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Stevens, Edward (1858–1930)

by T. A. Hazell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Edward Stevens (1858-1930), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 21 July 1858 in London, son of John Jeeves Stevens, solicitor's clerk, and his wife Susannah, née Card. Obliged to leave school at an early age, Edward found employment in minor clerical and accounting positions in city branches of the London and Westminster Bank. Deeply interested all his life in scholarship and learning, he assiduously attended lectures in the extension programme of the University of London and supported the Toynbee Hall movement which was designed to bring education to London's poor.

Attracted by greater opportunities in Australia, Edward and his brothers George and Frederick left England for Melbourne in 1885. Edward immediately found employment with the firm of Henry and Howard Berry, salt merchants and importers. Commencing in a comparatively junior position, he rose rapidly through the ranks and by 1913 was a director. In 1920 he became managing director of its associated companies.

A patriotic supporter of Australia's involvement in World War I, he was a generous donor to public causes and in countless private ways. After the death on active service of his only son, Stevens helped in the foundation of returned servicemen's associations. As chairman of the Prahran repatriation committee, he not only financed the committee's welfare activities to a substantial extent, but also took a personal interest in finding employment for returned servicemen. His generosity extended to war widows and orphans for whom he financed housing. In the 1920s Stevens' opinions were greatly respected by Melbourne's businessmen among whom he was renowned for his courtesy and ready availability. A modest person, he was reluctant to accept positions of office-bearer in most of the organizations in which he participated. Foremost of these was the University of Melbourne where Stevens—a council-member (1926-30) with a particular involvement in the finance and buildings committees—provided a strong link with the business community. With his wife, he gave several benefactions to the university, including the clock in the tower of the Arts building (presented in memory of their son), a stained-glass window designed by Napier Waller in Wilson Hall, and a large donation for landscaping.

Interested in literature, history and the arts, in particular those of the Elizabethan era, Stevens was an active member and president of the Shakespeare Society. He was also a member of the Royal Empire Society, the Royal Society of St George, the Wallaby Club, the Rotary Club of Melbourne, the Athenaeum Club, and the Town and Country Union of which he was first president. His wife Eliza, née Snelgrove (d.1952)—whom he had married with Anglican forms in the parish church at Woodford, Essex, England, on 2 July 1883—shared his scholarly and literary interests.

Stevens died at Richmond on 4 November 1930 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery. The bulk of his estate, sworn for probate in Victoria at £51,611, was divided between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1936)
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Nov 1930
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Nov 1930
  • Council of University of Melbourne, minute book, 7 Apr, 1 Dec 1930 (Central Registry, University of Melbourne).

Citation details

T. A. Hazell, 'Stevens, Edward (1858–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stevens-edward-8652/text15129, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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