Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stephens, Edward James (1846–1931)

by L. J. Blake

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

Edward James Stephens (1846-1931), newspaper editor and publisher, was born on 17 October 1846 in London, son of George Stephens, coachsmith, and his wife Amelia, née Ford. The family reached Melbourne in the Result in October 1853, revisited England in 1860, and then returned to Victoria. After a five-year apprenticeship with James Curtis, owner of Caxton Printing Works, Ballarat, Stephens began publication of a trade gazette. His friend James Merson advised that the spread of settlement in the Wimmera indicated good prospects for a newspaper in the selectors' tiny supply centre, Horsham.

In 1873 Stephens found that the town lacked rail and telegraph facilities, and that some storekeepers 'preferred the continuance of squatterdom', but he gained the support of Robert Clark, president of Horsham and Wimmera Farmers' and Selectors' Reform Association. Former pack-horse mailman, Constantine Dougherty, arranged rental of part of a log hut in Firebrace Street where, in June, Stephens installed his double demy Albion press, hauled in a wagon from Ballarat. With fellow apprentice Edwin Boase, he worked from Sunday midnight to Tuesday morning, 1 July, when the first issue of the Horsham Times (3d.) appeared. By 1882, with widespread selection on the plains, the paper flourished as the Horsham Times, Dimboola, Warracknabeal, Murtoa, Natimuk, Wail, Rupanyup, Minyip, Drung Drung, Longerenong and Wimmera Advertiser. Liberal in outlook, the editor sought 'to promote the weal of the whole community'. His paper, which helped overcome the selectors' isolation and gave them a common voice, grew into a bi-weekly with commodious quarters in Wilson Street. As one of the Horsham Railway League delegates, he had attended a Legislative Council meeting in December 1880 to urge successfully the building of the intercolonial railway through the town.

On 6 December 1878 Stephens had helped Boase to establish the Dunmunkle Standard (Murtoa) and on 1 February 1879 bought the Dimboola Banner from its founder Henry Barnes. In June 1883 he sold the Times to Fred Martin and retired to live at Finch Street, East Malvern. Losing heavily in land speculation in 1885-86, he established the Broken Hill Times on 21 August 1886. The Broken Hill Argus took over this paper on 20 February 1888. Stephens was also sometime proprietor of the Omeo Telegraph (established 1884), the Warragul News (1887) and the Yarram Chronicle (1886). In 1889 he bought the Nhill Free Press and settled with his family in Nhill, Victoria. He acquired the Kaniva and Lillimur Courier and Serviceton Gazette in July 1890. He incorporated both this paper and the Nhill Mail, bought on 4 January 1901, in the Free Press: both Nhill papers had printed the poems of local farm-hand John Shaw Neilson in the early 1890s. Stephens sold out to Pharez Phillips in June 1909, and at his farewell on 12 February 1910 he was praised 'for helping to guide on a liberal basis the settlement and progress of our great Wimmera district' and for his assistance with 'patriotic and progressive town movements'. Handsome and bearded he was well known as a Presbyterian lay preacher. He loved tennis and cricket and established one of the first literary societies in the Wimmera. He contributed much to the development of the provincial press in both eastern and western Victoria.

On 12 October 1875 Stephens had married Margaret, daughter of George Langlands. In 1910 he and his sons became graziers and wheat-growers at Glen Logan, New South Wales, and in the 1920s he moved to Urana. He died of cerebral thrombosis at Lockhart on 9 December 1931 and was buried at Urana; his wife had died at their home Nargoon on 30 April 1930, aged 84. Two sons and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • L. J. Blake and K. H. Lovett, Wimmera Shire Centenary (Horsham, 1962)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 June 1909
  • Nhill Free Press, 29 June 1909
  • Horsham Times, 29 June 1923
  • private information.

Citation details

L. J. Blake, 'Stephens, Edward James (1846–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stephens-edward-james-4640/text7657, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 24 November 2014.

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

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