The Spencer Family in New Zealand

Thomas and Elizabeth Spencer (née Berridge) were born in England and married there (in Warmington Northhamptonshire). They lived in Knossington, Leicestershire, and came out to New Zealand on 11 June 1861. Their ship, the Mersey (812 tons, Capt Duncan Smith) had left London 105 days earlier.  They had five children in tow – Charles, Lucy, Kate (Kitty), George and Percy. This is their story.


Thomas Spencer in 1872, aged 44

Thomas and Elizabeth Spencer, temporarily settled in a small cottage in Wellington Street, Auckland, had now to adapt themselves to colonial ways and to strive for success in their new environment. Thomas is said, by his daughter Kitty, to have brought five thousand pounds with him to New Zealand. A few settlers founded prosperous businesses with far less capital but most immigrants at this time had to face many problems. Thomas was practical and versatile but, according to Kitty, he was “a muddler” and found it hard to adapt his skills to New Zealand conditions. Elizabeth was nearly 35, used to a comfortable home and three servants in England and she never acquired the domestic skills so necessary for pioneering women. Intellectual and highly strung, her health suffered –  probably the humid Auckland climate disagreed with her too – and Thomas often had to cope with domestic problems.

Elizabeth Berridge, in 1852, just before her marriage to Thomas Spencer

Their first disappointment came when Thomas enquired about the land grant — 100 acres? — to which he was entitled as an immigrant. The land allocated to him was on Great Barrier Island which was then inaccessible though Governor Fitzroy had drafted a plan for a settlement there. While their father looked round for suitable land the older children were sent to school in Auckland. Lucy’s recollection of this experience was of sitting on a hard bench all the morning trying to learn ABC and of pricking her fingers when she was supposed to be learning to sew in the afternoons.

The farm at Flat Bush

Meanwhile Thomas Spencer had bought some land at Flat Bush near Papatoetoe and while his family remained in Auckland he and his brother George were busy cutting down the bush, clearing land for a farm and building a log cabin for the family. One morning a bullock wagon drew up outside the cottage in Wellington Street, the family and all their belongings were loaded on to it and they set off for the farm. The journey of twenty odd miles took a whole day. A two-roomed log cabin was waiting for them, made of tree trunks split in half so there was plenty of ventilation. Lucy said she could see the animals outside grazing through the chinks in the walls. There was a living room with a stove at one end and a bedroom which had a loft over it which was reached by a steep ladder. Stores were kept there and the two boys Charlie and George slept there. The children loved going up the ladder and it was not long before they discovered a bag of sugar among the stores. The bedroom downstairs was about the same size as the cabin on board the ship. It had a double bunk on one side and two bunks on the other side for the girls. The baby slept there too. Did they unpack the books, silver and china that they had brought with them?

That summer, 1861-2, the children were very happy playing in the bush and making tree houses. Thomas and George had prepared a good vegetable garden and the family enjoyed an excellent crop of tomatoes that summer. The older children had to help their mother cook and mind the toddler, Percy, now about 18 months old. Elizabeth had never done any cooking in her life and her husband had to do most of it for her. He could turn his hand to anything and cooked beautiful dinners.

When they had been there only a few weeks a baby daughter was born but she lived only four days, dying unbaptised, and her father buried her on the farm. The children were told not to play near her grave.

The task of cutting down trees and burning them went on and the children remembered the roaring fires and acrid smoke. One kauri tree had been spared for its size and beauty, but somehow the roots caught fire and the tree burnt from the inside. Through holes in the bark the fire could be seen roaring up inside the tree. While this went on it was unsafe to go near. One day there was a tremendous crash and the ancient giant was prostrate at last.

The family spent over a year at Flat Bush and for the children it was a halcyon time – no school or lessons but they were free to roam about the bush. Sometimes there were accidents.   One day four-year-old George had possession of an axe and five-year-old Kitty put her finger on a block of wood and dared him to cut  it off which he promptly did! As there was no doctor available father had to cope with such emergencies. Later Kitty said she asked for this finger to be cut off as she did not want to get married and this was her ring finger.

