The Federation Press

Sir Alfred Stephen

Third Chief Justice of New South Wales 1844-1873

Overview

Sir Alfred Stephen (1802-1894) was descended from generations of Stephens celebrated in England for their contributions to the law, literature, politics and public administration. A creature of the nineteenth century, Sir Alfred personified its values. Born at St Kitts, educated in England and there called to the Bar, he at first progressed so slowly that he decided to return to the colonies. As a pioneer Crown Law Officer in Tasmania he was ambitious, aggressive, and astonishingly successful financially. But, lacking tact, he fell out with the Lt-Governor and the judiciary.

Taking another chance, he accepted a temporary judgeship at Sydney (1839), won immediate respect, and became Chief Justice (1844), serving with great accomplishment until 1873 — a term never equaled in New South Wales. He was first President of the Legislative Council after Responsible Government (1856), returning to the Council on resigning as Chief Justice. His many public services included being Lt-Governor; helping to establish The University of Sydney; and supporting such institutions as hospitals, museums and art galleries. Despite the difficulty, on a fixed income, of providing for his many children, he was great philanthropist.

His name and works, now much forgotten, but of world renown in his day, are recalled in this biography by Dr John Michael Bennett, AM, whose project to write it was awarded the 2006 News South Wales History Fellowship.

Reviews

This publication is the latest in the always high anticipated “Lives”, written by Dr JM Bennett. ... it is a much more detailed and encompassing review of the life of one of Tasmania’s earliest barristers, who moved to NSW as an acting judge, in the hope of securing a permanent appointment, become the third Chief Justice of that State. ... This is not a book which can be read in one sitting, nor for that matter over a day or so. ... Like all “Lives” this book makes for a fascincating look into our past. It may even provide some thought about our future. It is highly recommended to all who have an interest in the law. - Law Society of Tasmania, Law Letter, Autumn 2010

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Stephen Garton
Acknowledgements
A Pedantic Note on Judicial Titles
List of Illustrations
Dramatis Personae

A Pleasant, Lively, Talkative Youth
The Timely Arrival of Mr Stephen
I Will Not Be a Judge If I Can Be Attorney-General
Too Impertinent For a ‘Colonial Attorney-General’
A Bold Step
“Scenes In Open Court” and a “Court of Honour”
The Step to a Chief Justiceship
The Praise of Unwearying Industry
Every Confidence In the Ability of the Judges
Approaching Responsible Government
An Object of Legitimate and Honourable Ambition
Kill No More Chief Justices
He Never Saw a Better Judge
Put to Flight by That Fellow Hargrave
The Liberality of Parliament
Vice-Regal Notices
Uninformed Talk – The Babble of Ignorance
Inexorable Dogma and Unreasoning Ecclesiasticism
Old Sir A. Stephen is Equal to Any
Getting Beyond a Joke

Abbreviations
Notes
General Index
Statute Index

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