Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stephens, James Francis

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STEPHENS, JAMES FRANCIS (1792–1852), entomologist, the only son of Captain William James Stephens, R.N. (d. August 1799), and his wife, Mary Peck Stephens (afterwards Mrs. Dallinger), was born at Shoreham, Sussex, on 16 Sept. 1792. He was educated at the Bluecoat school at Hertford and at Christ's Hospital, to which he was presented by Shute Barrington [q. v.], bishop of Durham. He entered the school on 15 May 1800, and quitted it on 16 Sept. 1807, when he was placed by his uncle, Admiral Stephens, at the admiralty office, Somerset House. His love for entomology showed itself in his schooldays, his attention being divided between it and natural philosophy and electricity until the winter of 1809. At that date he began a ‘Catalogue of British Animals,’ that was carried up to 1812 in manuscript. From 1815 to 1825 his spare time was mainly given to ornithology, and vols. ix. to xiv. of the ‘General Zoology,’ which had been begun by Dr. George Shaw [q. v.], or the greater part of the class Aves, were written by him.

In 1818, at the request of the trustees of the British Museum, Stephens was granted leave from his office to assist Dr. William Elford Leach [q. v.] in arranging the insect collection. From that time forth he devoted himself more especially to British insects, and prepared a catalogue and a descriptive account of them. In May 1827 the first part of his ‘Illustrations of British Entomology’ (4to, London) appeared, followed in August 1829 by ‘A systematic Catalogue of British Insects’ (8vo, London). In 1832 he was induced to take proceedings in chancery for the protection of his copyright against James Rennie [q. v.], whose ‘Conspectus of British Butterflies and Moths’ was to a great extent an abstract of his volumes on Lepidoptera; but he lost his case. The feeling, however, of his scientific friends was so strongly in his favour that a subscription was raised towards defraying his legal expenses. The ‘Illustrations’ were persevered with up to 1837, when eleven volumes had been completed, and a supplement was issued in 1846. After his retirement from the admiralty in 1845 Stephens busied himself at the British Museum, and was engaged to catalogue the British Lepidoptera. He had been elected a fellow of the Linnean Society on 17 Feb. 1815, and of the Zoological Society in 1826. He was also a member of the entomological societies of London and of France.

He died at Kennington on 22 Dec. 1852. Stephens married in 1822 Sarah, daughter of Captain Roberts, who survived him: all their children died young.

Besides the works already named, and twenty-three papers on entomological subjects published in various scientific journals, Stephens was author of:

  1. ‘The Nomenclature of British Insects,’ 12mo, London, 1829; 2nd edit. 1833.
  2. ‘An Abstract of the indigenous Lepidoptera contained in the Verzeichniss bekannter Schmetterlinge, by Hübner,’ 8vo, London, 1835.
  3. ‘A Manual of British Coleoptera,’ 8vo, London, 1839.
  4. ‘Catalogue of British Lepidoptera’ [in the British Museum], 12mo, London, 1850–2; 2nd edit. 1856.

He also wrote the entomological articles in the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana.’ His library was purchased by Henry Tibbats Stainton [q. v.], who published a catalogue of it.

[Proc. Entom. Soc. London, new ser. ii. 46–50; Stainton's Bibliotheca Stephensiana; information kindly supplied by R. L. Franks, clerk of the Bluecoat School, and by the secretaries of the Linnean and Zoological Societies; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Brit. Mus. (Nat. Hist.) Cat.; Royal Soc. Cat.]

B. B. W.