putting a pen to paper, he can give the cubic contents, in fractions of inches, of any man’s nose, or extract the square or cubic root of a sunbeam. He is mighty in genealogy, and can tell off the ancestry and relationship of everybody in this vicinity for a couple of defunct generations. He is great in anecdote, and it is said – probably without cause – that he is great in procrastination also, but that those who are indignant at his constitutional delays, and who call upon him to complain, generally come away amused. Quick and keen in matters of business, he is somewhat insensible of the value of time; and if a dozen persons were waiting for him, he will finish his anecdote. He possesses considerable readiness in repartee, and is somewhat of a wit; but his prudence and self-possession restrain him within bounds; and although his sarcasms are keen, they are combined with good humour, and slightly scarify without drawing blood. His judgment is sound, and his local knowledge extensive; and when he speaks in the Council he obtains great attention and commands respect, from the clearness of his views. He is not an orator, and he knows it; and, with good taste, makes no attempt at display. But he has no hesitation in delivering his sentiments, and speaks fairly, if not eloquently. He generally, however, addresses the Council in such a low and colloquial tone, that it is most difficult for the reports to catch his words.

He is somewhat of an anomaly in one respect. He is sharp and keen in discovering the weak side of an opponent, and a casual observer would set him down as a very able man. He is, however, rather clever than able; and truth compels us to admit that his notions, though clear, are antiquated and somewhat passé. Mr. Stewart would have been a great man, had he lived a century ago. As it is he is a most useful man, and well deserves the eminence to which he has attained. Like many men of mark, he has his weaknesses and little peculiarities; but they do not detract from his public usefulness. He has been engaged in all the valuations made for the Dock Estate during the last thirty years, and is their standing valuer. His zeal in behalf of the public trusts of the town is well known, and duly appreciated, and drew down upon him, in the valuation of “Jackson’s Dam”, the somewhat bitter wrath of Lord (then Mr.) Brougham, who uncourteously designated him as “the undervaluer of the Corporation”. Mr. Stewart has, however, lived to show his lordship that the Corporation has not “undervalued” his services.

Those who know his worship best, augur a very quiet mayoralty, and fear that the kitchen chimney of the Town Hall will not give out as much smoke as it has done during the last four mayoralties. But Mr. Stewart is rich, and, we doubt not, liberal; and we believe that he will disappoint general expectation, and keep up the hospitality of the Town Hall. He has a few unruly animals in the corporate team which he may have difficulty in managing, from the placidity of his temper and somewhat indolent love of ease. He can, however, assert his dignity when roused; and, like most of the nation from which he is descended, is somewhat high in the instep. He may safely calculate on the support of the Council, in which he possesses great influence, and where he is highly esteemed; and if his career be not brilliant, it will at least be respectable.

Mr. Stewart purchased the advowson of the parish livings, some years ago, from the Corporation; and on the decease of the present rector, the presentation will in future be vested in him as the patron. When the rectory of Walton was divided, and West Derby was made into a distinct parish, the advowson of the same was purchased by Mr. Stewart from Mr. John Shaw Leigh, and the rector in possession dying soon after, Mr. Stewart presented his eldest son to the living, who retains it at the present time. He has two other sons clergymen, so that we may look for one of them being the future rector of Liverpool; and the time, therefore, may not be far distant when the “good old town” will ecclesiastically be under the reign of the Stewarts. Few men have made their way onward in a more steady and unostentatious manner, and few have better deserved it. The mayoralty has come to its present occupant somewhat late in life, but we believe that at its close it will be universally admitted that Mr. Stewart has filled the office with credit to himself and with advantage to the community.