Solicitor General of Tasmania, 09/05/1825 - 05/05/1832
Crown Solicitor of Tasmania, 19/05/1825 - 05/05/1832
Attorney-General of Tasmania, 06/05/1832 - 19/09/1837
Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, 30/04/1839 - 26/03/1841
Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, 27/03/1841 - 06/10/1844
Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, 07/10/1844 - 13/11/1845
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court , 14/11/1845 - 05/11/1873
Judge Commissary of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, 07/10/1844 - 05/11/1873
President, Legislative Council of NSW, 20/05/1856 - 28/01/1857
Lieutenant-Governor, 25/11/1875 - 27/04/1891
Administrator of New South Wales, 23/02/1872 - 02/06/1872
Acting Governor of New South Wales, 20/03/1879 - 03/08/1879
Acting Governor of New South Wales, 10/11/1885 - 11/12/1885
Acting Governor of New South Wales, 03/11/1890 - 14/01/1891
Chairman, Commission appointed to inquire into Law Reform, 14/07/1870 - 28/03/1871
Fellow of the Senate, University of Sydney, 1878 - 1887
Member, Council of Education, 29/11/1873 - 30/04/1880
Trustee, Australian Museum, 05/04/1853 - 05/11/1873
Crown Trustee, Australian Museum, 05/02/1880 - 31/12/1889
Trustee of the National Art Gallery of NSW, 25/02/1876 - 31/12/1888
President, New South Wales Commission for the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1855, 23/01/1854 - 31/05/1855
Vice-president, New South Wales Commission for the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1878, 06/11/1877 - 31/10/1878
Vice-president, Sydney International Exhibition Commission, 1879, 31/12/1878 - 20/04/1880
Vice-president, New South Wales Commission for the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886, 16/01/1885 - 04/11/1886
Alfred John Stephen was born at Basseterre, St Christopher (St Kitts), West Indies on 20 August 1802, son of John Stephen and his wife Mary Anne nee Passmore. He was educated in England at the village school in Shefford, Bedfordshire; at Charterhouse, London; at Martock, Somerset; and at Honiton Grammar School, Devonshire. He went back to Basseterre in 1815 and acted as a clerk for his father. Upon returning to England in 1818 Alfred Stephen entered Lincoln's Inn where he read for the Bar under his cousins, Henry and James Stephen. Alfred Stephen was called to the Bar on 20 November 1823. He married his first wife, Virginia Consett, on 22 June 1824 at Holborn, London, and in the same year sailed for Australia. (1)
Stephen and his wife arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, per the 'Cumberland' on 24 January 1825. On 9 May he was appointed Solicitor-General, and ten days later Crown Solicitor. The family visited England in 1832 and he was appointed Attorney General of Tasmania on 6 May whilst in England. They returned to Tasmania on 14 November 1833. The death of his wife on 23 January 1837 and his own ill health caused him to resign on 19 September 1837. He continued in his lucrative private practice. He married again on 21 July 1838 to Eleanor Martha Pickard Bedford. (2)
On 30 April 1839 Stephen was appointed an Acting Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales during the absence on leave of Justice William W Burton. The family arrived in Sydney on 7 May 1839 per the 'Medway' and he was sworn in on 9 May. Stephen was appointed a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court, following Burton's return to New South Wales and the appointment of Justice John H Willis as resident Judge at Port Phillip. Stephen was sworn in on 27 March 1841. While a Puisne Judge, he gradually introduced the Westminster system of pleading at Common Law and drafted the Administration of Justice Act that allowed for Circuit Courts. On 7 October 1844, he was appointed Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court following the death of Sir James Dowling and the departure of Burton to Madras. His permanent appointment as Chief Justice was gazetted on 14 November 1845. (3)
Whether as Chief Justice or a Member of Parliament, Stephen was an advocate of law reform. He was absent on leave from the Supreme Court from 15 February 1860, while he visited England, resuming his duties on 18 February 1861. In 1870-1871 he was Chairman of the Law Reform Commission and largely responsible for drafting the Criminal Law Amendment Act, first presented to Parliament in 1872 but not carried until 1883. Stephen tendered his resignation as Chief Justice on 12 June 1873 to take effect from 5 November. (4)
The Chief Justice was automatically the Judge Commissary of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, although Stephen delegated this role. He persuaded the Master in Equity, Samuel Frederick Milford, to become the surrogate and Deputy Judge Commissary of Vice-Admiralty from 22 October 1844. Stephen resumed the responsibility when Milford became the Resident Judge of Moreton Bay on 1 April 1857. When Stephen sought to resign from the Vice-Admiralty Court in November 1858, he was informed that the Vice-Admiralty appointment was part of the role of Chief Justice. Resignation from one position implied resignation from the other. Milford was appointed the third Puisne Judge for New South Wales on 1 February 1859 and on 9 March 1859 he was again appointed Deputy Judge and Commissary of the Vice-Admiralty Court, a role he occupied until his death on 19 May 1865. Stephen undertook the duties of the Judge Commissary of the Court of Vice-Admiralty from 1865 until his retirement as Chief Justice in 1873, and dealt with a number of black-birding cases.(5)
