Stanley Toft Stewart

Singapore Infopedia


Stanley Toft Stewart (b. 13 June 1910, Penang–d. 9 February 1992, Singapore) was a long-serving public official in Malaya and Singapore who achieved many firsts.At the peak of his career, Stewart was the head of Singapore’s civil service, and after serving as Singapore’s first high commissioner to Australia, he returned as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.2

Stewart was educated at St Xavier’s Institution in Penang. He excelled at sports, setting the state record in the 100-yard dash.3 He later enrolled in Raffles College in Singapore and graduated with a first-class diploma in arts in 1933.4

Teaching and early career
Stewart started his career as a teacher at Kuala Kangsar’s elite Malay College. His students included future sultans, ambassadors, civil servants and Tun Razak, who still addressed Stewart as “Master” when he became Malaysia’s prime minister.5 

In 1934, Stewart earned the distinction of becoming one of the first two Asians recruited to the new Straits Settlements Civil Service.6 He worked as a probationer in the Treasury and Land Office in Penang, before becoming district officer for Butterworth in 1936.7 From 1939, he held the same post in Balik Pulau, Penang Island, and remained in office under a Japanese superior during the Japanese Occupation.8

After World War II, Stewart became the first local to be promoted to the Colonial Administration Service in 1946, and became the district officer in Balik Pulau and Butterworth.9 He was an official member of Penang’s legislative council and belonged to its war executive committee during the Emergency, although Butterworth stayed largely peaceful.10 In 1952, Stewart moved to Singapore to become deputy chairman of the Singapore Rural Board.11

Rise to the top of the civil service
After two years at the Singapore Rural Board, Stewart was named its first Asian chairman in 1954. He led the relief and evacuation efforts when Singapore was hit by serious flooding. In 1955, he was appointed deputy secretary of the Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Housing, where he dealt with difficult issues such as policing, censorship, intelligence, detention and banishment.12 In 1957, he was appointed deputy chief secretary of Singapore. The following year, he served as acting chief secretary under than Governor of Singapore William Goode, becoming the first local man to hold the colony’s second-highest office.13

In 1959, Stewart was appointed permanent secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, and formed part of the government’s delegation to the United Kingdom’s financial talks in 1960. He became the first permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office in 1962, as well as the first head of Singapore’s civil service. In addition, he served as the first chairman of the Port Authority of Singapore after it was established in 1964.14 

Stewart was a member of the Joint Working Party that negotiated the merger between the Federation of Malaya and Singapore in 1961, and travelled to London for talks. He was also among the first to know about Malaysia’s break-up in 1965, and oversaw the printing of the government gazette announcing Singapore’s independence, keeping the printers incommunicado until the official announcement on 9 August 1965.15

Stewart continued to serve in public office on a temporary basis upon reaching the mandatory retirement age in civil service, and was appointed as Singapore’s first high commissioner to Australia in 1966.16 

High commissioner to Australia
After Singapore became independent, there was a delay in filling overseas missions, as the new state did not want to make a poor impression by hastily posting ill-prepared ambassadors. Tested, reliable civil servants were sought to represent the country, and Stewart was appointed Singapore’s first high commissioner to Australia in 1966, an important regional power and one of the first countries to recognise Singapore’s independence.17 He formally took office in August 1966.18 

As high commissioner, Stewart travelled extensively, called upon state leaders and focused on promoting trade and tourism.19 Stewart also organised weekly tennis matches at his residence and captained the annual diplomatic cricket tournament in Canberra.20

Later years and retirement
After leaving Australia in 1969 – with overseas work experience further enhancing his credentials – Stewart returned to the Singapore civil service as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.21

One of the changes Stewart instituted at the ministry was the recruitment of the diplomatic corps. In 1966, the government engaged public officers from various government departments to make up its first tranche of diplomats. However, Stewart proposed recruiting a distinct class of men and women for the diplomatic service and subsequently launched the Foreign Service Scheme, which established a separate pool of professional career diplomats.22

At the end of 1972, the sports-loving Stewart left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join the National Stadium Corporation. He became its chief executive in 1973, overseeing the completion and opening of the National Stadium.23 His last appointment was as chief executive director of the Singapore Sports Council before retiring from public service in 1973.24

