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- AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 4/32 -


a life which was begun in similar circumstances, but which was spent mainly in Australia. The loss of memory which I see in many who are younger than myself makes me feel that while I can recollect I should fix the events and the ideals of my life by pen and ink. Like Mrs. Oliphant, I was born (three years earlier) in the south of Scotland. Like her I had an adrnirable mother but she lost hers at the age of 60, while I kept mine till she was nearly 97. Like Mrs. Oliphant, I was captivated by the stand made by the Free Church as a protest against patronage, and like her I shook off the shackles of the narrow Calvinism of Presbyterianism, and emerged into more light and liberty. But unlike Mrs. Oliphant, I have from my earliest youth taken an interest in politics, and although I have not written the tenth part of what she has done, I have within the last 20 years addressed many audiences in Australia and America, and have preached over 100 sermons. My personal influence has been exercised through the voice more strongly than by the pen, and in the growth and development of South Australia, to which I came with my parents and brothers and sisters when I was just 14, and the province not three years old, there have been opportunities for usefulness which might not have offered if I had remained in Melrose, in Sir Walter Scott's country.

CHAPTER III.

A BEGINNING AT SEVENTEEN

Perhaps my turn for economics was partly inherited from my mother, and emphasized by my father having been an unlucky speculator in foreign wheat, tempted thereto by the sliding scale, which varied from 33/ a quarter, when wheat was as cheap as it was in 1837, to 1/ a quarter, when it was 70/ in 1839. It was supposed that my father had made his fortune when he took his wheat out of bond but losses and deterioration during seven years, and interest on borrowed money--credit having been strained to the utmost--brought ruin and insolvency, and he had to go to South Australia, followed by his wife and family soon after. It seems strange that this disaster should be the culmination of the peace, after the long Napoleonic war. When my father married in 1815 he showed he was making 600 pounds a year, with 2,000 pounds book debts, as a writer or attorney and as agent for a bank. But the business fell off, the book debts could not be collected; the bank called up the advances; and for 24 years there was a struggle. My mother would not have her dowry of 1,500 pounds and other money left by an aunt settled on herself--neither her father nor herself approved of it--the wife's fortune should come and go with her husband's. My father first speculated in hops and lost heavily. He took up unlucky people, whom other business men had drained. I suppose he caught at straws. He had the gentlest of manners--"the politest man in Melrose," the old shoemaker called him. My paternal grandfather was Dr. William Spence, of Melrose. His father was minister of the Established Church at Cockburn's Path, Berwickshire. His grandfather was a small landed proprietor, but he had to sell Spence's mains, and the name was changed to Chirnside. So (as my father used to say) he was sprung from the tail of the gentry; while my mother was descended from the head of the commonalty. The Brodies had been tenant farmers in East Lothian for six or seven generations, though they originally came from the north. My grandfather Brodie thought abrogation of the Corn Laws meant ruin for the farmers, who had taken 19 years' leases at war prices. But during the war times both landlords and farmers coined money, while the labourers had high prices for food and very little increase in their wages. I recollect both grandfathers well, and through the accurate memory of my mother t can tell how middle-class people in lowland Scotland lived and dressed and travelled, entertained visitors. and worshipped God. She told me of the "dear years" 1799 and 1800, and what a terrible thing a bad crop was, when the foreign ports were closed by Napoleon. She told me that but for the shortlived Peace of Amiens she never heard of anything but war till the Battle of Waterloo settled it three months before her marriage. From her own intimate relations with her grandmother, Margaret Fernie Brodie, who was born in 1736, and died in 1817, she knew how two generations before her people lived and thought. So that I have a grasp on the past which many might envy, and yet the present and the future are even more to me, as they were to my mother. On her death in 1887 I wrote a quatrain for her memorial, and which those who knew her considered appropriate--

HELEN BRODIE SPENCE Born at Whittingham, Scotland, 1791. Died at College Town, Adelaide, South Australia, 1887.

Half a long life 'mid Scotland's heaths and pines, And half among our South Australian vines; Though loving reverence bound her to the past, Eager for truth and progress to the last.

