Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Samuel Stephens (1808–1840)

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Samuel Stephens (1808-1840), company manager, was born in England, the eighth son of Rev. John Stephens and brother of Edward. He was connected for some time with a Birmingham commercial house but after a quarrel with his minister over the powers of the Wesleyan Conference, was censured by a circuit meeting and lost his job. In May 1835 he appealed to George Fife Angas for an assistant surveyorship in South Australia. Although unsuccessful he was appointed Angas's London agent, helped to form the South Australian Co. and became its first colonial manager. He sailed in the Duke of York in February 1836 and on 27 July was the first of the new settlers to step ashore at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island. He had a seven year contract and wide discretionary powers which he exercised with exuberance. After sketchily settling the company's headquarters at Kingscote he turned to the mainland, where he bought many sections for the company at the original auction of Adelaide and reserved others at the port. He gave generous advances to settlers and involved the company in the import of foodstuffs and livestock. In the van of every project, he was too busy to write careful dispatches, and in less than a year his outlay of £14,000 and poor accounting alarmed the directors in London. Angas was scandalized by reports of disorder and drunkenness among the company's indentured labourers on Kangaroo Island. In April 1837 David McLaren arrived as the company's commercial manager and Stephens was demoted. He was suspended in November after a fracas at the company's whaling station in Encounter Bay, where he was charged with killing a sailor from a rival fishery.

Out of office Stephens's character deteriorated and he became excitable and intemperate, but his excellent judgment of soil and stock was in constant demand by exploration parties and landbuyers, including the company. He was returning from an expedition to the River Murray on 18 January 1840 when he recklessly raced his horse over a steep hill and was killed. He was buried in Adelaide, survived by his wife Charlotte Hudson, née Beare, whom he had married in the John Pirie at Nepean Bay on 24 September 1836. She lived in retirement, for a time supported by her brother-in-law Edward, until her death in 1875 at the age of 93.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. Perkins, South Australia: An Agricultural and Pastoral State in the Making (Adel, 1939)
  • D. Pike, Paradise of Dissent (Melb, 1957)
  • I. A. Diamond, History of South Australian Co: The First Decade (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1955).

Citation details

'Stephens, Samuel (1808–1840)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




18 June, 1840 (aged ~ 32)
South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

horse riding accident

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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