Stewart also served as a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights from 1970 to 1987.25

Honours and death
The length and distinction of Stewart’s public service was a source of pride for the Eurasian community. His achievements were recognised with awards such as the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1958 by the British government,26 Singapore’s Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) in 1962,27 and the Bakti Kepada Malaysia (Service to Malaysia) Gold Medal in 1963.28 

Stewart died of heart problems on 9 February 1992 in Singapore.29

Wife: Therese Zelie de Souza (m. 1935)
Children: Seven daughters

Duncan Sutherland

1. Francisca Cardoza and Jacintha Cardoza, “They Made Their Mark: Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” in Singapore Eurasians: Memories and Hopes, ed. Myrna Braga-Blake (Singapore: Eurasian Association, Singapore, 2017), 135 (Call no. RSING 305.80095957 SIN); “A Man of ‘Firsts’,” Alumnus 10, (10 June 1992): 55. (Call no. RCLOS 378.5957 A)

2. Tommy T. B. Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and the National Heritage Board, 2006), 520. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
3. “A Man of ‘Firsts‘,” 55; Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 88.
4. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520.
5. “A Public Servant of Distinction,” in New Eurasian (January–March 2012): 20. (Call no. RSING 305.80095957 NE)
6. “A Man of ‘Firsts‘,” 55; Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 88.
7. “Former Top Civil Servant Stewart Dies at 81,” Straits Times, 12 February 1992, 19 (From NewspaperSG); Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 88.
8. “A Public Servant of Distinction,” 20.
9. “A Man of ‘Firsts‘,” 55; Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 88; Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520.
10 “A Public Servant of Distinction,” 20.
11. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520; Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 88; “A Public Servant of Distinction,” 20.
13. Gretchen Liu, The Singapore Foreign Service: The First 40 Years (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2005), 94 (Call no. RSING 327.5957 LIU); Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 88; Koh, Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520; “A Public Servant of Distinction,” 20.
14. Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 89; Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520; Liu, Singapore Foreign Service, 95; Joy Salmon, “Remembering Stanley,” New Paper, 2 August 1995, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 89; Liu, Singapore Foreign Service, 95.
16“Former Top Civil Servant Stewart Dies at 81”; Liu, Singapore Foreign Service, 95.
17. “A Public Servant of Distinction,” 20.
18. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520; “Cricket Loving Envoy,” Straits Times, 12 August 1966, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “New Envoy Hopes to Expand Trade with Aussies,” Straits Times, 29 September 1966, 1; “S’pore’s ‘More Trade’ Bid,” Straits Times, 13 August 1966, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Cricket Loving Envoy.”
21. “Stewart Now Top Man in Foreign Office,” Straits Times, 12 December 1969, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Ivan Lim, “Career Men for Foreign Missions,” New Nation, 8 April 1972, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Liu, Singapore Foreign Service, 107; “Stanley Stewart (1910–1992),” in Eurasian Association (Singapore), Our City, Our Home: Singapore Eurasians 1965–2015 (Singapore: Eurasian Association, 2015), 83. (Call no. RSING 305.80405957 OUR)
23. National Stadium Corporation, Annual Report 1972 (Singapore: National Stadium Corporation, 1973), 1 (Call no. RCLOS 354.595706858 NSCAR); “A Man of ‘Firsts‘,” 55; Liu, Singapore Foreign Service, 95. 
24. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520; “Former Top Civil Servant Stewart Dies at 81.”
25. Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 89; David Gan, “Watchdog Council Keeps Room for New Govt,” Straits Times, 3 May 1970, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 89.
27. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 520.
28. Cardoza and Cardoza, “Prominent Eurasians in Singapore’s History,” 89.
29. “Former Top Civil Servant Stewart Dies at 81.”
30. J. V. Morais, ed., Leaders of Malaya and Who’s Who (Kuala Lumpur: J.V. Morais, 1959), 364 (Call no. RCLOS 920.0595 LEA); “A Public Servant of Distinction,” 20.

The information in this article is valid as of December 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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