The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Stephen, Sir George
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Stephen, Sir George
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Stephen, Sir George, Q.C., was the youngest son of the late James Stephen, C.B., who held various official appointments in the West Indies and elsewhere, and who was subsequently M.P. for Tralee and East Grinstead, and a Master in Chancery for twenty years, by his marriage with Ann, only child of Henry Stent, of Stoke Newington. He was the brother of the late Right Hon. Sir James Stephen, for many years Under-Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, whose policy he for a long period initiated and controlled. Born in 1794 at St. Kitts, he was originally intended for the medical profession; but after spending three years in the study of anatomy, and going through a two-years' course at Magdalen College, Cambridge, which he left without graduating, after doing brilliant work, he entered the office of Messrs. Kaye & Freshfield, solicitors to the Bank of England. Having served his articles, he commenced practice on his own account, and was engaged by the Government to obtain evidence against Queen Caroline, of whose guilt he was fully assured. It was, however, in connection with the movement for the abolition of slavery in the British colonies that he mainly distinguished himself. His father (James Stephen) had married, as his second wife, the sister of William Wilberforce, and was allied with that great man, the elder Macaulay, Clarkson, and others in the abolition of the slave trade, achieved in 1807. In the legitimate development of that noble work, which ended in the suppression of slavery, as well as of the slave trade, throughout the British dominions. Sir George Stephen bore a leading part, and it was his decision (extorted from him by the necessities of the case) in favour of admitting the principle of compensation that brought the agitation to a much earlier successful issue than could otherwise have been ensured. Sir George (who was knighted in 1837, being the first so honoured after the Queen's accession) subsequently ceased to practise as a solicitor, with a view to being called to the Bar. This was accomplished, in 1849, under the auspices of Gray's Inn; and Sir George then removed to Liverpool, where he practised at the local Bar for some years. Business falling off, he determined to follow his two sons to Australia, and took up his residence in Melbourne in 1855. Though this step was afterwards a matter of regret with him, he did fairly well at the Victorian Bar, principally in insolvency cases, and became a Q.C. in 1871. In 1866 he acted as Commissioner of Insolvent Estates at Geelong. Sir George (who was a cousin of Sir Alfred Stephen) married, in 1821, Henrietta, eldest daughter of the Rev. William Ravenscroft, Prebendary of Down Cathedral, Ireland, who died in 1871. He died on 20th June, 1879. In addition to an autobiography written for his children, Sir George published, in 1839, anonymously, "Adventures of an Attorney in Search of a Practice"; and was also the author of "The Jesuit at Cambridge," published the same year; and of "Adventures of a Gentleman in Search of a Horse," a brochure intended to illustrate in an amusing form the operation of the warranty law, which ran through half a dozen editions. Sir George also wrote several orthodox law books and a "Life of Christ." Mr. Justice FitzJames Stephen and Mr. Leslie Stephen are nephews of Sir George Stephen, being the sons of his brother, the late Right Hon. Sir James Stephen.