The log cabin was improved by the addition of a lean-to kitchen and Lucy later recalled the appropriate lines:

Whose ambition has been to

Live in the bush in two rooms and a lean-to.

Early in 1863 rumours began to circulate that the Maoris were becoming unfriendly to Europeans and settlers in outlying districts were advised to come closer to Auckland. They had a good garden coming on and some nice rows of tomatoes coming on when they had to leave.


Thomas Spencer bought some land about two miles from Otahuhu and began to build a house there. Then several Europeans were murdered in the district around Flat Bush and it was thought wise to move as soon as possible though the new house was by no means finished. A bullock wagon was prepared by putting a large feather bed in it for mother and the five children to sit on. This was necessary in a vehicle without springs. When they set out the day was fine, but soon it started to pour with rain. A tarpaulin was spread over the dray and it kept a good deal of the rain off. When they arrived at Otahuhu in the afternoon they were hungry, tired and cold. They were very glad to find their Uncle George waiting for them in a raupo hut with a good fire burning, hot food ready and two big buckets of milk.

They had brought from Flat Bush a hen that was sitting on some turkey chicks. The nest had been hung in a little basket in the dray, but they were disappointed to find that the chicks had died of cold and damp when they. arrived at Otahuhu.

The roof of the new house was not finished. It had boards on but no shingles, and as the rain continued the family spent a most uncomfortable night. The mother had difficulty finding dry spots for the children’s beds. She put coats over them and walked round during the night using umbrellas to try and keep them dry but they all woke up to find pools of water in their beds.

Next day the sun shone and the men finished the roof but it was some time before the house was completely finished. It had four rooms downstairs with a verandah but no passage and some very steep stairs leading to a small landing with a good bow window with seats all round it and two small bedrooms.

The farm was laid down in grass and had a small creek running through it that later reached the Tamaki River. The children soon learnt to fish for eels there. Soon Thomas had a good garden growing with flowers as well as vegetables and dozens of beehives so the family had plenty of honey.

Thomas had to enrol in the local militia and help despatch food to the troops. The children thought he looked very grand in his uniform.

Although they were only about two miles from Otahuhu township, they still did not feel entirely safe as there was also a Maori village about two miles away. They were supposed to be friendly but the Spencers were often apprehensive, especially if their father had to be absent overnight. On one such occasion they cowered in the darkness while 200 Maoris were in too great a hurry to stop at the Spencer farm.

A fourth son was born to Thomas and Elizabeth at Otahuhu in May 1863 and he was named John Stockdale Spencer. He had beautiful golden curls and was a great delight to the older children.

Lucy soon learned to ride and used to go to Otahuhu for bread. As there were no schools in the district she used to ride to Otahuhu and have lessons with a family who had a governess. The pony would be put in a paddock at lesson time and afterwards the other children all wanted to ride the pony too.

Elizabeth would often take Lucy behind her when she went for a ride and sometimes they would visit the neighbours. One day when Elizabeth was out riding she met a man and asked him for the latest news of the war in the Waikato. He wept as he told her that his two sons had just been killed there.

Once a year all the family went for a picnic in the farm dray to a river some miles away and the children were allowed to bathe. This was a wonderful event and they were sorry when the horse was put into the dray because it was time to go home.

One day Lucy wrote a letter to her Uncle Harry in India. He seemed very pleased and wrote back to her. Then a few months later a large mysterious box arrived from India. There was great excitement as the box was opened. A large pot of guava jelly was lifted out, then another and another and various sorts of Indian jams. The children were overjoyed as jam was an unknown luxury in their home. Then there was a beautiful workbox for Elizabeth and a locket and chain for the little girl [Lucy] who wrote the letter.

Tamaki, Bucklands Beach peninsula

Thomas’s farm at Otahuhu does not seem to have been very successful. He found it hard to adapt himself to New Zealand conditions and was a better gardener than a farmer. After about two years at Mangere, Otahuhu, the family moved again, this time to the mouth of the Tamaki estuary. They seem to have lived on the Bucklands Beach peninsula as Lucy recalled that they were near two good beaches – one by the river, the other on the sea coast. They enjoyed walking round the peninsula from Tamaki to Bucklands Beach at low tide. They lived in a large house which had about twelve rooms. There was ample ground round it and a large peach orchard. They kept fowls and grazed cows. When they moved their belongings were taken by boat to Howick and it is said that many breakables perished when the cases were rolled up the Howick beach.

