Zina Cumbrae-Stewart 

Name: Zina Cumbrae-Stewart 

Epoch: Early 20th Century (the \'Long Early Twentieth Century\')

Grouping Field: Peformance, Visual Art, and Music

Location Grouping: Individual\'s Work Location

Map Coordinates: 27°28\'12.4\"S 153°01\'28.5\"E

Years At Location: 1910-1936

One Historical Setting: Mrs Zina Beatrice Selwyn Cumbrae-Stewart, somewhere in Brisbane [TBA]

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Zina Cumbrae-Stewart was a leading social matron in Brisbane Society. Cumbrae-Stewart was an executive member of the Australian Red Cross in Queensland for twenty-two years and won its long service medal. She became an original member of the Mothers’ Union and was its President for nine years. Furthermore, Cumbrae-Stewart was President of the National Council of Women of Queensland in 1926-1935.

Impact On Brisbane Society

Zina Cumbrae-Stewart was married to Francis William Sutton Cumbrae-Stewart, and had met her husband through teaching the noted artist sister, Janet Cumbrae Stewart, at Mrs R. Sadleir Forster’s Ladies School, St Kilda, Victoria. Cumbrae-Stewart was one of the key supporters of the domestic science education movement (see the entries on Marianne Brydon and William Bevington), and helped found the Queensland Social Service League (see the entry on Thomas Thatcher). Zina Cumbrae-Stewart, as one of several social matrons of the era, represented the fundamental flaw of the Brisbane societal establishment – it was collectively too arrogant. The assessment comes from the biographer, Nancy Bonnin, who wrote:

“Brusque in public, she had a lively sense of humour in private. She regarded her own abilities as giving her a right to leadership and to the exercise of a formidable dignity. She enjoyed putting down pretentious or silly people but believed none the less that her first responsibility was to be a good wife and mother [my emphasis; vague and loaded terms].”

Bonnin also referred to a comment made by Cumbrae-Stewart’s son, which in social theory is very alarming: “she was like those grand old ladies whose pictures hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh who plainly had no need of rights” [my emphasis; a clear inference of social snobbery].


Nancy Bonnin, ‘Cumbrae-Stewart, Zina Beatrice Selwyn (1868–1956)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cumbrae-stewart-zina-beatrice-selwyn-5843/text9929, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 4 July 2019.

Image Citation

Zina Cumbrae-Stewart, 1939. Deazeley Studios. From Webb, Elliot. A biographical record of Queensland women : a representation of every sphere showing, activities and interests, social, philanthropic, historic, scholastic, sport and trave