It happened on Saturday, April 21, 1900 and it is the very answer to our quest for more information on Robert.
We, and avid researcher Michael O’Mahoney wanted to know more about Robert who became a hero in the Relief of Ladysmith in 1899.
Robert, and the rest of the crew of HMS Powerful, hauled a cannon 189 miles from Durban to Ladysmith, unloaded the gun under rifle fire and a deluge of shells from the Boers, and then relieved Ladysmith.
Thanks to help from the excellent researchers at the Hartlepool Reference Library, and in particular Sandra McKay, we can now reveal more of our hero.
In April 1900, he was the subject of a tribute evening held at the Gladstone Coffee Palace in Mainsforth Terrace.
The full details were recorded for posterity by the Northern Daily Mail at the time.
The article said: “An interesting gathering took place at the coffee palace, the occasion being a presentation to Ordinary Seaman Robert Stewart of HMS Powerful.”
It told how the Mayor, an Alderman McFarlane JP, was in the chair and Seaman Stewart took the place of honour on his right. Also present were the councillors Coates, Weatherall, Laycock, Duguid, Milne and the manager of the steelworks N. Williams.
It was a high powered affair and it started with the Mayor getting to his feet to speak of the trials facing Britain during the Boer War.
He told of the “inexhaustible stock of loyalty to the Empire and Queen Victoria of which the experience of the past few months had proved the existence”.
He said it had been a “testing time” for the country, the Empire, the Army and the Navy but the Forces had come through the “very severe test that was applied to them”.
He said there had been “nothing in the whole campaign that had so attracted the interest and had so affected all of us as the gallant defence of Ladysmith”.
Alderman McFarlane said the arrival of the crew of HMS Powerful was timely. A day later may have been too late.
He said it was to his “great pleasure” that he had learned of a young townsman who was with the naval brigade at Ladysmith.
He said Captain Lambton, who had command of the ship, was a County Durham man and it was no less of an honour that a West Hartlepool lad was a member of that brigade. His comments brought a round of “hear hear” from the packed audience.
And then, as a token of the town’s permanent gratitude, he handed Robert Stewart a silver watch and gold chain with the inscription: “To Ordinary Seaman Robert Stewart of HMS Powerful, from his fellow townsmen, for services rendered to the nation during the siege of Ladysmith.”
Then it was time for Robert to reply. More next week.