Thomas Spencer had come to Tamaki with the intention of establishing a brick-making business as there was plenty of good clay in the district. He sent to England for expensive machinery and built two kilns for burning the bricks and long sheds for drying them. The children used to love to go down at nights and see the fires roaring in the kilns. George Spencer was a partner in this venture.

Tamaki was another children’s paradise as there were no schools in the district and the children roamed over a wonderful playground. They spent their time swimming, exploring the beaches and looking’ for shellfish. In the oyster season they would take a tea of bread and butter to the beach and eat raw oysters with it as fast as their father could open the shells, adding a little vinegar. The tide went out a long way leaving pools of water. Charlie would draw off the water from these pools with a rubber tube and then the children would be able to collect shrimps. The flesh was grey but turned red when cooked. They did not eat the spiky legs. They also used to gather pipis which they took home and cooked with great enjoyment. When the tide was out they could walk round the peninsula from Tamaki to Bucklands Beach. Their house was between the two beaches.

They had a pony to ride and Lucy and Charlie had to take it in turns to ride to Howick for groceries as no trades people called. Once Charlie persuaded Lucy to take his turn at riding to Howick but no sooner had she mounted the pony than it bolted and went under a tree. Lucy landed on the ground and was carried inside with a badly cut leg. Charlie had to go after all.

The children had a governess for a few months but, not altogether surprisingly, she found them impossible to control. Sometimes when the noise reached crescendo the mother would come in and tell the governess to go and fry the fish while she taught the children but one version of this story concludes with “then we all escaped” so it seems doubtful whether the mother was any more successful than the governess at controlling the unruly mob.

At one stage Lucy had to go shopping on horseback. She was unable to dismount so used to sit on the horse outside the shop and the shopkeeper would come out and ask what she wanted. Once she got off, or fell off, and was unable to remount so she had to lead the horse until she came to a ditch, make him get down into it and then try to remount. It was very awkward if a package dropped off the horse.

The children used to call Sunday ‘Clean shirt and pudding day’ but when the father cooked dinner there was no pudding.

After a little while the governess was paid off and a Mr and Mrs Becker came to work for them. Mr Becker helped on the farm .and Mrs Becker helped in the house. They lived in a little place near the house. Mrs Becker taught Lucy some cooking. Perhaps Mr Becker was the name of the Methodist who worked for them. They were rather horrified when he ploughed on Sunday. He used to go to Church every Sunday in a little trap owned by the Spencers and one day he offered to take the children with him. This caused great excitement. On Saturday evening Lucy blackleaded all the boots and next morning they set off in the care of an old woman who also worked for the family. They had been told to attend the Church of England service but when they arrived the church was closed so the old woman took them to a small Methodist Church. They were very surprised to find that several members of the congregation took part in the service, including the man who worked for them. After the service they somehow missed the man with the trap  – or else they disappeared early  – and they started to walk home although rain had started. They arrived home very wet and woebegone and so ended their first and last attempt at church-going.

George Spencer made a rowing boat which was launched on Lucy’s birthday and named “Lucy”. One of the boys [George or Percy?] aged six and a little girl visitor were playing in the boat which was tied up but somehow the rope gave way and the two children started to drift out to sea. Fortunately their father spied them and shouted to them to sit down while he went in search of another boat. They were almost to the other side [of the river?] before he reached them.


While they lived at Tamaki the twins were born, Albert and Edmund, or Bertie and Ted for short. Childhood days ended now for Lucy aged 10 and Kitty aged 9. They were led in to see the babies and told to choose one each as he would be in their particular charge. Lucy chose Ted and Kitty chose Bertie. Elizabeth Spencer, now nearly 40, became almost an invalid and the babies were entirely in the care of the two girls. They needed constant attention from their inexperienced nurses. “Babies did not sleep then as they do now” was Lucy’s rueful comment, and if ever the girls were able to go outside and play it was not long before a call was heard “the baby is awake”. “Which one?” the girls would say, and then the one responsible for the crying infant would have to go sorrowfully inside. In spite of these duties the girls loved the babies dearly and would take particular pains to see that their baby was well looked after. Many was the argument as to which was the prettiest.

