The Rev. Henry Stebbing (1716—1787), FRS, FSA, seems to have been as mild and pleasant a man as he is said by his son to have been. His personality may have been influenced by that of his father, Rev. Henry Stebbing (1687—1763), who was anything but. Henry Stebbing the elder was a tireless champion of what he considered to be religious orthodoxy and an inveterate challenger of those with whom he disagreed. He took on Methodists, Quakers, Bishop Hoadly, James Foster and William Warburton. The usually sober DNB characterizes these pamphleteering spats as “entertainingly vituperative” and notes that some of the best bits were reprinted in the Gentleman’s Magazine. Stebbing’s staunch defense of the Anglican hierarchy, and the Bishop of London in particular, did nothing to harm his career. He was appointed rector of a variety of parishes in Norfolk and Suffolk, most notably Garboldisham, and in 1731 was appointed preacher to Gray’s Inn in London. The next year he was appointed a Chaplain in Ordinary to the king, becoming archdeacon of Wiltshire in 1735, and Chancellor of Sarum in 1739. He died at Gray’s Inn in 1763, and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.
Henry Stebbing the elder married Sarah Camell of the extensive Suffolk and Norfolk Camell family and together they had five children of whom Henry was the second child and eldest son. Henry was borh in 1716 in Rickinghall, Suffolk, where his father was the rector at the time. In due course Henry followed his father to St. Catherine’s College in Cambridge, taking his BA in 1738 and becoming a fellow of the college in 1739. He was ordained deacon in 1739 and priest in 1741; his first appointment was vicar of Coton in Cambridgeshire before he was appointed rector of Gimingham and Trunch, Norfolk in 1748, a post he held until his death, although he does not seem to have been resident. Following his father, he was appointed preacher at Gray’s Inn in 1749 and was also a Chaplain in Ordinary to the king. Henry’s brother, Robert, also entered the clergy and was a long-time rector of Beaconsfield, where his gravestone records that he was “for a period of thirty-one years the assiduous and constantly residing Rector of this Church”. Meanwhile, Henry lived at Gray’s Inn.
In 1751, comfortably ensconced at Gray’s Inn, Henry Stebbing married Jane Smith in a ceremony at Roehampton Chapel, officiated by his father.
Jane was one of 10 children of Robert Smith and his wife Ann, and was related to the spectacularly-named Victorian soldier Thomas-Chaloner Bisse-Challoner. Henry and Jane appear to have had only two children, one of whom must have died young. His baptism is recorded in 1754, but he is not mentioned in his grandfather’s will, written in 1761. The other son, Henry, became a lawyer and lived to 1817, although he does not seem to have married or had any children.
Unlike his prolific father, Henry published only a few sermons and had a collection of sermons presented at Gray’s Inn published posthumously by his son the year after he died. His sermons portray a mild and generous view of both Christianity and his fellow men, quite different in tone from his father’s angry tracts. Henry Stebbing was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1765, and was one of Joshua Kirby’s supporters in 1767. Presumably they would have known each other through Stebbing’s appointment as chaplain to the king, and they had a shared Suffolk background.
Henry Stebbing died at his house in Gray’s Inn in 1787, but is buried in Richmond. Jane died in 1793 and was buried in Chelsea, where she had been living.