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History Hub | Lady Ann Spencer

WOMEN IN HISTORY

Lady Ann Spencer: a gracious lady

How the wife of the one time Government Resident of Albany, became the Lady of the townspeople.

Andrew Eyden | Published 24 February 2024

Ann Spencer.jpg

Sir Richard, his wife Lady Ann Spencer, and their nine children and eleven servants arrived at King George Sound on 13 September 1833.  Sir Richard was newly appointed as Government Resident at Albany. Coming on board HMS Buffalo, with most of their goods and chattels, including agricultural implements, building materials, and all the necessary paraphernalia to establish a landed gentry in the new colony, carried by another vessel, Brilliant

The Spencers were somewhat shocked to discover that their new home was anything but the picture of a progressive and rapidly growing colony that had been painted for them by Governor Stirling before leaving England. Still, they had little choice but to begin setting up their new home in this rather lacklustre isolated colonial outpost of around 40 people, with the latest arrivals contributing a 60% increase to the somewhat minuscule population.
 
Soon after arriving, Sir Richard and Lady Ann purchased the government farm known as Strawberry Hill Farm or The Old Farm, including additional land. They set about building an extension, a second storey, and outbuildings to the somewhat limited cottage that had been ordered by Dr Alexander Collie, Royal Naval Surgeon, and first Government Resident for Albany, appointed in April of 1831. After Collie's appointment, he was notified of a visit to Albany by the Governor, having the cottage ready for the governor's stay in late 1831. 

 

Lady Ann busied herself with what good work she could do in her new home. She pressed her friends back in England to raise money to purchase materials to have dresses and clothing made for the Menang women and children– whose nakedness she found perplexing and concerning.

Chief among her concerns was that drunken Whalers and Seamen might take advantage of the scantily clad Aboriginal women. She successfully was able to convince her friends, who included Lady Byron (wife of poet Lord Byron), the Duchess of Kent (mother of the future Queen Victoria) and the Honorable Miss Wilbraham of Lancashire. (By no means your typical assortment of friends, to say the least) In due course, the clothing was sent; it totaled 5 bales of red flannel outfits, arriving in June 1837 on board the Hero, the bales were allowed by special dispensation to enter the port free of duty.

After Sir Richard's death at age sixty at the Old Farm, described as a fit of paralysis on 24 July 1839, Lady Ann continued to live at the Old Farm with many of her children. Sir Richard had been a controversial and somewhat despised figure by many of the townspeople. However, Albany grew rapidly during his tenure. 

In contrast to her husband, Lady Ann was well respected and held in high regard by most of Albany's community. She was known for her gracious hospitality despite her somewhat limited means. The townspeople also had great sympathy for her, as only months after the loss of her husband, she also lost two of her sons. Firstly, her youngest son, Horatio Spencer, was killed at only fifteen, along with his friend. A tree struck by lightning fell through the roof of a cottage they were sheltering in during a storm. The incident occurred in November 1839. The eldest son, Hugh S Spencer, was killed in a boating accident along with John L Morley five months after his younger brother, on 6 March 1840.
 
Lady Ann passed away in Perth on the 19 July 1855 after arriving in the Colony only 2 days prior by carriage from Albany. Her body was returned to Albany to be laid to rest alongside her husband at his gravesite located on what would later be Seymour Street Mira Mar. To this very day, they continue to look out over the stunning King George Sound. 

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