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James Brunton Stephens

(1835—1902) poet


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(1835–1902), born Bo'ness near Edinburgh, received a sound Scottish education, including a period at the University of Edinburgh. He was a private tutor and schoolmaster both before and after his migration to Queensland in 1866. Following the publication of several volumes of verse, and to acknowledge his growing literary stature, he was appointed to the civil service, ultimately becoming acting under-secretary to the colonial secretary in Brisbane. After the death of Kendall in 1882 Stephens became the leading literary figure of the period. He contributed both creative works and literary comment to important newspapers and journals, including the Bulletin; his poetry appeared in contemporary anthologies such as Douglas Sladen's A Century of Australian Song (1888); and he figured prominently in contemporary critical works such as H.G. Turner and Alexander Sutherland's The Development of Australian Literature (1898). He attempted fiction, publishing two novels in Scotland as well as A Hundred Pounds (1876), an Australian story; he wrote an ineffective drama, Fayette: Or, Bush Revels (1892); but his major successes were the poetry Convict Once (q.v., 1871), The Black Gin (1873), The Godolphin Arabian (1873) and My Chinee Cook (1902). Despite the contemporary respect for him and the present-day acknowledgement of his undoubted influence on the literary scene during the two decades prior to the end of the nineteenth century, his own poetry now arouses little enthusiasm among readers and critics. He is extensively discussed in H.A. Kellow's Queensland Poets (1930); Cecil Hadgraft wrote the biographical study James Brunton Stephens (1969). He is the poet featured in Rosa Praed's reminiscences, My Australian Girlhood (1902).

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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