They had bars over which they used to somersault. When the minister came to the house to christen the twins it was a hot day and Kitty, bored and tired, slipped outside and turned a few somersaults before coming inside without being missed. They used to long for the time when the babies would be asleep and they could turn on their pole.

The brickmaking business was not altogether a success though not through any fault of the Spencer brothers. Auckland had been fairly prosperous but a depression set in in 1866. No new buildings were erected and consequently there was no demand for bricks. Miss P French, the librarian at the New Zealand room at Auckland Public Library, kindly sent me a note of an advertisement she noticed for the sale of the Tamaki Tile Works in the “Southern Cross, 3 December 1866, p3. “in consequence of the owner proceeding to India; apply Mr Spencer.”


Elizabeth Spencer, nee Berridge in 1872, aged 46

It seems likely that the Spencer family moved to Newton in Auckland early in 1867 which was a black year for Auckland. There was much distress among the whole community. Lucy always refused to say anything about this period of her life. She would recount earlier incidents again and again but then would say, “No, I can’t tell any more. Our life became too terrible after that. My mother was ill most of the time and there were three babies” — the twins and a small sister born in June 1867 when the twins were sixteen months old. She was named Mary Ann but was sickly. They could not find food to agree with her and even fed her on a mixture of flour and water. She died in September 1868 at fifteen months. Years later Lucy would say, “It still hurts to think of that poor little baby.” A. lock of her fair long hair was preserved in the family for a hundred years.

Then an uncle from Australia arrived with his two little girls. [Charles Berridge. Mr Berridge and child are listed as passengers on ‘Novelty’ arriving at Auckland 30 May 1868 from Australia. Possibly the younger daughter was too young to be counted.] He had lost everything in disastrous floods in Australia. His wife had died and his baby (son?).

One day I looked out of a window and I saw a man coming along with a little girl in black on either side of him and I said to my mother “I do believe that’s Uncle Charles and Emma and Conty coming”, and it was. We were living in a small house and we girls had to turn out of our bed and the newcomers shared it while Lucy and Kitty shared a bed on the verandah.

When Charles was twelve he was sent back to England to be educated – perhaps at a school kept by his uncle Albert Spencer. He remained in England for several years but was not adequately prepared for New Zealand life when he returned in 1870.

Relief came to Auckland with the discovery of gold at Thames in 1867. Thomas seems to have joined the throng who flocked to Coromandel. “He came home every fortnight and then he would do some cooking and tidy up the place” was Lucy’s revealing comment. Much of the responsibility for the family during this time of her father’s absence and her mother’s illness must have fallen upon Lucy as the eldest child at home. She tried to learn to cook and a kind woman who lived nearby used to show her how to make simple dishes. Another worry at this period was that Ted, at ten months, had a pot of boiling milk spilt on him. It was never thought he could live but he pulled through.

A letter survives that was written by Lucy about this time. Evidently she went on a short visit to friends at Onehunga. The brave childish words contrast rather pathetically with downward sloping lines of the letter. She asks particularly after her dear little Ted.

Lucy and Kitty went to school from Newton but they had to take their baby brothers with them. They gave them each a sheet of paper and a pencil and they were both very good. If they talked the teacher would just look at them and they instantly kept quiet, such was the awe she inspired.

When they lived at the bottom of Symonds Street Lucy and Kitty went to a funny little school there. They were terribly shy and never spoke to any of the other girls. On the last day there was a lolly scramble but Lucy and Kitty stood together in a corner by themselves.

They had to do rows of ‘pot-hooks’ in a copybook and sit with their arms folded behind their backs, with a backboard.

