RICHARD SPENCER

1779 - 1839

 

 

 

 

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Richard Spencer
Richard Spencer

 

 

The only son of Richard Spencer Sr. (1) (a London merchant) Richard Jr. was born on December 9th 1779 at Southwark (near London). Little is known of his childhood.

Richard Jr. joined the Royal Navy as a Captain's servant (re-classified Volunteer 1st Class in 1794) on 6th September 1793 aboard the HMS Arethusa (38 guns) just before he turned 14.

It was during the same year that the drawn out war between Britain and France started after Britain expelled the French Ambassador when Louis XVI was executed. (France declared war on Britain on February 1st 1793.)

Spencer fought in the 3rd Battle of Ushant (Glorious 1st of June) aboard HMS Leviathan (74 guns) in 1794. When the Sans Pareil (80 guns) was captured in battle Richard was transferred to it on March 16 1795. By December 1795 he was on a new ship (HMS Hornet) as a midshipman and master's mate.

In 1797 he joined HMS Camilla and was set to move yet again to HMS Queen Charlotte as a Lieutenant but the ship blew up before he could join her. 473 of the 840 man crew were killed so Richard was lucky not to have been aboard.

When the French ship Guillaume Tell (80 guns) was captured after the Battle of the Nile, Spencer was transferred to her and she was renamed HMS Malta.

 

After joining the sloop Cameleon, on which he had temporary command, Spencer was captured in Genoa but escaped aboard the Dainish ship Enighiden and was rescued by HMS Phoebe.

Spencer was then sent to join HMS Victory and Nelson appointed him to command the captured French ship Le Renard (Renamed HMS Crafty).

Spencer saved his ship from accidental destruction on one occasion but was later forced to surrender to three Spanish privateers in 1807. A court martial has held to investigate the loss of Crafty (Courts martial were always held after the loss of a ship) but despite some small criticism, Richard was not found guilty of any misconduct.

A head injury Richard received from a strike with an oar earlier in his career caused him to make an application for shore leave in 1807 and he was forced to turn down an appointment as Lieutenant aboard the HMS Rosamund as a result. By September 7th his health had recovered enough for him to return to active duty and he was appointed Lieutenant on the HMS Monmouth (64 guns).

In February 1808 he changed ships again to HMS Russell. While he was aboard this ship he was appointed Commander on April 8th 1808.

Five months later he transferred to HMS Cornwallis and on November 23rd 1808 he became the Commander of the sloop HM Samarang (18 guns) formerly the Dutch vessel Scipio.

At this time he was involved in a blockade of Dutch ports in the spice islands and took part in a successful attack on Ambon. Later he took HM Samarang to the island of Pulo Ai which he successfully captured along with a valuable haul of goods. While he was there a Dutch ship carrying a 10,000 dollar payroll fell into a trap and he captured it intact.

Richard was then appointed temporary Post Captain aboard the HMS Blanche but the ship was in a very unstable state and just months after taking command the ship was 'paid off' and beached.

Having lost his command Richard returned to England by way of Madras in November 1811. His confirmation of the rank of Post Captain arrived in February 1812. On August 31st he married Ann Warden Liddon (with whom he had 9 children) and went on half pay between this time and 1815. He purchased a house and some farm land and started to develop an interest in growing fruits and crops at Lyme Regis in Dorset.

In June 1815 he was appointed to HMS Eurdice (28 guns) and sent to Ireland. Three months later he transferred to the Mediterranean and was stationed at Malta with HMS Erne (20 guns). The war with France was finally over and Richard was made Companion of the Bath. By 1817 Richard was back on shore at half pay again and although he was not to know it at the time, his career with the Royal Navy had reached an end.

Richard lived close to the sea and had been witness to some very severe storms in which ships were smashed up on rocks near his home and dangerous attempts to rescue stranded crews were made in very unsuitable boats. In 1825 he worked on a design for a lifeboat that involved sealed copper containers held in a wooden framework. The design was put into practice and he even took the boat out in a storm and tried to capsize it without success.

