Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stephen, Septimus Alfred (1842–1901)

by Martha Rutledge

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

This is a shared entry with Montagu Consett Stephen

Montagu Consett Stephen (1827-1872), and Septimus Alfred Stephen (1842-1901), solicitors, were the second and seventh sons of Sir Alfred Stephen. Consett was born on 28 April 1827 in Hobart Town, son of his father's first wife Virginia, née Consett. He had his early schooling in Hobart and in May 1839 accompanied his father to Sydney in the Medway. He was educated at the Sydney College under W. T. Cape, where he won several prizes for mathematics, and in 1843 at Tonbridge, England. In May 1844 he returned to Van Diemen's Land and was articled to Robert Pitcairn. On 13 July 1849 he was admitted as a solicitor in Hobart, worked in the office of Butler and Nutt and in August was back in Sydney. On 22 December he was admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of New South Wales despite an objection by William Redman that he was not properly qualified.

On 1 January 1850 Stephen set up in practice with Charles Lowe as Lowe and Stephen, and in September was a member of the managing committee of the New South Wales Association for Preventing the Revival of Transportation. In 1849-53 he was closely involved professionally with Sir Charles Nicholson, a trustee of the £5000 Consett family trust fund, which his father wanted to lend out on mortgage. In 1850 his father told Nicholson, 'I am sure you may safely rely on [Consett's] caution, & knowledge of law—especially conveyancing law—in all such matters'. Lowe and Stephen were solicitors for the Australian Mutual Provident Society from 1850 until their partnership was dissolved in March 1852; he was reappointed as the society's sole solicitor in March 1853 and in 1857 drafted its first Act of incorporation. He practised alone until 1864 when the firm became Stephen and Stephen.

On 25 May 1853 he had married Emily Clara (d.1878), daughter of Rev. J. Jennings Smith. In 1862 he built Quambi, a large house in Woollahra. Although sociable he devoted his leisure to botany, astronomy and natural history. A committee-man of the Volunteer Club, Stephen became an alderman on the Woollahra Borough Council in 1868 and was mayor in 1868-70. He was also a trustee and director of the Perpetual Building and Investment Society and a councillor of the Law Institute of New South Wales. In the 1860s with Edward Knox he held one run in the Moreton and six runs in the Burnett districts of Queensland. A devout Anglican, he was a member of the first and second Sydney Diocesan synods in 1866 and 1870 and an active member of the standing committee; in 1869 he was a lay representative on the Provincial Synod.

In 1869, standing as an independent, but in favour of the 1866 Public Schools Act and 'anti-protection', Stephen was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Canterbury and was a member of the Elections and Qualifications Committee. He resigned on 13 December 1870 and, in delicate health, visited England with his family. He died in London of diseased kidneys on 19 May 1872 and was buried at St Jude's, Randwick, Sydney, in September.

Septimus Alfred was born on 8 May 1842, second son of his father's second wife Eleanor Martha Pickard, née Bedford. He was educated by Rev. T. H. Wilkinson at the Meads, Ashfield, and at Rev. W. H. Savigny's Collegiate School, Cook's River. In 1858 he was articled to his brother Consett; his admission as a solicitor to the Supreme Court was moved by Sir William Manning on 2 July 1864, and in November he was taken into partnership by his brother, with a fifth of the business. 'Clever, lively, energetic and handsome', Stephen married Lucy (d.1914), daughter of Robert Campbell junior on 31 December; she had fifteen bridesmaids and their health was proposed by the governor, Sir John Young. They lived at Rialto Terrace, Upper William Street, until 1868 when they moved to Woodside, Enmore (Petersham).

Under Septimus the firm continued to act as confidential advisers to the A.M.P. Society; they also became solicitors for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Joint Stock Bank. In 1868 Stephen became a notary public and in the 1870s was a director of the Perpetual Building and Investment Society. With new partners the firm had several changes of name until 1888 when it became known as Stephen, Jaques and Stephen. In 1879 in evidence before the royal commission into the working of the Real Property Acts, Stephen claimed to have 'a large amount of practice, principally in conveyancing', and criticized the long delays getting titles and simple matters through the Land Titles Office.

In 1882-87 Stephen represented Canterbury in the Legislative Assembly. An independent supporter of (Sir) Alexander Stuart's government, he opposed the Dibbs-Jennings ministry allegedly because 'his capitalist instincts are alarmed at “The Deficit”, and … he blames the Government for keeping the House sitting so late of nights'. He carried the Settled Estates Act and three private Acts. In 1887-1900 he sat in the Legislative Council.

In 1881 with George Cox, Vincent Dowling and his brother-in-law, E. W. Ward, Stephen invested in cattle stations on the Diamantina River in south-west Queensland; their runs were consolidated in 1899 as Connemara. They had another run, Pillicawarina near Warren, used for fattening cattle. Profitable in the 1880s, the enterprise ran into difficulties in the 1890s with the long drought and selectors on Pillicawarina. By 1901 Connemara had lost £124,000 of which Stephen's share was £74,000.

Despite his charm, he was also quick-tempered, sometimes conceited and 'dearly loved a lord': a Union Club committee-man, he enjoyed gambling and cards, and played whist at his London club. For many years a committee-man of the Australian Jockey Club, Stephen raced a number of horses but never won a big race. He owned a country house, Elvo, at Burradoo, a half-share in Elizabeth Farm and other real estate in and near Sydney. In 1888-89 he took his family on a visit to Britain. He complained to his cousin, Percy Bedford, that 'Racing here at most places isn't much fun', but he supervised the colts that James White had sent to England. In 1889 he hired two houseboats at Henley for the regatta and claimed that 'having made a big splash [I] shall retire into obscurity. The only thing that I can guarantee is the liquor and of that there shall be no stint'.

From 1870 Stephen had sat on the Sydney Diocesan synods and in 1896 was a lay representative to the General Synod and a lay member of St Andrew's Cathedral Chapter. He was a life member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1879 and a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute from 1888. In the 1890s he was president of the Hospital for Sick Children, Glebe, a director of Sydney Hospital in 1894-95, the Seaham Colliery Co. and the Australian Mortgage and Agency Co.

In 1896 Stephen went to live in London and negotiated on the reconstruction of the Australian Joint Stock Bank. He practised in partnership with George Slade and was a London director of the Australian Mortgage, Land and Finance Co. and of the Chillagoe Railway and Mines Co. He died of a gastric ulcer at Enbridge Lodge, East Woodhay, Hampshire, on 28 August 1901, survived by his wife, five sons and two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £104,105. His second son Colin, a partner in Stephen, Jaques and Stephen, and chairman of the Australian Jockey Club, was his only child to live in Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • Ex-M.L.A., Our Present Parliament, What it is Worth (Syd, c1886)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1870-71, 4, 908, 1879-80, 5, 1110
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June, 16 Dec 1842, 22 Dec 1849, 1 Jan 1850, 16 Dec 1869, 3 July 1872, 10 Oct 1885, 1 Sept 1901
  • Bulletin, 30 Dec 1882
  • Town and Country Journal, 7 May 1887, 7 Sept 1901
  • R. I. Parsons, Lawyers in the New South Wales Parliament, 1870-1890 (Ph.D. thesis, Macquarie University, 1973)
  • L. C. Stephen, History of the Office (held by Stephen, Jaques and Stephen, Syd)
  • Sir Charles Nicholson papers in Norton, Smith & Co. papers, vol 35 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • letter-books and papers (privately held).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Stephen, Septimus Alfred (1842–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stephen-septimus-alfred-1284/text7653, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 2 August 2014.

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

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