They also lived in Khyber Pass [Karangahape Road in script]. This was quite a bare road with no houses near but there was a small store quite near owned by Samuel Forsaith. (He was a half brother of Thomas Spencer Forsaith, premier of New Zealand for four days, and Hephzibah Forsaith, wife of H H Lawry, mother Lucy’s future husband.) Sometimes Lucy would go to the store for something and find Samuel Forsaith on his knees praying aloud. She used to think what a good man he was.


By 1868 Thomas was ready to take his family to Thames. Lucy recalled that it was still a canvas town when they arrived.

Percy Spencer probably in 1872 (aged 12)

Thomas had a crushing machine. They came by steamer from Auckland and then got into a cart to go up the hill to their new home at Parawai. There were no proper roads and it was very muddy. The going was very difficult for the cart but Mr Spencer bribed the man to go on a little further. When they had to get out, Lucy took little Ted by the hand and said “Come along and see if we can find a house”. She coaxed. him up the hill and at last there was the house. The little fellow was delighted. “Look Lu! We’ve found a house!”

The family prospered at Thames. Eventually they lived at Parawai, a pleasant hillside suburb several miles from the main town. One of the features of life at Thames was the constant noise. The crushing machinery worked day and night. Thomas became a gold assayer. He and a partner are listed as ‘chemists’ in a current directory. One night he was waylaid and assaulted by men who thought he might have been carrying gold.

At one time he had strawberry gardens where Thames racecourse is now. Thomas Spencer bought shares in the Thames gold mines and made quite a bit of money. He also bought and sold land. He would often have to sell some land ‘to pay the bills. Elizabeth was twenty years in New Zealand before she had a piano but when she finally had one she had not forgotten how to play.

Thomas’s brother George lived with them for years. Eventually he went to Sydney. He was very musical and played the flute. Sometimes when Lucy was washing the dishes he would come and play to her.

Boarding school

Lucy Spencer in 1872 aged 17

When Lucy and Kitty were about fifteen and sixteen they were sent to Auckland to Mrs Clover’s school as boarders. Mrs Clover’s school was in Symonds Street just north of where Grafton Bridge is now. Kate [Kitty] offended Mrs Clover on her first day. Mrs Clover had a son, Richard, or Dick as he was generally called. In his mother’s eyes he could do no wrong. He was about ten when the Spencers lived there. Kate said to Mrs Clover, “Nice little boy Mrs Clover. How old is he?” “Ten” said Mrs Clover proudly. “Is he?” said Kate, “I thought he was about five”. Of course Mrs Clover was mortally offended and never forgave Kate. Whenever there was a favour to ask, the girls always said “Kate Spencer will ask her”!

If the girls wanted a bath (Mrs Clover thought it quite unnecessary) they had to painfully drag a tub from the wash-house which was on the bottom storey, up to the bathroom which was higher up.

Dick Clover made a real nuisance of himself. He would listen to the girls talking, perhaps of his mother, and then go and tell her and she would give suitable punishment. One evening when she was singing and playing, as she thought rather well, Kate said ‘Ass!’ Dick heard and told his mother who sent for Kate and told her she was not to speak for a week. Kate went and got a piece of cardboard and wrote on it ‘Be kind to dumb animals’ and pinned it on herself. Dick also used to come behind the girls and pull their hair but it was impossible to catch him as he always ran to his mother. One day in the street on one of the rare occasions when the boarders went for a walk in a croc with a mistress, and in which Dick always joined, Dick pulled Kate’s hair, She turned and gave him some hits and quite a fight ensued in the street.

Kate (Kitty) Spencer in 1872 aged 15

Mrs Clover never taught the girls anything. Lucy had a sum on her slate for weeks. In fact it was never finished. Mrs Clover would come round – “Have you finished the sum yet Lucy?” “No Mrs Clover, I don’t know how to do it.” “Put it away till tomorrow then”  said Mrs Clover helpfully. This went on all the time.

At table Mrs Clover would ask the girls if they wanted any more but was most offended if they answered in the affirmative. Kate Spencer generally said “Yes” which angered Mrs Clover still more.

One day the girl who did the cooking was away so Lucy asked Mrs Clover if she could do the cooking. Permission was granted and Lucy cooked for them.

