Under this heading in the Port Phillip Pioneers Group newsletter of July-August 1978, a brief paragraph notified the 118 members of the group that "Lester Stephen has been appointed Supervisor of this project, and was working steadily towards its completion. He is anxious to receive biographical notes of member's forebears who are entitled to be included."
At this time the PPPG was a Special Interest Group of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, and it was a requirement that prospective members of the Group should be members of the GSV, and that the ancestor of the applicant must have settled in the Port Phillip District before 1 July, 1851.
Lester joined the GSV in 1975, and was admitted to membership of the PPPG in February 1976, being Member No.56. In October 1984 he was awarded a Fellowship of the GSV.
Soon after embarking on the project Lester realised the magnitude of the task and the difficulties involved in compiling an accurate and authoritative data base. After all, the official census of March 1851 revealed a population in the PPD in excess of 77,000. Lester deducted that perhaps as many as 90,000 - 100,000 people had resided here in the years between 1803 and 1851.
Of course the internet did not exist in 1978 and sources of information were not always easily accessible. The labourious work of collecting information from shipping lists, directories, electoral rolls, and censuses as well as painstakingly mining books such as: Garryowen's "Chronicles of Early Melbourne," Billis and Kenyon's, "Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip," Harry Peck's "Memoirs of a Stockman," Isaac Selby's "Pioneer Memorial History of Melbourne," Alexander Sutherland's "Victoria and Its Metropolis," would be an undertaking of many years. Time would show how dedicated, patient and persevering Lester was! Later there appeared new books by contemporary researchers interested in the same era, such as Paul de Serville's "Port Phillip Gentlemen," Michael Cannon's "Old Melbourne Town Before the Gold Rush" and the seven volumes of "Historical Records of Victoria" (Foundation Series), which provided Lester with further sources of information. At the March 1979 meeting of the PPPG, Lester Stephen was the speaker and the subject of his address was 'Port Phillip Pioneers' Register.' The report of that meeting in PPPG Newsletter of March-April 1979, stated that "a very informative address was given by Mr. Lester Stephen, who is the Supervisor of the Port Phillip Pioneers' Register, explaining that he was endeavouring to compile a list of all the early arrivals of the pioneers who settled in the Port Phillip District before Foundation Day (sic) 1st July 1851. So far, over 23,000 names have been recorded, and when the register is completed, it will be a valuable source of information for those interested in genealogy."
PPPG Newsletter of October-December 1979, stated that Lester had recorded over 34,000 names. In the list of PPPG Office Bearers, Lester was named as 'Registrar.'
PPPG Newsletter of March-April 1980 records that Lester now had approximately 39,000 names in his 'Register.'
PPPG Newsletter of July-September 1980, mentioned that since he commenced compiling the 'Port Phillip Pioneers' Register' 41 months ago, Lester had amassed 41,000 names averaging approximately 1,000 names each month. Evidently Lester's Register was creating a great deal of interest within the GSV, and especially among the 244 members of the PPPG.
At the Annual General Meeting of the Group in March 1982, Lester was elected Chairman, in place of Bill Read, who did not seek re-election owing to ill-health.
In PPPG Newsletter of January-February 1983, Lester announced that during the past twelve months, a number of interesting (indexing) projects have been completed, including:-
1. 1850 Electoral Roll for Port Phillip
2. 1851 Port Phillip Directory (approximately 7,500 entries)
3. 1843 Electoral Roll for Port Phillip,
and that works currently in progress included:-
1. 1841 Census of Port Phillip
2. 1838 Census of Port Phillip
3. Various Books.
Lester acknowledged the enthusiastic assistance of Mrs. Betty Meckle, Mrs. Alison Stephen, Mrs. Marie Orr and Mrs. Edna Campbell.
I assume (without having the minutes to prove it) that by about the year 1985, Lester's work had interested the Council of the GSV to such an extent that it was deemed desirable to produce a book similar to the "South Australian Pioneers Register," and that the volumes would be published as the project progressed. I also believe the plan in contemplation was to divide the period prior to Separation into several time periods, the first possibly ending in 1839. Each period would include 'profiles' of settlers arriving during that time. In other words, the project envisaged a large number of volumes covering the entire period. The amount of time needed to write the 'profiles' would be immense, and it was probably the reason why Lester did not seek re-election as PPPG Chairman at the 1986 AGM.
Work on the publication commenced, and in PPPG Newsletter of October-November 1986, Lester reported that "432 profiles from the P.P. Register had been fed into the GSV Rainbow Computer. As the entries are biographic and genealogical in nature, it is time consuming work, and he called for volunteers to assist our (then) Chairman, Mrs. Joan Connor and Mrs. Loris Samson in compiling volume one of this valuable work."
However, before the first volume could be sent to the printers, the GSV had misgivings concerning the editorial style that Lester had employed, and as Lester was not prepared to re-write the several thousand profiles already prepared, the project was regretfully abandoned.
Lester continued to add to his Register until 2009 when ill-health prevented him from continuing. He passed away on 15th October 2012, just 21 days short of his 86th birthday.
His lasting legacy is a unique record of the Pioneer settlers of this State.
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