As Chief Justice, Stephen was also automatically a trustee of the Australian Museum from 1853 to 1873, under An Act to incorporate and endow the Australian Museum, 1853 (17 Vic. Act No.2). This Act replaced the existing Management Committee with a board of twenty-four Trustees. This board was made up of the twelve existing members of the Management Committee and twelve official Trustees: the Chief Justice, the Colonial Secretary, the Attorney General, the Colonial Treasurer, the Auditor General, the Speaker of the Legislative Council, the Solicitor General, the Collector of Customs, the Surveyor General, the Colonial Architect, and the President of the Colonial Medical Board. (6)
Stephen had a two stage Parliamentary career. On 13 May 1856 while still Chief Justice, Stephen was appointed to the new NSW Legislative Council, without pay. His term started on 22 May. On 20 May 1856 he was appointed President of the Legislative Council, a position he occupied until 28 January 1857. While a member of the Council he prepared all the rules and forms of the House and those regarding communication between the two houses of Parliament. He also introduced fourteen law reform bills of which six were passed. When judges were precluded from sitting in Parliament, he resigned his seat on 12 November 1858. (7)
Stephen's second term in the Legislative Council followed his resignation as Chief Justice and lasted from 1875 to 1890. On 8 March 1875 Stephen was appointed a member for life, taking up his position on 23 March and serving till 27 October 1890. He continued his interest in law reform, with four of the eighteen bills he introduced enacted. He acted as unofficial parliamentary draftsman for many private members bills and improved legislation that came up from the Assembly. He was a strong temperance advocate, believing drunkenness damaged all classes of the community. A campaigner for divorce law reform, in February 1886 he moved the first reading of a radical bill to extend the grounds for divorce to cover desertion, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment for at least seven years, and assault. When it was rejected, he reintroduced the bill every session until finally the Divorce Amendment and Extension Act was passed in the session of 1891-1892. (8)
Stephen acted as Governor on four occasions. From 23 February to 2 June 1872, he was administrator at a time when Parliament had been dissolved. On 25 November 1875 he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor and subsequently acted as Governor on three occasions: 20 March to 3 August 1879, 10 November to 11 December 1885, and 3 November 1890 to 14 January 1891. He resigned as Lieutenant-Governor on 27 April 1891. (9)
Stephen held other government positions. He was a member of the Council of Education from 29 November 1873 until 30 April 1880 when the Council ceased. He was Crown Trustee of the Australian Museum from 5 February 1880 till December 1889. He was a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 25 February 1876 till at least December 1888. He was a trustee of Hyde, Phillip and Cook Parks from 8 October 1878 till his death on 15 October 1894. His association with Hyde Park dates from at least 17 December 1851 when he was appointed a member of the Board for directing and carrying out improvements to the park. (10)
Stephen had a long association with the promotion of New South Wales agricultural produce and manufacturing products at Exhibitions. He was a member of New South Wales Commissions that organised what to send for display to the Paris Universal Exhibition (1855), the Paris Universal Exhibition (1878), the Sydney International Exhibition (1879), and the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1886). (11)
Throughout his life Stephen was involved in community work. In Tasmania he was founding vice-president of the Hobart Town Mechanics' Institute (1827), church warden at St. David's (1827-1831), and registrar of the Archdeacon's Court (1828-1831). In the 1840s and 1850s he was a member of the Australian Diocesan Committee, delegate to the Syndical Conference, president of the Sydney Female Refuge Society and of the Sydney Ophthalmic Institute, director of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children, vice-president of the Australasian Botanical and Horticultural Society, chairman of the committee that founded St Paul's Anglican College within the University of Sydney (1855) and a fellow of St. Paul's College Council (1856-1870). In the 1860s he was founder and president of the Home Visiting and Relief Society, director of the Sydney Eye and Ear Institute, and vice-patron of the Orpheonist Society. In the 1870s and 1880s he was a Fellow of the Senate of the University of Sydney (1878-1887), chairman of the Captain Cook Statute Committee (1873), and president of the Civil Service Building Society (1875-1882), the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen, the Charity Organisation Society, and the Industrial Blind Institution, and life director of the Prince Alfred Hospital. (12)
Stephen was the author of a number of publications, including in 1843 'Introduction to the Practice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales' and in 1883, with A Oliver, 'Criminal Law Manual, comprising the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1883'. (13)
On 19 August 1846 Stephen was made a Knight of the United Kingdom and Ireland. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1862; a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1874; a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in 1884; and Australia's second Privy Councillor (PC) in 1893. (14)
Alfred John Stephen died in Sydney on 15 October 1894 survived by five sons and five daughters. One of his sons, Sir Matthew Henry Stephen, and a grandson, Edward Milner Stephen, became Supreme Court Judges. (15).