Of the two girls, Lucy was the practical one taking after her father while Kitty was like her mother. She loved reading and when she was twelve would shut herself into the barn and compose poetry. She once won a prize in a competition for one of her poems.

Perhaps Kitty would be reading and Lucy would come in with some sewing and say “You do that seam Kitty while I do this one.” Kitty would sew for a while until Lucy was called out when down would go the sewing and up would come the book. Lucy always found her reading when she came back.

Lucy always looked after the fowls but when she went to Dunedin for a holiday once when she was about seventeen, Kitty had to look after the fowls and she hated it. There was one hen that had been doing mischief in the garden and so the father killed it and said “Cook that hen Kitty.” She answered with a deep grunt as she had no intention of cooking it as she was expected to pluck and clean it first. Next day her father said “I think you’d better cook that hen today Kitty.” Again he was answered by a deep grunt. Next day he said “Bury that hen Kitty!” Kitty would not even bury it, would not go near it, and so father had to do it himself. When Lucy came back Kitty told the story with great glee ending “But I couldn’t have done it, not if he’d killed me!”

Eventually Thomas Spencer bought a sewing machine but he was the only one of the family who could use it. Previously all the clothes had to be made by hand including shirts for the father and brothers.

Lucy enjoyed dances and parties when she grew up. She was often called on to recite and could still remember parts of her favourite pieces when she was about 90. I heard her recite a passage from ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’ (Ingoldsby Legends) at about this age.

Adult life for Lucy and Kitty

Lucy became engaged to be married at about twenty but would never give her children any details of this affair. She burned the photo showing her wearing an engagement ring when her children pestered her about it. But years later her daughter recognised the photo in an album belonging to another member of the family.

Her sister Kitty went along to a mission being held in Thames, was converted and persuaded Lucy to go along too. Lucy was saved too and her life took a completely new direction. She broke off her engagement as her fiancé was not a Christian. Her family thought she was mad. “You’ll marry a religious tinker!” her father used to say. The parents were left to go by themselves to the Anglican Church at Thames while Lucy and Kitty took the twins to the Baptist Church.

Kate Spencer met her future husband at a dance and they were married six weeks later. J J Macky was a widower. He had been previously married in Ireland but his bride had died after a few months. Lucy did most of the sewing for Kitty’s baby as Kitty hated sewing. When her first baby (Spencer Macky) was born Kitty cried because she thought he was so ugly.

Chemical License for Charles, the photographer

Charlie’s passion was photography. When Tarawera erupted in 1886 he was one of the first on the scene and took many pictures. He had also taken a number previously of the Pink and White Terraces that were buried in this eruption. All the Spencer brothers, especially Percy, used to do a lot of tramping with Maori guides – mainly between Thames, Rotorua and Auckland? ‘Always climbing mountains’ said their sister. There are several photos of Lucy as a girl taken by Charlie. After one photograph Lucy asked “Why do you always make me look so ugly?” “Just like you” came the brutal, brotherly retort.

Charles’s young lady jilted him and in a huff he declared he would marry the next girl he met. He married 19 year old Isabella Sellars who was quarter Maori. Her father, Captain Sellars, a well known trader to Tauranga, had married the daughter of Thomas Faulkner, the first white trader to the Bay of Plenty, who had married the daughter of the paramount chief of the area. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy.

Charles and Isabella Spencer

Eventually Charles became a Mormon and determined to outlive his brothers and sisters so that he could be baptised for them when they were dead. However, he was the first of the family to die.

Percy Spencer and his brother George both fell in love with Susie Nutter. George proposed and was refused because she preferred Percy. However Percy did not feel it was right for him to propose when his brother had been refused and so he turned his attention to Susie ‘s sister Lucy. Here again he had a rival. Lucy Nutter married Mr Insull but he died within a year or so of the marriage. They had one daughter, Heath. Percy married Lucy Insull and Heath was brought up as the older sister of the five Spencer sons. Susie Nutter never married.

