Sir James Stephen: Diary

Scope and Content

The diary of Sir James Stephen, 162 pages, with a portrait at the front of Stephen as boy.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir James Stephen (1789-1859), colonial under-secretary, was born at Lambeth on 3 Jan. 1789. In 1806 he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 11 Nov. 1811, and took the LL.B. degree in 1812. His father, James Stephen (1758-1832), who was just leaving the bar, transferred some practice to his son, who also began to make a digest of colonial laws. In 1813 the third Lord Bathurst appointed Stephen counsel to the colonial department. His duty was to report upon all acts of the colonial legislatures. The work increased, but he was also allowed to practise privately, and in a few years was making 3000 a year.

On 22 Dec. 1814 Stephen married Jane Catherine (d.1875), daughter of Jonn Venn, rector of Clapham, and one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society. Their children included Sir James Fitzjames (1829-1894), 1st Baronet and judge. In 1825 Stephen accepted the post of permanent counsel to the colonial office and to the board of trade, and abandoned his private practice. In 1834 he was appointed assistant under-secretary of state for the colonies, and gave up his position at the board of trade. His work concerned him in the slavery question, and in later years he also became interested in the establishment of responsible government in Canada.

In 1846 Stephen was summoned to Dresden by the illness of his eldest son, who died before his parents could reach him. The shock had serious effects upon his health, and a bad attack in 1847 induced him to resign his office. After partly recovering his strength he was anxious for employment, and in June 1849 he was appointed to the Regius Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge. From 1855 to 1857 he held a professorship at the East India College, Haileybury. He continued to lecture intermittently at Cambridge, but passed the last years of his life chiefly in London. He died at Koblenz on 14 Sep. 1859.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Miss D.J. Stephen, 1952.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. The biographical history was compiled with reference to the entry on Stephen in Sidney Lee, ed., Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XVIII, pp. 1050-1051 (London, 1909).

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue.

Related Material

Cambridge University Library also holds the papers of Sir James Stephen, MS.Add.7888, and papers relating to the Stephen family, MSS.Add.7349 and 8381.