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Stephens, Edward (1811–1861)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Edward Stephens (1811-1861), by unknown photographer

Edward Stephens (1811-1861), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 9502

Edward Stephens (1811-1861), bank manager, was born on 19 October 1811 in London, the tenth child of Rev. John Stephens (1772-1841), sometime president of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, and his wife Rebecca Eliza, née Rayner. Among his brothers was Joseph Rayner Stephens (1805-1879), who became a Wesleyan minister, but was suspended for political activity in 1834, arrested in December 1838 for disturbing the public peace as a Chartist and sentenced to imprisonment for eighteen months. Edward was a clerk and assistant cashier in the Hull Banking Co. from 1833 until 1836 when he was appointed cashier and accountant of the South Australian Co. He sailed for South Australia with his wife Emma, née Harrison, in the Coromandel and on 17 January 1837 arrived at Holdfast Bay. There he set up his office in a tent but at first business was slight. He was induced to sign a letter to Governor (Sir) John Hindmarsh asking for a public meeting to reconsider the site of Adelaide. Although in February the meeting decided in favour of Colonel William Light's choice Stephens did not hesitate to buy eight city acres (3.2 ha) when they were auctioned, and later became very friendly with Light. Stephens fell foul of Hindmarsh and was rebuked by George Fife Angas for dabbling in politics, but he became more judicious under David McLaren and was appointed a justice of the peace. In 1840 when the company's business was divided Stephens became the Adelaide manager of the South Australian Banking Co. He steered it 'tactfully and forcefully' through the depression, although he lost the government account by refusing to comply with Governor (Sir) George Grey's demands. When mineral ores were discovered Stephens was quick to send to England samples of silver-lead and copper for testing, and he was one of the first to visit the Burra copper deposits; his own investment in the area was small but the bank profited greatly from his energetic promotion of it.

As a zealous Wesleyan Stephens was active in establishing Methodism in Adelaide. The first Methodist sermon had been preached in his tent at Holdfast Bay and the first class meetings were held in his home on North Terrace. He was largely responsible for building the first two Methodist chapels in Adelaide and providing them with ministers. He was also chairman of the League for the Preservation of Religious Freedom, a strenuous position in 1846 when state aid to churches was introduced. Acceptance of aid by the Wesleyans so shocked Stephens that he withdrew and formed the short-lived Representative Methodist Church.

In 1849 the South Australian Banking Co. made a profit of £15,000 and declared a dividend of 6 per cent on its paid up capital of £180,000. Two years later Stephens visited England with his wife and thereby missed the crisis over the Bullion Act. On his return to Adelaide he stood as a conservative candidate for West Adelaide in the Legislative Council election in 1853; although defeated he was compensated with a seat as a government nominee. He served on the civil list committee but took little part in revising the colony's proposed constitutional bill. In 1855 he toured the colonies of eastern Australia and returned to London. There he continued to serve South Australia on committees for conferences, reunions and exhibitions. He died on 28 February 1861, and his wife on 4 December 1871, at Howard Lodge, Maida Vale.

Select Bibliography

  • G. J. Holyoake, The Life of Joseph Rayner Stephens (Lond, 1881)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957).

Citation details

'Stephens, Edward (1811–1861)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stephens-edward-2696/text3779, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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