Love's Obsession, The lives and archaeology of Jim and Eve Stewart

Love's Obsession

The Lives and Archaeology of Jim and Eve Stewart


Love's Obsession,
The Lives and Archaeology of Jim and Eve Stewart

by Judy Powell


Love’s Obsession is a captivating and well-told story of a brilliant, wealthy, spoilt and difficult individualist, Jim Stewart, who was not only a dedicated and committed numismatist and philatelist but also the first Australian to direct an archaeological excavation outside Australia. Later he would become the first field archaeologist to teach this subject in Australia and finally Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Sydney University. Yet Jim Stewart was also a flawed, hard drinking and chain-smoking individual, obsessed by the need to own the past.

Love’s Obsession is also the story of his second wife Eve Dray who worked alongside him. With her help he achieved international fame. Both Jim and Eve loved the Middle East, especially Cyprus and its people, and passionately devoted their lives to studying its archaeology. Devoted to his memory and herself a trained archaeologist, she worked for more than four decades after his death to complete his work and ensure his legacy.

Jim Stewart, a descendant of a line of Bathurst landed gentry, was born on 3 July 1913 in Australia. As an only child he spent much of his childhood in Europe and adulthood in England. After completing secondary school in Australia he enrolled in 1930, aged 17, at The Leys School in Cambridge and a year later at its University. In January 1932 his mother died leaving him the enormous amount, at that time, of £7000.

After his visit to such places as Bagdad, Damascus, Aleppo and Baalbeck on his way to England in 1932, Jim’s love affair with the Near East had begun and he was soon determined to become an archaeologist. His brilliance as an archaeologist was at times compromised by his eccentricities and cavalier attitude to friends and colleagues alike.

On 1 July 1935 Jim married Eleanor Neal in England and took her for a visit to Australia. Later that same year both left for the Near East on Jim’s Wilkins Fellowship and after a short stay in Cyprus finally finished up in Istanbul in January 1936. Here they spent most of their time digging and collecting. Although archaeology was at that time being transformed from the private past-time of wealthy men to an academic pursuit by professionals, Jim Stewart never made that transition.

He was happy do to things the way he liked it and where and when he liked it. When Germany attacked France, Holland and Belgium in May 1940, Jim volunteered his services and on his own request was posted in Cyprus, which naturally greatly pleased the Cypriots that he chose to serve with them, rather than the Australian forces.

Before leaving England for a short trip to Australia with Eleanor he left £300 for the publication of his work and bequeathed his massive personal library to the Cyprus Museum. He reported for duty at Haifa on 30 January 1941. As it turned out his active combat service was rather of short duration as he was a POW by the end of the year.

During his years of imprisonment Jim was well supplied with reading matter. Aside from reading he spent his internment, as much as possible, developing, expanding and modifying his ideas on the need for more archaeological work in Cyprus. After his liberation by the Americans he returned to England and Eleanor in April 1945.

However after four years of imprisonment he had no idea how the real world had changed. England was impoverished and archaeology at a standstill. No one was interested in his plans. The best he could do was collecting stamps and coins, his other great loves. In 1947 he decided to return to Australia via Cyprus for a planned stay of two weeks.

Two weeks grew into three months after a meeting with Eve who was working there at the time. Before long they were not only committed to Cyprus and archaeology but also to each other. Dorothy Evelyn Dray was born in England in August 1914, grew up in Cairo and travelled regularly with her mother and grandmother between England, Belgium and France.

In 1926 she made her first trip to Cyprus where she returned after her education was completed in 1937. Late in 1938 Eve, who spoke French fluently, moved to France to survey the hill-forts built during the pre-Roman period. When France declared war on Germany Eve enlisted in the First London Motor Division as a driver.

When Jim finally arrived in Sydney, with Eleanor and son Peter, he set about getting a passage for Eve to Australia as she was now listed as his much needed ‘technical assistant’. It took six months before they met once again in Sydney.

Jim was employed at the Sydney University, where he lectured in the History department, and at the Nicholson Museum. During this time he lobbied hard for the establishment of a Department of Archaeology which he achieved in 1948. Jim charmed his young and eager students who found him a gifted teacher and an exceptional lecturer. He inspired them and his staff but for most of the time he irritated university administrators.

Having divorced Eleanor and married Eve in 1951 they both moved to Mount Pleasant at Bathurst. Here he had his own laboratory and a place to have all his books. Both worked ‘from home’ with Jim commuting once a week to the University. It suited them both as they were self-contained and selfish, spoiled and solitary. Now the story also becomes one of devotion to each other, their sheep, turkeys and cats.

They were both extremely happy with their work, each other and, entertaining visitors and students who often stayed for extended periods. However after eight years they both went to Cyprus again with stopovers at Singapore, Colombo, Cairo, where Jim bought coins, stamps and books, 47 boxes in all, and Beirut.

On board ship Eve worked on the first volume planned for publication by the Melbourne Cyprus Expedition, which had financially contributed to their trip. Jim lamented how out of touch and isolated he had become in Australia: ‘one can’t possibly carry on archaeology at Sydney in vacuo, without very close contacts in the East… To work only from books is really quite hopeless.’

Regardless of the political situation in Cyprus they were able to start digging on 17 October 1955, only a week after arrival. When Jim reported his ‘sensational finds’ he was stunned by the lack of interest in Australia. After completing their digging they visited museums and archaeology departments and met archaeologists in Venice, Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Once back at Mount Pleasant they were visited by Professor Gordon Childe, a fellow Australian who had recently retired as Director of the Institute of Archaeology in London. He didn’t see the same need for the study of archaeology in Australia as did Jim and Eve. Childe declared Australian prehistory boring unless you are a flint fanatic.

Jim and Eve continued to work from their Mount Pleasant home and found it hard to cope with all the work and Jim still commuting to Sydney, often staying away for longer than the one day needed for his lecturing. All the hard work did pay off as on 2 August 1960 Jim achieved the recognition he craved when he was appointed Professor of Near Eastern Studies. For the next 18 months he was able to enjoy his achievement and drive the administrators up the wall. He died on 6 February 1962.

He left behind a lot of unfinished work, among it a manuscript and digging reports to name but a few. It was all completed by Eve. There also remained boxes of excavated material which had to be cleaned, photographed, catalogued and analysed. It also had to be returned to its owners, what belonged to the university, what had to go to the museum and what was private property.

In 1966 Eve went back to Cyprus once more for a final dig, which turned out a disaster. On her return she started with reading, correcting, adding, deleting and annotating Jim’s work, even rewriting some of it. Without institutional backing, with limited finance and alone in a dilapidated house she continued their work. In 1988 the first volume of his work in Cyprus was published. A year later, when Eve was 75 she began work on the second volume. Eve died on 8 December 2005, aged 91.

Eve had ensured that Jim’s work survived and that his name lived in more than the memories of a small group of former students. After reading Love’s Obsession, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology Iain Davidson opined, ‘You may not like the man in the end, but you will enjoy a biography and history really well told.’

Judy Powell, an archaeologist and historian, with a PhD in classical archaeology, has also worked in Cyprus, Greece and Jordan. Based on never-before seen personal papers, Judy has with this second book produced a worthy addition to the history of archaeology in Australia and a vivid portrayal of love, devotion, obsession and determination.

Review by Nic Klaassen

Love's Obsession by Judy Powell,
includes black and white photographs, timeline, end notes, bibliography and index.
It is available at $29.95 from
Wakefield Press

Telephone 08 8352 4455


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