Born in London on 19 October 1811, he was the tenth son of John Stephens (1772-1841; e.m. 1792) and younger brother of Joseph Rayner Stephens. From 1833 to 1836 he was a clerk in the Hull Banking Co.; then emigrated to Australia, where the was one of the first settlers on the site of the future Adelaide. He became cashier and accountant in the Southern Australian Company and, despite falling foul of the authorities, became a JP. In 1840 he was appointed the Adelaide manager of the South Australian Banking Co., steering it through the depression. He played a leading role in opening up the copper mining at Burra. He was largely responsible for building the first two WM chapels in Adelaide. He was chairman of the League for the Preservation of Religious Freedom and when the Wesleyans accepted government aid he formed the short-lived Representative Methodist Church. He entered the Legislature in 1853 and, on his return to London in 1855, continued to represent the interests of South Australia. He died at Maida Vale on 28 February 1861.
Two of his brothers also emigrated to Australia: John Stephens (1806-1850) became a newspaper editor and author. Samuel Stephens (1808-1840) arrived at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island in 1836 and was the first colonial manager of the South Australian Company, but was later suspended, being described as 'excitable and intemperate'.