Open main menu

STEPHEN, Sir ALEXANDER CONDIE (1850–1908), diplomatist, born at Dudley, Worcastershire, on 20 July 1850, was third and youngest son of Oscar Leslie Stephen (1819-1898) by his wife Isabella, daughter of William Birkmyre. Oscar Leslie Stephen was a director of the London and North Western and chairman of the North London railways, and by his descent from James Stephen of Ardenbraught was third cousin of Sir James Stephen, (1789-1859) [q. v.]. Stephen was at Rugby for rather more than a year (1865-6). Subsequently in 1876 he entered the diplomatic service, and in 1877 was sent as attaché to St. Petersburg. His 'aptitude in foreign languages, especially Russian, assisted his rapid promotion, and having been appointed third secretary at Constantinople in 1879, he was in 1880 put in charge of the consulate -general at Phihppopolls, and thus became the official representative of Great Britain in Eastern Rumelia, the southern province of Bulgaria which had obtained 'autonomy' under that name by the provisions of the treaty of Berlin. At the end of 1881 Stephen, who had been made C.M.G. that year, was promoted second secretary and transferred to Teheran, being then in receipt of special allowances in respect of his knowledge of Russian, Turkish, and Persian. In 1882-3 he was employed on special service in Khorassan, the north-east province of Persia, at that time of critical importance as the neighbour both of Afghanistan and of that part of Central Asia over which the Russian power was extending. In 1884 Stephen was made C.B., and in 1885 was appointed assistant commissioner to Sir Peter Lumsden in the Anglo - Russian Commission for the demarcation of the north-west boundary of Afghanistan. In this capacity he was present at the affray between Russian and Afghan troops at Penjdeh, which involved the danger of war between England and Russia, and he was sent home with the official despatch describing that event. He rode in six days from the Afghan frontier to Astrabad on the Caspian Sea, and delivered his despatch sooner than had been thought possible, but peace had been practically secured by telegraphic communications before his arrival in England. Stephen's next appointment was at Sofia, and he held it when in 1886 Prince Alexander of Bulgaria was kidnapped. It is said that his presence of mind saved the Prince's private papers from falling into the hands of the conspirators. In the following year Stephen was second secretary, first at Vienna and then at Paris. It is probable that had he exerted himself to that end he might have filled the highest positions in his service, but in 1893 he accepted the office of chargé d'affaires at Coburg, and in 1897 was appointed minister resident both to Saxony and Coburg, his services being acknowledged by his creation in 1894 as K.C.M.G., and in 1900 as K.C.V.O. The discharge of his duties at Coburg involved close and constant personal relations with King Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, and various members of the English and the related royal families. In 1901, after the accession of King Edward VII, Stephen retired from the diplomatic service, and became a groom-in-waiting to the king, an appointment which he held until his death. In that situation he made good use of his exceptional acquirements and experience.

He died at 124 Knightsbridge, London, after an operation for appendicitis on 10 May 1908. He was unmarried. He wrote in French a short 'Comédie vaudeville' (1872), and published 'The Demon,' a translation of a Russian poem by Mikhail Yar'evich Lermontov (1875; 2nd edit. 1881), and a volume of stories adapted from Persian originals called 'Fairy Tales of a Parrot' (1892).

A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1902.

[The Times, 11 May 1908; private information; Lodge's Peerage.]

H. S.-n.