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Sir Colin Campbell Stephen (1872–1937)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Sir Colin Campbell Stephen (1872-1937), solicitor and horseman, was born on 3 May 1872 at Woodside, South Kingston (Stanmore), Sydney, fourth of seven children of native-born parents Septimus Alfred Stephen, solicitor, and his wife Lucy, daughter of Robert Campbell; he was also a grandson of Sir Alfred Stephen. Colin was educated at All Saints' College, Bathurst, and privately tutored in England for three years. Quick of eye and quick of tongue (despite shyness and a slight stammer), he was ambidextrous and good at games.

The only one of his siblings to live in Australia, Stephen returned to Sydney in 1890 and was articled to C. S. de Grey Cowper, a solicitor and partner in (M. C.) Stephen, Jaques & Stephen. Colin was admitted to practice on 30 May 1896 and to a partnership on 1 July. He married Dorothy (d.1935), daughter of E. W. Knox, on 26 October 1899 with Anglican rites at All Saints' Church, Woollahra; they lived at Llanillo, Bellevue Hill. As a trustee and executor of several large estates, Stephen did much work for 'his personal friends'. In that capacity he was questioned about his father's station by the royal commission into the administration of the Lands Department in 1905.

A noted amateur rider, Stephen first won at Randwick in 1892 on his own horse Pro-Consul. From 152 mounts between 1891 and 1903, he had 58 wins, including the Bong Bong Picnic Race and Tirranna cups. He bred, owned and raced horses: after 1904 they were mainly the progeny of his mare Elvo and were trained by Tom Payten; carrying his pale blue colours and white cap, Fidelity won the Maribyrnong Plate in 1935. A leading polo player, Stephen had been a member of the governor-general Lord Denman's team which won the [Countess of] Dudley Cup in 1912. Stephen was president of the New South Wales Polo Association (1929-37) and of the Australasian Polo Council from 1927.

A committee-member of the Australian Jockey Club from 1912, he sat on (Sir) Adrian Knox's sub-committee which framed the rules of racing that year. As chairman of the A.J.C. from October 1919, Stephen was determined 'to make racing in New South Wales a clean and healthy pastime'. His revised rules were adopted throughout Australia in 1933. After protracted litigation and an appeal to the Privy Council, in 1936 he eventually won the right for the A.J.C. committee to disqualify the bookmaker Rufe Naylor.

A notary public from 1928, Stephen became senior partner of one of the best-known legal firms in Sydney. His clients included the Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax family, the Australian Mutual Provident Society, the 'coal baron' John Brown, actress Maud Jeffries and circus proprietor Philip Wirth. Through his connexion with Brown, Stephen was chairman (1926-37) of Abermain Seaham Collieries Ltd which merged with J. & A. Brown in 1932. He was a local director of the National Bank of Australasia, chairman of the Scottish Hospital and a member of the Union Club.

Spare and blue-eyed, with a thin, 'alert and thoughtful face', Stephen had a 'shrewd and analytical mind', a high conception of duty and a capacity to master detail. His versatility, experience and 'formidable strength of character' led many to seek his advice. He was knighted in January 1935. Diagnosed as having suffered from mitral stenosis since his youth, Stephen died of a coronary occlusion at Llanillo on 14 September 1937 and was cremated. His son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1906, 2, p 1 (580)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Nov 1922, 14 July 1923, 18 June 1924, 2 Mar 1932, 3 Aug 1934, 1 Jan, 1 Mar 1935, 27 Feb, 15, 16 Sept 1937
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5 Mar 1925
  • C. C. Stephen letter books (privately held)
  • L. C. Stephen, History of Stephen, Jaques & Stephen (typescript, privately held)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Stephen, Sir Colin Campbell (1872–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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