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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Stephen, Hon. Sir Alfred

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Stephen, Hon. Sir Alfred, G.C.M.G., C.B., M.L.C., ex-Lieut.-Governor of New South Wales, is the third son of the late John Stephen (sometime Puisne Judge, New South Wales, who died in Sydney in 1833), and was born on August 20th, 1802, in the West Indies, but received his education at the Charterhouse School.[1] He accompanied his father, who was then Solicitor-General of St. Christopher, to that island, and when only fifteen served as Second Lieutenant in the local corps of Fusiliers raised for the defence of the island. In 1818 he returned to England, and entered at Lincoln's Inn in May of that year, being called to the bar in Nov. 1823. He practised for a short time as an equity draftsman, and in 1824, having married Virginia, daughter of Matthew Consett, a merchant of London, emigrated to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania), where in April 1825 he assumed office as Crown Solicitor and Solicitor-General. In April 1832, whilst on his passage to England, he was gazetted Attorney-General, and discharged the duties of that office from 1833 to 1839, in April of which year he was appointed by Sir George Gipps, Governor-General of New South Wales, a Judge of the Supreme Court of that colony. In Oct. 1844 he succeeded Sir James Bowling as Chief Justice of New South Wales, and was knighted in August 1846. Ten years later, on the initiation of parliamentary government, he was nominated to the legislative Council, and was president of that body from May 1856 to Jan. 1857, when he resigned the chair of the house, and his seat in the following year. Sir Alfred was president of the New South Wales Commission for the Paris International Exhibition in 1855, and was created C.B. in 1862. In 1872 he administered the government of the colony during the interregnum which occurred between the departure of Lord Belmore and the arrival of Sir Hercules Robinson; and in the next year he resigned the Chief Justiceship and retired on a pension of £1820 per annum. In the following year he was created K.C.M.G., and in Nov. 1875, by royal warrant, Lieut.-Governor of New South Wales "with succession to the government as administrator thereof on the death or absence of the Governor." He has been a member of the Legislative Council continuously since March 1875, with the exception of some short intervals during which he has been discharging vice-regal functions, when he has formally resigned and been successively reappointed. Sir Alfred Stephen, who is a member of the council and of the senate of Sydney University, a trustee of the Australian Museum, of the National Art Gallery and of the public parks, and a director of the Prince Alfred Hospital, was a member of the Board of National Education until its dissolution in 1866, and was vice-president of the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879. His first wife having died in 1837, he married secondly, in 1839, Eleanor, daughter of the late Rev. William Bedford, D.D., Senior Chaplain of Tasmania, who died in 1886. He was created G.C.M.G. in 1884. Before 1825— the year of Sir Alfred Stephen's first appointment in Van Diemen's Land—that colony was, as the "Colonial Office List" points out, mainly a receptacle for convicts. A free immigrant population, however, had commenced, and in 1825 the colony obtained an independent legislature. Legislation on a multiplicity of subjects became necessary, from the most primitive to the creating of courts, the introduction of jury trials, and the prevention and punishment of crime. In the preparation and passing of these measures, in suggestions to the Government respecting penal discipline, and other legal questions, he had a large share. For these services he received the thanks of Sir George Arthur, the Lieut.-Governor, with a recommendation for advancement. On appointment to New South Wales he received addresses signed by nearly every member of the Tasmanian parliament and magistracy, and from the leading colonists and the bar, accompanied by the presentation of pieces of plate. He sat on the bench of New South Wales for thirty-two years, adding to his judicial duties the authorship of several legislative measures—among them the Titles to Land Act, and the Criminal Law Consolidation and Amendment Act. In 1879 he advised on the remodelling of letters patent to governors, and framed the new clauses in them and in the royal instructions. On his retirement from the position of Chief Justice, in 1873, he was presented with addresses by his brother judges, several bodies of the magistracy, the bar, and solicitors; and by the public with a purse of a thousand guineas and his bust in marble, which was placed by the Legislative Council on the walls of their chamber. Sir Alfred Stephen may be regarded as the originator of those alterations in the Marriage Law of Australia which have tended to place women on an equality with men in the matter of divorce, and have extended to them a measure of protection in case of the prolonged brutality, drunkenness or imprisonment of their husbands, which is as yet only a matter of hope in the United Kingdom on the part of the champions of their sex. In 1891 Sir Alfred Stephen retired from the position of Lieutenant-Governor on the plea of age and infirmities, and was thanked by the Colonial Office in a special despatch to the Governor.


  1. No entry in publication of students roll, see List of Carthusians, 1800–1879 (Wikisource contributor note)