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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stephens, Thomas Blacket (1819–1877)

by Elgin Reid

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Thomas Blacket Stephens (1819-1877), by unknown photographer, 1859

Thomas Blacket Stephens (1819-1877), by unknown photographer, 1859

Brisbane City Council Library, BCC-B120-33478

Thomas Blacket Stephens (1819-1877), newspaper proprietor and politician, was born at Rochdale, England, son of William Stephens, Baptist minister, and his wife Elizabeth, née Blacket, aunt of Edmund Blacket. Before migrating to New South Wales he owned woollen mills near his home town, and as a friend of John Bright and Richard Cobden acquired life-long political attitudes during the anti-corn-law agitation.

Stephen reached Sydney in the Bengal on 12 February 1849, and became a wool-broker. Attracted by the growth of Brisbane, he went there in January 1853, and established a wool-scour and fellmongery near Cleveland. About 1863 the business was transferred nearer town to a site called by the Aboriginals Yee-keb-in, now the suburb of Ekibin. When he added a tannery the enterprise became one of the largest of its type in the colony.

Stephens's radical politics and advanced social and moral views encouraged him in May 1861 to buy the Moreton Bay Courier. Although he wrote little, he supervised the paper for four years in which it was enlarged and became a daily. In July 1868 he floated a company, became managing director but retired in ill health in November 1873 and the paper was auctioned.

Stephens was a fervent Primitive Baptist and a benefactor of the sect. With his radical stance, he was associated with most important political issues of the period before and after separation from New South Wales in 1859. When Brisbane was incorporated he became an alderman for South Brisbane, and advocated development of the area. He initiated the first bridge linking the north and south of the city. He served on a committee to establish water-works and advocated building a town hall. In 1862 he became Brisbane's second mayor.

In 1860 Stephens stood unsuccessfully for Toowoomba in the first parliament but in 1863 was elected for South Brisbane. In 1867-70 he was colonial treasurer, colonial secretary, postmaster-general, and secretary for public lands in the Lilley and Macalister ministries. His advocacy of a wider franchise and closer settlement measures made him unpopular with conservatives and pastoralists. In 1876-77 he was a member of the Legislative Council.

Contemporaries described Stephens as upright, enthusiastic and able. The Week said of him: 'If he had devoted his wonderfully keen, clear intellect, his unwearying industry and his great business tact and judgment to his private affairs instead of to the furtherance of the public interests, or what he most earnestly and heartily believed to be the public interests, he would have been, long ago, one of the wealthiest men in the colony'. The Brisbane Courier argued that 'Politically speaking, he was deficient in dash, but then on the other hand, he well knew how to bit and bridle coadjutors who had that quality in dangerous excess'.

On 10 July 1856 in Sydney Stephens married Anne Connah, daughter of an early love. Aged 58, he died on 26 August 1877 survived by his wife and eight children. Cumbooquepa, in South Brisbane, built by his wife in 1890, is now the boarding section of the Somerville House school for girls.

Select Bibliography

  • Supreme Court Reports (Queensland), 1873, 98
  • N. Bartley, Australian Pioneers and Reminiscences, J. J. Knight ed (Brisb, 1896)
  • Queensland Baptist Jubilee: Record Volume, 1855-1905 (Brisb, 1905?)
  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • Queensland Women's Historical Assn, 1859 and Before That—1959 and All That (Brisb, 1960)
  • Brisbane Courier, 28 Aug 1877
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 20 July 1907
  • Week (Brisbane), 20 July 1907.

Citation details

Elgin Reid, 'Stephens, Thomas Blacket (1819–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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