1. Cyclopedia of New South Wales, Sydney, McCarron, Stewart and Company, 1907, Modbury, SA, Archive CD Book Australia Pty Ltd, 2007, pp.293-5; Martha Rutledge, 'Stephen, Sir Alfred (1802-1894), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 6, Melbourne University Press, 1976, pp.180-187; Percival Serle, 'Stephen, Sir Alfred (1802-1894)', Dictionary of Australian Biography, 1949 http://gutenberg.net.au/dictbiog/0-dict-biogSt-Sy.html (cited 23 January 2008); JM Bennett, 'The Right Honourable Sir Alfred Stephen, G.C.M.G., C.B.', Portraits of the Chief Justices of New South Wales 1824-1977, St. Ives, John Ferguson Pty Ltd., 1977, pp.19-21.
2. ADB., op cit.
3. Colonial Secretary; NRS 1286, Returns of the Colony (Blue Books), 1841, pp.160-161; 1844, pp.236-237; New South Wales Government Gazette, No.416, 15 May 1839, p.571; No.25, 30 March 1841, p.449; No.92, 7 October 1844, p.1227; No.93, 14 November 1845, p.1278; Serle, op.cit.; ADB, op.cit.
4. Public Service Lists (Blue Books), 1860, p.77; 1861, p.85; ADB, op.cit.; D H Borchardt, Checklist of Royal Commissions Select Committees of Parliament and Boards of Inquiry, Part IV New South Wales 1855-1960, Bundoora, La Trobe University Library, 1975, p.78.
5. J M Bennett, A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sydney, Law Book Company Ltd, 1974, pp.160-161, Returns of the Colony (Blue Books), op.cit., 1843, p.232; 1844, p.236; 1845, p.234; 1856, p.588; 1857, p.452; Public Service Lists (Blue Books), 1858, p.38; 1859, p.70; 1865, p.38; ADB, op.cit.; New South Wales Government Gazette, No.42, 11 March 1859, p.603.
6. An Act to Incorporate and Endow the Australian Museum, 1853 (17 Vic. Act No.2), s.4.
7. 'The Hon. Alfred Stephen [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/members.nsf/V3ListFormerMembers (cited 15 April 2008); ADB, op.cit.; Serle, op.cit.; Public Service Lists (Blue Books), op.cit., 1857, pp.444-445; 1858, p.37; NSW Government Gazette, No.75, 20 May 1856, p.1423.
8. 'The Hon. Alfred Stephen [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website, op.cit.; ADB, op.cit.
9. Public Service Lists (Blue Books), op.cit., 1894, p.2; NSW Government Gazette, No.86, 14 March 1879, p.1193; No.96, 20 March 1879, p.1263.
10. Public Service Lists (Blue Books), op.cit., 1873, p.22; 1877, p.57; 1878, p.90; 1879, p.58; 1880, pp.58, 61; 1888, pp.74, 76; 1889, pp.90-91; 1894, p.128; NSW Government Gazette, No.143, 19 December 1851, p.2092..
11. ADB, op.cit.; Public Service Lists (Blue Books), op.cit., 1877, p.42; 1878, pp.46-7; 1879, p.43; 1880, p.37; 1885, p.53; 1886, p.50.
12. ADB, op.cit..
13. Serle, op.cit.
14. NSW Government Gazette, No. 10, 2 February 1847, p.136; ADB, op.cit.; Serle, op.cit.
15. Serle, op.cit.