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Sidney Stephen (1797–1858)

Though the late Mr. Sidney Stephen has long been removed from this colony, his death, at no very advanced age, is an incident that seems to call for some notice from the Australian journalist. He was the eldest son of Mr. John Stephen, the first Chief Justice, we believe, sent from England to Sydney, and whose second son, Sir Alfred Stephen, still fills that high office. Mr. Sidney Stephen practised for a time at the West Indian bar, in St. Kitts, and only quitted it to rejoin his family on his father's appointment. On his arrival here there was no opportunity of distinction, but he succeeded in obtaining a leading share in such business as there was, and conducted it with a boldness of manner to provoke the animosity of a very irritable man, the late Judge Montagu. At that time the business of a barrister was combined with that of an attorney, a combination which often leads to equivocapositions; and Mr. Stephen became involved in one which afforded Judge Montagu a shallow pretext for disbarring him. Mr. Stephen appealed to the King in Council, and the judgment was reversed in terms far from complimentary to the Colonial Bench. But the hostility to Mr. Stephen did not end here. The judgment of reversal was transmitted through the Post Office, and not less than six copies of it sent to as many different official parties, by different ships. If they ever arrived, not one of them was ever published, and on the plea that no official intimation had been received of his reinstatement, Mr. Stephen was still prevented from resuming his professional practice for nearly two years longer. We believe that these circumstances led to the recall of Judge Montagu very shortly before his death. But they also led to the promotion of Mr. Stephen to the Bench in New Zealand, through the indignant remonstrance, not only of Lord Brougham, but of some distinguished members of the English bar, as well as of Sir James Stephen, then one of the Secretaries of State for the colonies. Indeed it was generally rumoured that the appointment was expressly created as a berth for him; but the compensation was felt to be so reasonable, that the rumour excited no notice in Parliament. Mr. Sidney Stephen was not at either of the Universities, but he received his education at the Charterhouse, which then ranked high among our public schools. He was very fluent and of quick perception, and breathing in an atmosphere of law, from boyhood, he was able to make the most of a legal education of a somewhat irregular character, though he can so rarely be said to have had the reputation of being a sound lawyer, nor did he ever practise in England. He married a West Indian lady, and was the father of Mr. Frank Stephen, of Geelong; and two of his daughters are married – one to Mr. Hamilton and the other to Mr Riddle. He was much esteemed in his private circle, and his many amiable qualities justly entitled him to esteem. Had he not also been gifted with that moral courage which is indispensable to the discharge of a barrister's duty, but which has been distasteful to the bench, as it always will be when not backed by public opinion, he would not have been a persecuted man, and we should scarcely have thought it necessary to extend the common obituary. We trust that such occurrences as those at which we have slightly glanced, never can recur in any part of Australia! but it may not be without its advantage, to let it be seen that the public eye is observant, and the public memory tenacious, in all matters that affect the administration of justice.— Commnnicated to Melbourne Herald.

Original publication

Citation details

'Stephen, Sidney (1797–1858)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stephen, Sydney

Somerleage, Somerset, England


13 January, 1858 (aged ~ 61)
Auckland, New Zealand

Cause of Death

brain disease

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