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Edward Milner Stephen (1870–1939)

Mr. Justice Edward Milner Stephen, who collapsed while presiding in the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon and died in his chambers shortly afterwards, represented the fourth generation of the Stephen family to have served on the Bench of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

The Stephen family has been associated with the legal profession in Sydney since the early part of the 19th century, and the name is well-known also in legal circles in other States and in other parts of the British Empire.

Mr. John Stephen was the second Judge appointed to the Supreme Court Bench of New South Wales after the granting of the Charter of Justice in 1824. He retired on January 1, 1833, owing to ill-health, and died on December 21, 1833.

His son, Mr. Alfred Stephen - afterwards Sir Alfred Stephen, G.C.M.G., P.C., C.B. - was appointed to the Bench on April 30, 1839, and became Chief Justice on October 7, 1844. He retired on November 6, 1873, but retained the position of Lieutenant-Governor for many years afterwards. He died in 1894.

The third generation of the family to take his seat on the Supreme Court Bench was Mr. Matthew Henry (later Sir Henry) Stephen, the third son of Sir Alfred Stephen. He was elevated in 1887, and was appointed Acting Chief Justice during the absence of Sir Frederick Darley on leave in England in 1902. He retired from the Bench in 1904, and died in 1920.

Mr. Justice Edward Milner Stephen bore the same Christian names as his father, who was the fourth son of Sir Alfred Stephen, and was for many years Official Assignee in Sydney. He was born at Sydney on July 9, 1870, and was educated at Sydney Grammar School and St. Paul's College, Sydney University, where he graduated B.A. He was admitted to the Bar in 1896, and gained a high reputation as a sound counsel in the Common Law jurisdiction. Quiet dignity and precise exposition of the law won for him a high place in the profession. He was widely known in districts included in the Southern Law Circuit, particularly at Wagga and Albury.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench on June 6, 1929, to succeed Mr. Justice Campbell. At that time he was an Acting Justice.

His ability to analyse facts and to unravel knotty legal problems in clear terms, together with his quiet and dignified manner, made him an ideal Judge. Witnesses and counsel who appeared before him found him helpful when help was needed in the cause of justice, but those who attempted to mislead him or the Jury were quickly rebuffed.

Mr. Justice Milner Stephen became an alderman of the City Council in 1900, and served continuously until 1927, when the council was replaced temporarily by a Commission. During that long period he rendered outstanding service to the city. His keen legal mind and his sound knowledge of the City Council by-laws made him a most valuable member of the council.

He was also a keen student of town-planning, and look a very active part in this aspect of the council's activities. He was vice-chairman of the finance committee for a long period, and was Acting Lord Mayor for a period. He was a member of the Reform Party in the council, and at one time was chairman.

A keen sportsman from his school days, he became proficient at tennis and golf. He was an original member of the Royal Sydney Golf Club, being a signatory when the club was formed in 1894. He was the club's sole handicapper for many years, and, after his return from a tour abroad several years ago, accepted a unanimous invitation to rejoin the handicapping committee.

He had a keen love for literature, music, and the stage. Those of the older generation remember him well as an amateur actor of considerable skill. He was particularly interested in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, in which he was word perfect, and the wit contained in those works was often reflected in his own humour.

He was a member of the Australian Club.

He married in 1913 Miss Mollie Graham, who survives him. A service will be held at All Saints' Church, Woollahra, at 11 o'clock this morning, after which the cortege will move to the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Stephen, Edward Milner (1870–1939)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Edward Stephen, 1913

Edward Stephen, 1913

City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 54/293

Life Summary [details]


9 July, 1870
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


28 April, 1939 (aged 68)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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