Robertson Stewart

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Sir Robertson Stewart

Robertson (Bob) Stewart.jpg
Bronze bust of Sir Robertson Stewart, one of the Twelve Local Heroes sculpture series
Born (1913-09-21)21 September 1913
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died 13 August 2007(2007-08-13) (aged 93)
Christchurch, New Zealand
Occupation Industrialist and exporter
Years active 1929 – mid-1990s
Spouse(s) (1) Gladys Gunter (div.)
(2) Ellen Adrienne Peake

Sir Robertson Huntly "Bob" Stewart CBE (21 September 1913 – 13 August 2007) was a New Zealand industrialist and exporter. He is credited with starting to manufacture plastic goods in the country.

Early life

Stewart was born in Christchurch in 1913. His father, Robertson McGregor Stewart, was an accountant. His mother was Ivy Emily Stewart (née Wooles). His parents separated when he was six, and Stewart and his younger brother Max remained with their mother. They lived in Sydenham and then Linwood.[1] He attended Linwood North Primary School, Christchurch West High School, and one term at Christchurch Boys' High School until age 13, when scarlet fever caused him to leave school.[1][2] He went to Bottle Lake Hospital in Burwood for treatment and recovered, but did not go back to school.[1]

Professional career

He trained to become an electrical engineer through attending night school for five years.[3] His first employer in 1929 was Harry Urlwin, who instilled in him the sense of never to be frightened of anything or anyone.[2] In 1935, Urlwin sent him to England for the purpose of learning about plastics. He imported a moulding machine to New Zealand and was the first to manufacture the material in the country.[3]

He started to work for Plastic & Die Casting Ltd in 1947,[3] a company founded ten years earlier.[4] By 1957, he had raised enough money to buy the company, which he renamed PDL. The company was listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in 1971 and at its height, employed 2,200 staff with an annual turnover of NZ$350 million.[3] It exported to 50 countries across three continents.[2] He established factories in many countries, including one in Malaysia in 1974.[2] His favourite saying was:

My job is to make ordinary people do extraordinary things.[3]

Stewart retired in the mid-1990s, handing over PDL to his son, Mark Robertson.[3] The 60% family shareholding in PDL was sold in 2001 to the French company Schneider Electric for NZ$97 million.[3][5]

Stewart was appointed a Companion of the Order of the British Empire in the 1970 New Year Honours[6] and a Knight Bachelor in the 1979 New Year Honours, for services to manufacturing and the community.[7] He was a Christchurch City Councillor from 1969 to 1972. In 1995, he was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame.[2] Due to his lack of formal education, the recognition that he was most proud of was his honorary doctorate of engineering from the University of Canterbury.[2]

His business relationship with Malaysia saw him become an Honorary Malaysian Consul, a role that he filled for 28 years. The King of Malaysia appointed him a Companion of the Order of Loyalty to the Crown of Malaysia (JSM) for his business and cultural links.[2]

Stewart Fountain

The second Stewart Fountain just before its demolition

In the 1960s, Stewart offered funding for the erection of a fountain on a small public reserve on the corner of Colombo, High, and Hereford Streets. Initially, he put up £5,000, but this was later increased to NZ$14,000. The fountain, with four stainless steel walls that had water flowing down it, was built in the early 1970s and was his first philanthropic contribution to Christchurch. In 1987, it was decided that the fountain needed to be redesigned, which was done in 1988. Ongoing maintenance issues resulted in the 1993 decision for the fountain needing to be replaced. By then, its location had become part of the City Mall.[8][9]

The replacement, which was known as the Stewart Fountain, was built in 1998 at a cost of NZ$700,000, with a NZ$200,000 contribution by Stewart and decorated with hundreds of tiles painted by Christchurch schoolchildren. The fountain developed into a favourite place for young people. Demolition of the fountain began on 13 August 2007 and 13 young people were arrested in a protest over the demolition; Sir Robertson Stewart had died that morning.[8][10] The removal of the fountain was supported by local business owners, who had long complained about the young people being bad for their businesses.[11]

Christchurch City Council formally named the reserve Stewart Plaza in 2008. Stewart's bequest part-funded the replacement sculpture, "Flour Power", on the condition that the installation be permanent, and that the land be known as Stewart Plaza.[9]

Family and death

In 1937, Stewart married Gladys Gunter. They had three children: Robert (born 1940), Elizabeth (known as Lee; born 1943), and Peter (born in 1945). The Stewarts divorced, and in 1970, he married his secretary, Melbourne-born Ellen Adrienne Cansdale (née Peake), who was made a Dame in the Order of New Zealand 2015 New Year Honours.[12] There are two children from this second marriage: Mark James and Todd Huntly Stewart.[1]

Stewart died in Christchurch on 13 August 2007. He was survived by his second wife, Adrienne, and five sons.[3] His son Robert was knighted in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours.[13]

His son, Peter Maxwell Stewart, who has been married since 1968 to New Zealand Fashion Week founder Pieter Stewart (who received an Order of New Zealand damehood in the 2012 Birthday Honours), was jailed in 2008 for three and a half years on historic child sex charges,[14][15][16][17] but had one rape charge against him dismissed in the High Court at Christchurch after serving jail time for his other offences. He was paroled after 14 months.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d "Sir Robertson Huntly Stewart 1913–2007". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Whyte, Mark (2009). Twelve Local Heroes : a celebration : set of bronze busts commissioned by the Local Heroes Trust. Christchurch, New Zealand: Christchurch Art Gallery / Te Puna o Waiwhetu. pp. 32–34. ISBN 978-0-473-14878-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Burgess, Malcolm (14 August 2007). "Fantastic plastic man dies at 93". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  4. ^ "Company". Schneider-Electric. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  5. ^ "Schneider completes PDL takeover". The New Zealand Herald. 22 June 2001. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  6. ^ New Zealand list: "No. 45001". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1969. p. 42.
  7. ^ "No. 47725". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1978. p. 39.
  8. ^ a b "City Mall Upgrade - Stewart Plaza". Central City Business Association. Archived from the original on 10 January 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  9. ^ a b Holland, Richard (December 2008). "Naming Stewart Plaza - City Mall" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  10. ^ "13 teenagers arrested in City Mall protest". The Press. 13 August 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Security fence surrounds fountain". The Press. 14 August 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  12. ^ Wright, Michael (31 December 2014). "A powerful force for arts by any name". The Press. p. A3. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  13. ^ Meier, Cecile (2 June 2014). "New knight scoped out ways to build wealth". The Press. p. A15. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  14. ^ "Wealthy family staunch after sex case". The Press. 1 January 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  15. ^ Booker, Jarrod (22 December 2007). "Sex abuser had a life to envy - until now". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  16. ^ Meng-Yee, Carolyne (17 February 2008). "The woman who shattered the Stewart fairy tale". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  17. ^ Kloeten, Niko (1 May 2009). "Recently released Stewart cleared of rape charge". National Business Review. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  18. ^ "Recently released Stewart cleared of rape charge",; accessed 24 March 2016.
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