In 1833 he was awarded Military Knight Commander of the Royal Hannoverian Guelphic Order and was appointed Government Resident at Albany which fulfilled his dream of emigrating to Australia.

When he arrived in September 1833 he brought 21 people with him. This was a significant number as there were only 17 residents in Albany and his arrival was to mark a new beginning for the town.

Spencer quickly set about improving agriculture in the town and brought in various kinds of livestock as well as many varieties of fruit and vegetables to be grown locally. He founded Strawberry Hill Farm. (2)

Spencer was a firm administrator, something that didn't make him popular with the locals who were used to lax administration, but in his defence he had to dispense firm justice as the drunken crews of ships (mostly American whalers) could on occasion outnumber the local population.

There were also clashes with prominent locals and a series of letters want back and forth to the Swan River. Spencer was generally supported by James Stirling but in at least one instance an inquiry had to be held regarding Spencer's conduct and although no finding was made against him there certainly was some veiled criticism.

He was also accused of nepotism after appointing family members to government posts.

Despite the inquiry the clashes continued and a level of resentment seems to have bubbled away just below the surface until Spencer died.

Spencer seems to have suffered a fatal stroke after an altercation with former navy officer Lt. Peter Belches.

Spencer's grave was originally a chamber but after unwanted attention from grave robbers looking for valuables it was filled in.

By the time Spencer died the number of dwellings in Albany had risen from just 3 to around 60. His efforts were largely responsible for the successful establishment of the town and of various types of agriculture in the area. Despite this, it is likely that certain sections of the community were much relieved at his passing.

One of Spencer's daughters (Eliza Lucy) was to marry explorer George Grey in November 1839 and another daughter (Augusta) married George Edward Egerton-Warburton. Spencer's wife, Ann, died in 1855.

(1) There is some conjecture about Richard's real parentage and there has been the suggestion that he was the illegitimate son of William IV but a comparison of ages and birth dates makes this unlikely. Very little is known about Richard's mother who is known only as Judith. (2) There were already buildings on what was to become Strawberry Hill Farm but Spencer transformed the site from a ramshackle half-hearted attempt to grow produce into a working farm.

Note: Regarding Spencer's injuries: We have read two sources that differ on how Spencer received his head injuries. One states that the injuries were caused by an oar, the other states they were received in battle in 1807.

 

Chronology

 

1779 - Born December 9th.

1793 - Joined the Royal Navy as a Captain's servant on 6th September aboard the HMS Arethusa.

1794 - Fought in the 3rd Battle of Ushant (Glorious 1st of June) aboard HMS Leviathan

1795 - Transferred to the captured ship Sans Pareil on March 16th.

1795 - Transferred to HMS Hornet as a midshipman and master's mate in December.

1797 - Joined HMS Camilla and then on to several other ships.

1807 - Surrendered HMS Crafty to three Spanish privateers.

1807 - Made an application for shore leave due to an earlier injury.

1807 - Returned to active duty and he was appointed Lieutenant on the HMS Monmouth on September 7th.

1808 - Transferred to HMS Russell. Appointed Commander on April 8th

1808 - Transferred to HMS Cornwallis in September and on November 23rd 1808 he became the Commander of the sloop HM Samarang

1811 - Returned to England.

1812 - Rank of Post Captain confirmed in February.

1812 - Married Ann Warden Liddon on August 31st. Placed on half pay until 1815.

1815 - Appointed to HMS Eurdice and sent to Ireland. Later transferred to HMS Erne at Malta.

1817 - Back on shore at half pay.

1825 - Worked on a design for a lifeboat.

1833 - Awarded Military Knight Commander of the Royal Hannoverian Guelphic Order and was appointed Government Resident at Albany.

1833 - Arrived at Albany in September.

1839 - Died of a suspected stroke on July 24th.

 

Links to more information:

 

Spencer, Sir Richard (1779-1839)

Richard Spencer (Royal Navy officer)

 

 

 

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