Stephen, George (DNB00)

STEPHEN, Sir GEORGE (1794–1879), miscellaneous author, born in 1794, was the fourth son of James Stephen (1758–1832) [q. v.] He was placed under a surgeon at an early age, with a view to an appointment in the medical department of the army; but upon the peace was sent to Magdalene College, Cambridge. He showed more taste for hunting than for study, and was therefore removed, after two years' residence, by his father, and placed in the office of Mr. Freshfield, solicitor to the bank of England. During the trial of Queen Caroline he was sent to the continent to collect evidence. Having completed his five years' apprenticeship, he set up in business for himself. In 1826 Sir Fowell Buxton applied for an inquiry into the report that a slave trade was being carried on at Mauritius with the connivance of the governor. Stephen was employed to collect evidence. The inquiry was dropped in consequence of the governor's death. Stephen was led by his investigations to form a plan for stimulating the anti-slavery agitation. He applied to O'Connell, who gave him advice as to the proposed organisation, and drew up a scheme, which was rejected by the committee of the Anti-Slavery Society. It was then taken up by James Cropper [q. v.] and others. The ‘Agency Committee,’ formed in consequence, arranged for public meetings, and for the promotion of petitions throughout the country, and played an important part in the final agitation (a full account in the Anti-Slavery Recollections). About the same time Stephen was requested by Lord Lyndhurst to act as solicitor under a measure for the relief of pauper prisoners for debt. He had no salary, and advanced sums for the repayment of which there was no provision. In recognition of this service or of his anti-slavery labours he received a knighthood upon the queen's accession. Stephen also wrote pamphlets upon the police and the poor laws. He published in 1835 the ‘Adventures of a Gentleman in search of a Horse,’ which became very popular; and in 1839 the ‘Adventures of an Attorney in search of Practice,’ an amusing work, which, though no names were given, was supposed to contain indiscreet revelations. He had at an early period started a society for the purchase of reversions, to which he acted as solicitor. A quarrel with the directors led to his dismissal, and involved a considerable loss of money. He then gave up his profession in 1847, and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1849. He settled at Liverpool, where for some time he had a fair practice in bankruptcy cases. His business, however, declined upon a change in the system, and in 1855 he emigrated to Melbourne, where two of his sons had obtained appointments. He formed an extremely unfavourable opinion of his fellow-colonists, which he did not conceal. He led a retired life, but obtained some practice at the bar. He died at Melbourne on 20 June 1879. His wife died in 1869. They had seven children, of whom the eldest son, James Wilberforce, who had been fourth wrangler in 1844, and a fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge, emigrated about the same time, and became a judge in the colony.

Stephen was a man of very considerable abilities and force of character. He was upright and outspoken; but a hot temper and an unfortunate talent for seeing the worst side of his profession and his fellow-creatures involved him in many disputes, and injured his career.

Stephen's works are: 1. ‘Practical Suggestions for the Improvement of the Police,’ 1829. 2. ‘Letter … on System of Bread-money in Aid of Wages,’ 1833. 3. ‘Adventures of a Gentleman in search of a Horse,’ by ‘Caveat Emptor,’ 1835; 5th edit., with name, 1841. 4. ‘Letter on the probable Increase of Rural Crime,’ &c. [1836]. 5. ‘The Juryman's Guide,’ 1845. 6. ‘The Jesuit at Cambridge,’ 1847, 2 vols. (a novel). 7. ‘The Niger Trade and the African Blockade,’ 1849. 8. ‘Letter to Sir F. Buxton on the Revival of the English Slave Trade,’ 1849. 9. ‘The Royal Pardon vindicated in the Case of W. H. Barber,’ &c. 1851. 10. ‘Bankruptcy and the Credit Trade,’ 1852. 11. ‘The Principles of Commercial Law explained in a Course of Lectures,’ 1853. 12. ‘Digest of County Court Cases,’ &c. 1853. 13. ‘Anti-Slavery Recollections, in a Series of Letters to Mrs. Beecher Stowe, written at her request,’ 1854. 14. ‘Magisterial Reform,’ 1854. 15. ‘Insolvency Reform,’ 1863. 16. ‘Life of Christ,’ 1871. 17. ‘Memoir of the late James Stephen,’ 1875. Stephen wrote some other pamphlets, and contributed the ‘Clerk,’ the ‘Governess,’ and the ‘Groom’ to Knight's series of ‘Guides to Trade’ in 1838.

[The above Memoir of James Stephen; family papers; Stephen's Life of Sir J. F. Stephen.]

L. S.