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J. Brunton Stephens J. Brunton Stephens i(A7676 works by) (a.k.a. James Brunton Stephens; Brunton Stephens; Brunton T. Stephens)
Also writes as: Allegretto ; S. ; J. B. S.
Born: Established: 17 Jun 1835 Borrowstounness,
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,
; Died: Ceased: 29 Jun 1902 Brisbane, Queensland,
Gender: Male
Arrived in Australia: 28 Apr 1866
Heritage: Scottish
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James Brunton Stephens was the tenth of eleven children born to John Stephens, schoolmaster, and his wife, Jane nee Brunton. He was educated at his father's school, then a free boarding school, before attending the University of Edinburgh (1849-1854) which he left before graduation. Stephens became a private tutor and schoolteacher, travelling extensively for four years in Europe and the Middle East with wealthy families. In 1859 he became a teacher at the Greenock Academy and then the Kilblain Academy in Greenock where he wrote some poetry and two short novels, 'Rutson Morley' and 'Virtue Le Moyne', published in Sharpe's London Magazine between 1861 and1863.

Settling in Queensland in 1866, Stephens initially stayed in Brisbane with his cousin, Mrs. Walter Hill, whose husband was Colonial Botanist and Director of the Botanical Gardens. Stephens spent most of the years from 1866 to 1874 tutoring with the Barker family of Tamrookum Station and the family of Captain Sherwood on Unumgar Station. In 1876 he married Irish Catholic Rosalie Mary Donaldson, and in 1877 he became headmaster at Ashgrove.

Stephens acquired a significant literary reputation which supported his appointment in 1883 as dispatch writer in the Colonial Secretary's Office, reportedly with the intervention of the governor's daughter. For the next nineteen years Stephens, as Chief Clerk and Acting Under-Secretary in the Chief Secretary's Department, was a dedicated public servant. He was a founding member of the Johnsonian Club; his 'Johnsonian Address' was incorporated in Rules of the Johnsonian Club (1898). He regularly contributed creative works and commentary to the 'Red Page' of the Sydney Bulletin and such newspapers as the Brisbane Courier and the Australasian. He wrote three of his four most patriotic poems, 'The Dominion of Australia' (1877), 'An Australian National Anthem' (1890), and 'Fulfilment' (1901) in this period. His work was included in several contemporary anthologies, attracting comment from many significant writers of the time. After the death of Henry Kendall (q.v.) in 1882 he was widely regarded as one of Australia's most important poets. He published criticism, stories and novels, and wrote the libretto for at least one comic opera, Fayette (q.v., 1892). Cecil Hadgraft notes: 'Two, or possibly three, other plays were written but not published. The whereabouts of some are unknown. "A Jubilee Pardon" exists in manuscript, the possession of Mr. Paul Calow' (James Brunton Stephens, 123). A typescript of the latter is in the John Oxley Library.

It was Stephens's poetry that was most admired, however, particularly Convict Once (q.v., 1871). Nevertheless, despite his considerable standing among his contemporaries, Stephens's poetry is not highly regarded by critics of the late twentieth - early twenty-first centuries, and his work has not been republished since the early twentieth century and is not included in more recent anthologies of Australian poetry. Stephens was most frequently remembered until the early twentieth century 'for his most assertively public poems, those that expressed patriotic sentiments which appealed to a public undergoing a rapid and intense political education' (Garlick, 'Colonial Canons' 64). Buckridge argues that 'his real forte was humorous poetry, which in its various forms occupies about half of the Poetical Works' ('Roles for Writers' 21). However, the racism of such poems as 'To a Black Gin' and 'My Chinee Cook', reflecting popular Darwinian notions of the day, also alienate the modern reader.

Most Referenced Works


  • Stephens also wrote a broadsheet, An Historical Problem : An Episode in the History of Ancient Persia (1893). He contributed to The Vagabond Annual, Christmas, 1877 and Australasia: An Intercolonial Christmas Annual (1878).
  • See also the full Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry for Stephens, James Brunton.

Known archival holdings

Albinski 213
National Library of Australia (ACT)
State Library of Queensland. John Oxley Library.Manuscripts and Business Records Collection. (Que)
Last amended 11 Jul 2014 13:09:46
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