Monday, December 4, 2017

Edward Cephas John Stevens


Edward Cephas John Stevens, 1837-1915.

Edward Cephas John Stevens was born in October, l837, the youngest son of the Rev. W. E Stevens rector of Salford, Oxfordshire. Educated at Marlborough College, he naturally became a cricketer. Proceeding thence to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester he got a thorough grounding in the stable industry of the country to which he was soon to come.

Stevens was only 21 when he sailed for New Zealand in June, 1858, on the maiden voyage of the emigrant ship Zealandia, 1032 tons. She arrived at Lyttelton on September 20th. After spending a short period on the Peninsula, Stevens came to Christchurch and established himself as a land agent, and the agent in New Zealand of a number of absent owners of land. Before long he joined R. J. S. Harman as Harman and Stevens. In December, 1863, Stevens entered provincial politics, without entering the council, by accepting office as a member of the Tancred Executive under the Superintendency of Bealey. He served throughout Bealey’s term, with a short gap. In March 1866, he was elected unopposed to the Provincial Council as member for Rakaia but when Bealey retired two months later Stevens severed his connexion with provincial politics altogether. Meanwhile, in February, 1866, he had been returned without opposition as member of Parliament for Selwyn. A supporter of the Weld Party, he came into Parliament it a moment when the separation of the two islands was a leading question, and with his shrewd financial sense he took a strong stand against it as tending to weaken the credit of the colony. He went further and demanded the abolition of the provinces, the consolidation of provincial loans and the erection, throughout the colony of true organs of local government in the form of county councils. In July, 1869, he brought forward a motion with that object, but after debate an amendment proposed by Ormond was carried by 33 votes to 22, declaring that the time was inopportune to consider far-reaching constitutional changes. In that year Stevens married the widow of H. Whitcombe, C.E. who had lost his life in 1864 while exploring on the West Coast.

Stevens had very strong views on the tariff question, which for a few years was in the forefront of colonial politics. At the general election at the end of 1870 he stood as a free trader opposing the grain duty. His opponent, Reeves, won the seat by a single vote. At the next general election, at the end of 1875, Stevens was elected at the head of the poll for Christchurch city, with Richardson and Moorhouse his colleagues. His opinions were distinctly democratic for the time. He supported the triennial parliament; he objected to the separation of the two islands; and after his re-election in 1879 he returned to his old interest - the tariff question - and moved for the setting up of a committee to consider the best means of relieving the manufacturers of the colony, and reducing the duties. His motion was carried with some amendment. Stevens took a great interest in hospitals and charitable aid, and supported the Hall Government’s Bill in 1880. Some years later he introduced a Bill, foreshadowing the ward Bill of 1906, with a view to endowing hospitals and charitable aid with reserves of 1,000,000 acres of land. It passed the House of Representatives, but was defeated in the Council by 30 votes to 6.

In 1882 Stevens was called to the Legislative Council, in which he sat until his death. Though a life member himself, he supported the Bill in 1885 by which it was proposed to limit the number of members of the Council and the duration of their office. He favoured votes for women and for the guardianship of infants. In 1887 he became a member without portfolio in of the Atkinson Ministry in which he served until 1891. He took a lively interest in the affairs of the Native race, especially in the South Island, and had an accurate knowledge of their land claims. In 1889 he was chairman of the Joint Committee on Native Affairs. As a member of the ministry he moved to improve the method of dealing with neglected children. In 1891 he proposed a new clause in a Bill to allow holders of perpetual leases to acquire the freehold, but the Lower House would not accept the amendment. He always opposed the compulsory acquisition of lands for settlement, but withdrew his opposition when the Liberal victory at the polls in 1893 indicated the feeling of the country. Finally, but not least important, it was at the instance of Stevens that Vogel established the Public Trust office, and there is a tablet to that effect in the head office of the Public Trust.

Stevens was a man of great culture, and delighted in the best of English and French literature. His interest in art was lifelong. In 1863 he was member of the committee for the establishment of the Art Society, and for many years up to the day of his death, he was its president. He was on the Board of Governors of Canterbury College from 1875 to 1893 (when he resigned). In 1894 he was re-elected, and after the new Act came into force in 1897 he was appointed a member, and acted until he retired in 1899. When Lincoln College was placed under an independent Board in 1897 Stevens was elected a member and he was chairman for some years until his death. In his later years he was a director of the Christchurch Press Company, and he succeeded Mr Geo. G. Stead as chairman. A keen horticulturist, Stevens was for many years chairman of the Horticultural Society, and he maintained a beautiful garden at his home, “Englefield.” He was interested also in acclimatisation and helped to form the society, of which Weld was president.

In the business world Stevens helped to found the Permanent Loan and Investment Association, of which he was manager and afterwards a director. He also took part in forming the Christchurch Gas Company, of which he was provisional secretary and afterwards secretary, till 1866.

No account of Stevens would be complete without mention of the great part which he took in fostering the game of cricket in Canterbury. In 1863, with J. H. Bennett, he was instrumental in arranging for the visit of the All England team, for which object they raised £500 in one day. Both of them played in the match at Hagley Park on February 9th, 1864, when the English eleven defeated a Canterbury twenty-two by an innings and two runs. Sale and A.F. N. Blakiston also played. Stevens helped to inaugurate the Otago-Canterbury matches, and played in them off and on until the end of the seventies. He again played against England in 1878, when he made top score for Canterbury. He played in the North Island with the Wanderers, and last wielded the bat for Canterbury against Wellington and Auckland, in 1883. He was for many years president of the Canterbury Cricket Association and chairman of the management committee for visiting tours. He was one of the promoters of Lancaster Park and an early director, and was for some years president of the New Zealand Athletic Association.

Stevens died on June 6th, 1915.

Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 20014, 23 August 1930

Head and shoulders portrait of Edward Cephas John Stevens by Charles Henry Manning. Ref: 35mm-00134-A-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22381828

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