George Stephen Esquire
George Stephen, as a young man, established an ironmongery business in Dundee in 1814. Having weathered lean times, he assumed his son as a partner, after which the firm remained a successful family business, surviving into the twentieth century.
Subscription value in 1865:
Relative to inflation up to 2019:
Relative to income compared to 2019:
Personal details and history
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
Mary b 1818: David Kidd c 1819: William b 1821: Elizabeth b 1823: Margaret b 1826: Robert Gibb b 1829: Isabella b 1831: Jane Gibb b 1833: George b 1836: Betsy Gibb b1838: Ann b 1839: Mary b 1842: Helen Enverdale b 1845:
Western Cemetery, Perth Road, Dundee - Reg. Vol. 1, Reg. No. 426, Comp. 5, Lair 5
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Free Church - associated with Free St Paul's Church, Nethergate - Reverend William Wilson officiated at his daughters' marriages.
Unknown: Anti Corn Law League - a member:
Clubs / societies
Administration of the Poor Fund - a committee member:
Subscriber 102 – Messrs H Henderson & Sons – James Henderson became George Stephen’s son in law after marrying his daughter Ann.
Subscriber 105 – William Halley & Sons – son in law, James Henderson’s sister Ann, married George Halley.
Subscriber 154 – Robert McGavin – son in law, James Henderson, was a cousin of Robert McGavin.
Subscriber 196 – Messrs D & W Robertson – fellow iron merchant in Castle Street, later Exchange Street – both businesses had neighbouring warehouses in the Castle Court area.
Subscriber 229 – R G Stephen – son and co-partner of George Stephen.
Subscriber 255 – Reverend William Wilson – officiated at the marriages of George Steven’s daughters Isabella, Betsy, Ann and Helen.
Career and worklife
Business Owner / Co-Partner
Place of work
Messrs George Stephen & Son, Ironmongers
Career to date:
The son of a blacksmith, George Stephen established an ironmongers business in Dundee by the time he was 21 years old. This was in 1814. The year after his first marriage in 1817, he was listed in the local Directory under the entry - 'George Stephen & Co., Ironmongers, Overgate n(north).' By 1829, his business was in operation on Castle Street, Dundee. The firm faltered due to heavy losses sustained 'through the perilous years, 1826-1833.' However, George Stephen survived the sequestration of his affairs (see comments). Like the phoenix, his firm rose once more and re-established a favourable and successful position. By 1847, his son, Robert Gibb Stephen, had become his principal assistant, a position he was to hold for seven years. 1854 witnessed a co-partnership between father and son. It would appear that George Stephen himself withdrew from the management of the firm by 1867, having been listed as 'late ironmonger' in the Directory of that year. His son, Robert Gibb Stephen remained, becoming head of the long established business.
Aged 21 years, George Stephen embarked on what was to become his life’s work – he established an ironmongery business in 1814. Three years later, in 1817, he married Mary Elizabeth Bowman (written as Beaumont in Dundee’s marriage registration) and, with her, had five children. His second marriage to Ann Gibb in 1828 produced a further eight offspring.
In carrying out his business, the following remarkable events were to map out George’s integrity and strength of character.
It was reported that George suffered ‘a series of losses sustained through the perilous years of 1826-1833, ‘ the consequence of which was the sequestration of his business. At the time, his creditors agreed a settlement compromise amounting to 8s in the pound. Not content to write off the remainder of his debts, George Stephen resolved to satisfy the needs of his many creditors.
By 1840, it was widely reported that George had made up the remaining 12s per pound owed to many and all of that by sheer dint of conscientiousness and hard work.
‘These payments are now completed – not completed by any windfall coming in his way to enable him to do it easily – not by a man who had only his own wants and comforts to provide for but by one who had a wife and rising family depending on him and this circumstance ought to be in view in estimating Mr Stephen’s conduct.’
To mark his efforts to satisfy all debts in full, George Stephen was presented with a ‘valuable piece of silver plate’ (kept as a family heirloom) from his creditors, in recognition of their appreciation.
George Stephen’s burgeoning business encompassed the supply of all items extremely large and extremely small, to both the industrial and domestic markets.
In 1847, an advert for an apprentice declared his desire for ‘A stout lad, who can write well, of unexceptionable character. One from the country would be preferred,’ – a malleable lad who would cause no upset! Interestingly, a neighbouring iron merchant firm (D & W Robertson) placed similar adverts ‘country lads preferred.’
It was also around this time that George’s son, Robert Gibb Stephen, became an assistant in his father’s firm. He was to continue in that role for approximately 7 years before being made a partner in the business in 1854, from which point on the firm’s title became ‘George Stephen & Son.’ 
George Stephen himself carried on the business of ironmonger for at least 50 years, having established himself in 1814 and continuing into the mid 1860s, when he resigned his position as head of the firm in favour of his son Robert. He had gained a reputation as having been ‘naturally shrewd and sagacious and most successful in business.’
George Stephen had not been known to have taken a prominent part in public affairs but his deep interest in both local and national issues were often professed through many (and frequent) letters to the local press, whereby he left the readers in no doubt about his inclinations. A man of influence, his opinions were noted and respected.
At the Royal British Hotel on Wed 22nd Sept 1847 he was presented with a handsome silver plate to commemorate his contribution to the community. By 1871, George Stephen has retired – he is listed as ‘late ironmonger’ – and Robert has taken over the business.
In 1875, George Stephen died of chronic bronchitis at his home in Somerville Place. His successor, Robert Gibb Stephen, survived him by a mere 8 years although their business survived into the 20th century.
In 1936, the Dundee Chamber of Commerce listed ‘George Stephen & Son’ as one of the few businesses in Dundee to be a century old.
In 1946, the firm of George Stephen & Son Ltd., 29 Castle Street, Dundee, was purchased by Messrs Brown & Tawse, the same firm which acquired the neighbouring firm of iron merchants, D & W Robertson, in 1881.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Births. (1793). 282/ 70 543. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1817). 282/ 140 271. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Rathven. (1817). 164/ 20 213. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Dundee. Marriages. (1828). 282/ 210 242. Scotlandspeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Montrose. Marriages. (1828). 312/ 110 90. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1829-29. p.50. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Directory, 1842-43. p.78. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee Directory, 1845. p.88. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1874). 282/2 13. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Courier. 2 January 1875. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Western Cemetery Burial Lair Records. Friends of Dundee City Archive website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1875). SC45/ 31/ 25. Scotlandspeople website.
- Dundee Directory, 1861-61. p.211. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser. 20 October 1854. p.1. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 10 April 1883. p.6. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1818. p.51. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Morning Post. 12 September 1846. p.8 British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1867-68. p.201. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser. 13 August 1847. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Directory, 1864-65. p.188. Dundee Central Library, Local Studies.
- Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser. 14 September 1847. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Nine Trades of Dundee website.
- History of Brown & Tawse. https://www.browntawse.com/
The information above about George Stephen has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.