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Stephen, Alfred Hamilton (1826–1884)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Alfred Hamilton Stephen (1826-1884), by Thomas Griffiths Wainewright

Alfred Hamilton Stephen (1826-1884), by Thomas Griffiths Wainewright

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124067729

Alfred Hamilton Stephen (1826-1884), Anglican clergyman, was born on 24 April 1826 at Hobart Town, eldest son of Sir Alfred Stephen and his first wife Virginia, née Consett. After his early education in Van Diemen's Land, he reached Sydney in the Medway in May 1839 with his father and stepmother. He continued his education at the Sydney College under W. T. Cape, where he became head boy and won Sir John Jamison's medal for classics. In 1845 he matriculated as a pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1849; M.A., 1884). He was befriended by his father's cousin James Stephen and met the English branch of his family. Made deacon on 3 June 1849 by Bishop Blomfield of London, in September he returned to Sydney and acted as immigration chaplain. Bishop Broughton ordained him priest on 23 June 1850 and licensed him as curate of Christ Church St Laurence on 1 July.

Stephen took services in the outlying district of the parish and in 1854 began a school at Redfern. When the church of St Paul in Cleveland Street was opened the next year he became incumbent and remained until 1884. He saw the church completed, a new school and parsonage built and the parish subdivided. It was a mixed area with substantial middle-class houses and a working-class district connected with the railway-yards. Stephen lacked oratory and sustained scholarship (he published only a few sermons), but was an effective preacher and a sound administrator; he excelled as a pastor and counsellor: the tendency to conceit that his family had noted in him as a young man gave way to great kindliness. Canon W. H. Walsh likened him to Nathaniel, 'in whom there was no guile'.

Stephen's university background and family connexions led him to join the movement for an Anglican college affiliated with the University of Sydney. He supported his father's policy against Bishop Tyrrell and became joint secretary with Robert Johnson of the appeal committee, secretary to the St Paul's College council and a fellow in 1855-84. In 1863 'after examination in the School of Classical Philology and History', he was awarded an M.A. by the university. He did not follow Sir Alfred's lead in other Church affairs: at the 1858 conference he had voted against his father's amendment to make the proposed bill for synodical government an enabling measure only. Stephen gradually lost sympathy with the High Churchmanship associated with Broughton, Walsh and his father and stepmother; he moved towards a Low Church position in the episcopate of Bishop Barker, but was not a party man. In synod he was independent, though he was chiefly notable for his championing of the autonomy of the clergy. He was a member of the editorial board of the Australian Churchman, rural dean of South Sydney and in 1869 a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral. In 1873 he visited England.

As befitted his personal and ecclesiastical connexions Stephen did much philanthropic work. He served on the committees of the Church of England Temperance Society, the local auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Sydney Ragged Schools and, from 1850, the Benevolent Society of New South Wales. A director of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary in 1852-54 and 1859-68, he was its honorary secretary in 1855-58 and a vice-president in 1869-84. In 1852 he was founding secretary and later president of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children, which had 'greatly disappointed my expectations'. In April 1882 he was appointed to the Immigration Board.

Stephen suffered a stroke in December 1883. He retired from active work though not from office and died of Bright's disease at Hunters Hill on 20 July 1884. After one of the largest funerals accorded by Sydney to an Anglican clergyman he was buried at St Jude's, Randwick. He was survived by his wife Rebecca Maria (d.1901), daughter of George Cox of Winbourne and granddaughter of William Cox, whom he had married at Mulgoa on 5 May 1852, and by two sons and four daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £2560. Over £1000 was raised in his memory: part was spent on memorial plaques at the Randwick Asylum and St Paul's and on the improvement of his church; the balance was used for a scholarship at St Paul's College.

Select Bibliography

  • St Paul's Church, Redfern, Diamond Jubilee (Syd, 1915)
  • R. M. Bedford, Think of Stephen (Syd, 1954)
  • Church of England diocese of Sydney, Votes and Proceedings of Synod (1866-84)
  • Australian Churchman (Sydney), 24 July 1884
  • Church of England Record (Sydney), 1 Aug 1884
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Aug 1855
  • Sydney Mail, 26 July 1884
  • H. W. H. Huntington, Life and Career of the Hon. Sir Alfred Stephen (1884, State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bishop's Act books and registers (Sydney Diocesan Registry).

Additional Resources

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Stephen, Alfred Hamilton (1826–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stephen-alfred-hamilton-1293/text7647, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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