Back to England

Thomas and Elizabeth went for a trip back to England in 1887 and stayed for a number of months. The cooler climate in England suited Elizabeth much better than the humidity of Auckland and she enjoyed seeing old friends. For part of the time they stayed with Thomas’s sister, Mary Clarke, wife of Canon Clarke of Exeter Cathedral. There are many pictures of ‘The Lodge’ at Topsham where she lived. Thomas and Elizabeth converted some attic rooms into living quarters for themselves.

When they returned to Auckland they bought a house in Mt Eden Road. Elizabeth died there on 26 November 1890. She is buried in Symonds Street cemetery with the little sister, Mary Ann, who had died in 1868.

When her mother died Lucy refused to wear black as was customary but someone lent her a black dress to wear to church. During the service she looked down at her dress and began to cry. She went home and determined not to wear black again no matter what people might think. Her servant told her that people were saying how scandalous it was for Mrs Lawry [Lucy] to be wearing pink when her mother had just died. It pained her to be thought unfeeling over her mother’s death when in reality her feelings would have been unbearable with the constant reminder of a black frock.

After Elizabeth’s death an old English friend, Miss Johnston, a rich spinster, came out to New Zealand in hopes, so his family thought, of marrying Thomas. Lucy said she was a very nice woman and probably would have made him happy but she arrived too soon after Elizabeth’s death. Instead of marrying her he went back to England where he did re-marry – Anna Louisa Brent of Woodbury, Exeter. Presumably he met her through his sister, Mary Clarke, who lived at Exeter. It seems that Anna Louisa was a wealthy widow as she had a fine house with a beautiful conservatory. Thomas was passionately fond of gardening. There is a good picture of Thomas taken in this conservatory. They were known as Mr and Mrs Thomas Brent Spencer and lived at Sydney Cottage, Woodbury, Exeter. The marriage proved to be unhappy and they parted. Some said the rift was due to Mary’s interference and that if she had kept out of their affairs Thomas would not have taken his last ill-fated trip to New Zealand.


Thomas returned to New Zealand via the United States, then on to Australia, and was a passenger on the ‘Wairarapa’ when it was wrecked on Great Barrier Island 24 October 1894. There was a paragraph in the newspaper, ‘Discovery of Mr Spencer’s body” which described the clothes he was wearing. He is said to have helped to save some of the other passengers. His sons took a lead-lined coffin with them when they went out on the rescue ship and so they were able to bring his body back to Auckland. He is buried with Elizabeth in the Symonds Street cemetery. He was always known as Tom, had auburn hair and blue eyes.

Younger Spencers go travelling

George, Jack and Ted Spencer all went off to America as young men. George was also in Samoa for a time. Jack had a temper to match his red hair. I was told that he had a pet rat that he used to take everywhere with him, including to school. One day the master objected, seized the rat by the tail and killed it. Jack was so upset by the loss of his pet that he ran away from home and shipped to America. For years the family did not know where he was. There is another story that one day on a wharf he spotted a captain who had treated him brutally on a previous voyage, and he killed him. I remember a letter from Aunt Kitty which said “Jack has just married his fourth wife”. She was a woman with a Quaker background. They had five children. He used to do experiments in a shed and would leave half empty tins of food around. He died of food poisoning from eating contaminated food.

Ted was in San Francisco at the time of the great earthquake. He married in America but his bride died of TB about six months after the wedding. Eventually he returned to New Zealand and married again when he was nearly 50.

George married in New Zealand Kate Reynolds and then went to America. They took with them an adopted daughter, Nessie. 1 once read George’s testimony – a remarkable story. He was on his way to the river to commit suicide as he was absolutely desperate but the Lord intervened and prevented him from carrying out his intention. By a remarkable series of events he became a Christian.

About 1876 Charles Mossop sent his daughter, Louisa, out to New Zealand at the age of 19 because of ill health. Elizabeth Spencer was delighted to look after her. The ship’s doctor of the boat on which she travelled was Dr George Cleghorn. He fell in love with Louisa during the voyage and they became engaged. Then the engagement was broken off and Louisa found another flame. At last she tired of him and began to think longingly of the ship’s doctor she had abandoned. Elizabeth Spencer saw how things were and wrote to Dr Cleghorn. He and Louisa made it up and were married. They lived in Nelson and had two small sons, Charles and Frederick who both died in infancy. When Charles was born Louisa had some clothes from her mother and expected more – which never arrived. Lucy Spencer went to stay with her for about six months and made some clothes for her. Louisa died when she was about 25. Some of her beautiful dresses made by good London dressmakers were sent to Lucy Spencer. Dr George Cleghorn was later a well-known doctor in early Blenheim. There is a band rotunda in memory of him in the centre of Blenheim.

