The port was named by Captain Cook when he passed on 11 May 1770, honouring Sir Philip Stephens, who was Secretary to the Admiralty. Stephens was a personal friend of Cook and had recommended him for command of the voyage. It seems Cook's initial choice had actually been Point Keppel and Keppel Bay, but instead he used Keppel Bay later.
The first ship to enter the port was the Salamander, a ship of the Third Fleet that later gave the suburb of Salamander Bay its name, in 1791. In that same year escaped convicts, then known as 'bolters', discovered coal in the area.
In 1795 the crew of the HMS Providence discovered a group of escaped convicts, living with the Worimi people. Port Stephens became a popular haven for escaped convicts and so in 1820 a garrison of soldiers was established at what is now known as Soldiers Point. ~ Bernard