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Stevenson, George (1799–1856)

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

George Stevenson (1799-1856), editor, was born on 13 April 1799 at Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland, England, the son of a gentleman farmer, who died when he was 12. He went to sea in an East Indiaman, returned to Scotland and briefly studied medicine. He then worked on his brother's ranch in Canada, visited Central America and the West Indies, and returned to England in 1830. He claimed that in 1835 he became joint editor of the Globe; more probably he was only a travelling correspondent, and he was heavily in debt to the owner, Colonel Robert Torrens. Next year he was appointed secretary to the governor and clerk of the council in the new province of South Australia. He also applied to Lord Glenelg for appointment as protector of Aborigines, because of his experience with North American Indians and his benevolent character. On 12 May 1836 at St George's, Hanover Square, London, he married Margaret Gorton, of Chester, one of the witnesses being Henry Lytton Bulwer. His wife was the daughter of John Gorton, who had been an assistant editor of the Globe; she had helped to prepare his A General Biographical Dictionary published in London in 1828.

Before leaving England Stevenson gave evidence before the select committee on the disposal of waste lands in the British colonies. Although claiming that 'incessant engagement in political warfare was not consonant to his taste', he entered into an agreement to produce a newspaper in the colony, with Robert Thomas as manager and printer, and himself as editor. The first number of the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register appeared in London on 18 June 1836, announcing that `the intention of publishing its second number in a city of the wilderness of which the site is yet unknown, may appear to many more chimerical than interesting'. Stevenson sailed in the Buffalo, with Governor (Sir) John Hindmarsh, and arrived on 28 December 1836 at Holdfast Bay where he read the governor's first proclamation to the assembled colonists. Stevenson won the confidence of Hindmarsh and was sent to report on the lawless state of Kangaroo Island. He then joined the opposition to the capital site chosen by Colonel William Light, and later to supporters of the resident commissioner, (Sir) James Fisher. After the second number of the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register appeared in Adelaide on 3 June 1837, Stevenson's fiery articles aggravated antagonism to the governor, and after the third issue J. H. Fisher, Light and others began planning a second newspaper, the Southern Australian, edited by Charles Mann and John Brown. After Governor George Gawler arrived, Stevenson resigned his official appointments and his exposure of George Milner Stephen soon led to separation of the Government Gazette and the Register. Later criticism of Gawler lost him a share in the government printing. In 1840 he became associated with the Port Lincoln special survey. He was twice elected to the Municipal Corporation of Adelaide, serving as alderman in 1840-41.

Although Stevenson withdrew from the South Australian Register in 1842 he returned to journalism three years later and revived the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register, changing Colonial to Mining in October 1847. Although a Presbyterian, he had some part in founding the Collegiate School of St Peter. In 1849 his inveterate exposures brought him public blows from (Sir) Robert Torrens, but he later won a Pyrrhic victory in court. In March 1852 his newspaper ceased publication, and after a brief visit to the Victorian goldfields he was appointed coroner in Adelaide. He died at his home, Lytton Lodge, in Finniss Street, North Adelaide, on 19 October 1856. He was survived by one daughter who married E. V. De Mole, and two sons, one of whom, George John William, became member for East Torrens in the House of Assembly in 1871-75 and attorney-general in the Ayers ministry in 1872-73.

Stevenson was an enthusiastic horticulturist and often lectured on the subject. He helped to form the local Natural History Society and his own garden and orchard were among the best in early Adelaide, his experiments proving of great value. As a journalist he was never pompous or pedantic, but his strong opinions were expressed with fearless vigour and provoked much controversy.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bonwick, Early Struggles of the Australian Press (Lond, 1890)
  • G. H. Pitt, The Press in South Australia 1836 to 1850 (Adel, 1946)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 12 Nov 1936
  • G. Stevenson journal (in Angas papers, State Records of South Australia)
  • Stevenson to Glenelg, 23 Apr 1836, CO 13/5.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Stevenson, George (1799–1856)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stevenson-george-2699/text3785, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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