Sir Philip Stephens (1723-1809) by unknown

Sir Philip Stephens (1723-1809)


Fine art poster

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Sir Philip Stephens (1723-1809) by unknown zoom

Sir Philip Stephens (1723-1809)

An oval miniature in watercolour on ivory, in an oval gold suspension frame, the back of which is glazed with blue glass. There is a central oval section within the glass which contains a lock of brown human hair, presumably the sitter's. He is shown bust-length, half-turned to his left and showing only the right shoulder, but with his face turned back towards the viewer. He wears his own hair long and a little disordered over his ears. It is either greying or possibly powdered but short sideburns show it was brown and his eyes are a light brown or hazel. The dress is a fashionable high collared civilian coat in navy blue, with (probably), brass buttons of which the bottom of the three visible is the only one fastened, and a white neckcloth tied in a bow inside a high-collared white waistcoat. Stephens was third son of an Essex clergyman and became a Navy Office clerk in 1739. In about 1744 he caught the attention of Anson and became his secretary and prize agent. In 1751 he became first clerk of the Admiralty, its second secretary in 1759 and Secretary in 1763, which he remained through the American War, through the period of naval reform that followed, and into that against Revolutionary France from 1793. Stephens operated in the background but his role was pivotal to running the Navy, whichever government was in power and whoever sat on the Board. Although he gained considerable wealth, he was a man of probity and in 1779 Vice-Admiral Augustus Hervey, by then 3rd Earl of Bristol, called him 'the most diligent, most intelligent, and indefatigable man in business I ever knew'. Stephens also had a great deal to do with his friend James Cook's appointment to command the 'Endeavour' in 1768, and his later voyages and others of exploration. He retired as Secretary in March 1795, aged seventy-one, when he was made a baronet, but served a further eleven years on the Admiralty Board, to October 1806. In all he effectively served the Navy for sixty-seven years under all administrations and, as one of only four Secretaries of the Admiralty since 1694, was a mainstay of its organizational continuity.

  • Image reference: F9514-002

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