Lucy’s marriage

When speaking of her sister Kitty’s marriage Lucy once remarked “They met at a dance you know  not a very good place to find a husband.” But when we enquired “Then where did you meet your husband?” she replied “Welt, as a matter of fact we met at a dance too!”

Apparently it was a bank dance at Thames and Lucy, who had by now given up dancing, was pestered by one of her brothers to go with him to the dance. In the end she agreed, but sat out the dances. There was another unwilling attender at the dance that night – Henry Lawry, the chief accountant at the bank who had to attend but disliked dancing. As they were both sitting out they got into conversation and found they had much in common.

Whether it was as a result of this encounter, one Sunday evening instead of attending the Baptist service as usual, Lucy went along to the Wesleyan Church instead. Afterwards Henry came up to her and asked to be allowed to see Miss Spencer home as the road was very dark. Lucy’s reply was “I’d rather walk with you in the dark than walk by myself in the light”, words of a song. So off they went. Henry was very shy and too bashful to offer his arm, but Lucy, accustomed formerly to Society ways, took his arm without thinking. They stopped and talked at the foot of the hill and in later years Henry said he almost asked her to marry him then but hesitated and didn’t. Afterwards he wished he had because soon afterwards she went off to Dunedin to keep house for her brother Percy working there as a bookseller and then she went back to Auckland as her parents had moved there, to Curran Street in Ponsonby, and so they had no time together as an engaged couple. He finally proposed one day when they were out riding together. They were married in the Wesleyan Church in Ponsonby Road on Lucy’s 31st birthday, 7 December 1886.

There was a photo in an old album at Karaka Bay of two sisters and the story went that Henry meant to marry one of them but couldn’t make up his mind which one of them it was to be. There was another photo of these same sisters — middle aged and single.

Other siblings

Percy Spencer was a bookseller in Dunedin but married in Auckland. He began studying law in his forties and eventually practised as a lawyer in Auckland.

Bertie Spencer went into printing, like his twin brother, Ted. He had Caxton Press, prospered, and was able to take his family on a trip to England in the early 1900s. Later the family had Caxton paper mills.

Cousins Dick Spencer and Berridge Spencer were overseas during the first world war. During leave in England, they visited Warmington and Sapcote and took photos of places where the Spencers had lived, also at Knossington.


This was written by Lucy Marshall (née Lucy Ardrey) who was the granddaughter of Lucy Spencer, and was born 18 years before her grandmother died.

1 comment on The Spencer Family in New Zealand

  1. Hi, I found this website whilst doing a Google search for George Spencer and Kate Reynolds. Kate was a daughter of my great, great grandparents, Samuel and Jane Reynolds, and a sister to my great grandfather, Percy Reynolds. Over many years, I have researched the Reynolds family and gathered much information from many different sources, but I have not been able to find much about Kate and George. I was aware that George was a mercantile manager in Samoa, and that he and Kate went to Samoa straight after their marriage, in January 1887. I’d love to know when he first went to Samoa, as it appears that that was his usual address at the time of his marriage to Kate, in Auckland. I have recently discovered that they went to San Francisco and were there from at least 1909. It would be lovely to get a more definitive time of their arrival there, also. A search on Ancestry has uncovered a death record for Kate (1944 – in San Francisco), but there is no image attached. Unfortunately, there are no further records, apparently, though there should be census entries and shipping entries, one would think? It would be great to have more information about their lives and about Nessie, whom you have mentioned. Also, the testimony of George sounds very interesting, it would be lovely to procure a copy of that. At this point, I have no photos of them. Would anyone have some? I found a photo of George when he was young, on an Ancestry public member tree, but none of any of the rest of the family. Many thanks for any help that you may be able to offer.

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