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STEPHEN, Sir George (1794-1879)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/0283
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Full title: STEPHEN, Sir George (1794-1879)
Date(s): 1666
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 0.01 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Stephen | Sir | George | 1794-1879 | Knight | lawyer and slavery reformer


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir George Stephen, lawyer and slavery abolitionist, was born on 17 January 1794 on St Kitts, West Indies. His parents returned to England with him when he was an infant. He was educated at private schools at Clapham Common and Cheam. He was placed in the office of J. W. Freshfield, afterwards solicitor to the Bank of England. On 17 March 1821 he married Henrietta (1797-1869), the daughter of Revd William Ravenscroft; they had seven children.

During five years' articles, Stephen managed his firm's extensive bankruptcy business and, when he began practice on his own, the firm handed much of that business to him. During the parliamentary inquiry in 1820 into the conduct of Queen Caroline he was employed by the government to collect evidence against her on the continent.

In 1826, declining remuneration, Stephen was retained by the House of Commons to investigate allegations that slaves were being traded at Mauritius. That had been made unlawful in 1807, but slavery itself was still prevalent in some British colonies, notably in the West Indies. Stephen, following his father, had become prominent in the Anti-Slavery Society and was its honorary solicitor. Hitherto, the committee had worked towards abolition by direct persuasion of parliamentarians; in 1831 Stephen proposed appealing to the people. His proposal was rejected by the committee but taken up by James Cropper and others, who provided funds. A small working group, including Stephen, employed agents to arrange and address public meetings and to inspire press publicity, the formation of local societies, and the promotion of petitions. The ensuing agitation persuaded the government: the act to abolish slavery in British colonies was passed in 1833. Stephen was knighted in 1838 for his services.

Stephen was solicitor in a scheme for the relief of paupers in contempt of court, without remuneration, and also acted for a society for the purchase of reversions; however, he quarrelled with the directors and was dismissed, losing a considerable sum. Disliking aspects of his profession, resenting its inferior social status, and struggling somewhat in his practice, he decided in 1847 to abandon it. He was called to the bar at Gray's Inn on 6 June 1849 and settled at Liverpool, where he acquired a fair practice in bankruptcy cases.

But Stephen's work fell away on a change in the system, and in 1855 he emigrated to Melbourne, Victoria, where he joined his two younger sons. He was admitted to practise as a barrister there on the same day (9 August 1855) as was his eldest son, James Wilberforce (1822-1881), who emigrated with him and afterwards became a judge of the supreme court of Victoria. Stephen died on 20 June 1879 and was buried in St Kilda cemetery, Melbourne, on 23 June.

Source: Leslie Stephen, 'Stephen, Sir George (1794-1879)', rev. Peter Balmford, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 6 July 2009].


Scope and content/abstract:

Legal papers from the office of Sir George Stephen, barrister and solicitor, 1807-1841, including writs issued to Sheriffs of London to take up various persons to answer charges in the Court of King's Bench and Court of Exchequer, 1807, 1822, 1826, 1827, 1832 and 1838; memorial of assignment of lease of land in Saint George Hanover Square, 1815; petition for commission in bankruptcy, by Robert Lang of Wilson Street, Finsbury, merchant, against William Abbott, merchant, dealer and chapman, partner with Richard Arthur Maitland of Madras, East Indies, in firm of Abbott and Maitland, 1820; subpoenas for various persons to appear at Gaol Delivery Sessions for City of London to testify against William White and others for felony, 1821; subpoena for George Holt to appear at Middlesex Sessions of the Peace to testify touching bill of indictment against Thomas Odderley Phipps for libel, 1821; correspondence, 1834-1835, and form of proposal for sale of reversionary interest in personal property of Henry Laing of Camberwell, 1841.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

17 documents arranged chronologically

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright rests with the City of London.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Received in 1948 (Acc/0283).

Allied Materials

Related material:

Correspondence by Sir George Stephen can be found at University College London (UCL) Special Collections and the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
July to October 2009

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