Although my mother had the greatest love for Sir Walter Scott, and the highest appreciation of his poems and novels, she never liked Melrose. She liked Australia better after a while. Indeed, when we arrived in November, 1839, to a country so hot, so dry, so new, we felt like the good old founder of The Adelaide Register, Robert Thomas, when he came to the land described in his own paper as "flowing with milk and honey." Dropped anchor at Holdfast Bay. "When I saw the place at which we were to land I felt inclined to go and cut my throat." When we sat down on a log in Light square, waiting till my father brought the key of the wooden house In Gilles street, in spite of the dignity of my 14 years just attained, I had a good cry. There had been such a drought that they had a dearth, almost a famine. People like ourselves with 80 acre land orders were frightened to attempt cultivation in an unknown climate, with seed wheat at 25/ a bushel or more, and stuck to the town. We lived a month in Gilles street, then we bought a large marquee, and pitched it on Brownhill Creek, above where Mitcham now stands, bought 15 cows and a pony and cart, and sold the milk in town at 1/ a quart. But how little milk the cows gave in those days! After seven months' encamping, in which the family lived chiefly on rice--the only cheap food, of which we bought a ton--we came with our herd to West terrace, Adelaide. My father got the position of Town Clerk at 150 pounds a year twelve months after our arrival, and kept it till the muncipal corporation was ended, as the City of Adelaide was too poor to maintain the machinery; but 75 pounds was the rent of the house and yards. We sold the cows, and my brothers went farming, and we took cheaper quarters in Halifax street.

The Town Clerkship, however, was the means of giving me a lesson in electoral methods. Into the Municipal Bill, drawn up under the superintendence of Rowland Hill (afterward the great post office reformer, but then the Secretary of the Colonization Commissioner for South Australia), he had introduced a clause providing for proportional representation at the option of the ratepayers. The twentieth part of the Adelaide ratepayers by uniting their votes upon one man instead of voting for 18, could on the day before the ordinary election appear and declare this their intention, and he would be a Councillor on their votes. In the first election, November, 1840, two such quorums elected two Councillors. The workmen in Borrow and Goodear's building elected their foreman, and another quorum of citizens elected Mr. William Senden; and this was the first quota representation in the world. My father explained this unique provision to me at the time, and showed its bearings for minority representation.

After the break up of the municipality and the loss of his income my father lost health and spirits. The brothers did not succeed in the country. My sister had married Andrew Murray, an apparently prosperous man, in 1841, but the protecting of the Government bills bought for remitting to England, and other causes, brought down every mercantile firm in Adelaide except A. L. Elder, who had not been long established; and Murray & Greig came down too. Mr. Murray was a ready writer, and got work on The South Australian, the newspaper which supported Capt. Grey's policy of retrenchment and stoppage of public works; so, with a small salary, he managed to live. When I left Scotland I brought with me a letter of recommendation from my teacher, Miss Sarah Phin, concerning my qualifications and my turn for teaching. I don't know if it really did me any good, for the suspicious look and the question about how old I was at the time embarrassed me. Of course I was only 13 1/2 and probably my teacher over-estimated me a little, but here is, the letter, yellow with the dust of over 70 years.

Melrose. June 20, 1839.

My dearest Catherine--Our mutual friend, Mrs. Duncan, told me that you were not to sail for Australia till next month, and I have been thinking if my poor testimonial to your worth and abilities could be of any service to you I ought to give it but how can I trust myself?--for could any one read what I feel my heart dictates it would be thought absurd. You were always one of the greatest ornaments of my school, best girl and the best scholar, and from the time you could put three letters together you have evinced a turn for teacing--so clear-headed and so patient, and so thoroughly upright in word and deed, and your knowledge of the Scriptures equal to that of many students of Divinity, so should you ever become a teacher you have nothing to fear. You will be able to undertake both the useful and the ornamental branches of education--French, Italian, and Music you thoroughly understand. I feel conscious that you will succeed. Please to remember me to your excellent mother, and with love to Miss Spence and my darling Mary, believe me, my beloved Catherine, your affectionate friend and teacher. Sarah Phin.

My knowledge of music was not great, even in those days, but I could teach beginners for two or three years with fair success. We thought that my mother and the two eldest girls could start a school, and brought out with us a good selection of schoolbooks, bought from Oliver J. Boyd. Edinburgh, superior to the English books obtainable here, which we used up in time; but we dared not launch out into such a venture in 1840, and my sister Jessie had no desire to teach at all. The years at Brownhill Creek and West terrace were the most unhappy of my life. I suffered from the want of some intellectual activity, and from the sense of frustrated ambition and religious despair. The few books we had, or which we could borrow, I read over and over again. Aikin's "British Poets," a gift from Uncle John Spence, and Goldsmith's complete works, a school prize of my brother William's, were thoroughly mastered, and the Waverley novels down to "Quentin Durward" were well absorbed. I read in Chambers's Journal of daily governesses getting a shilling an hour, and I told my friend, Mrs. Haining, that I would go out for 6d. an hour. Although she disliked that way of putting it, it was really on that basis that I had made my beginning when I reached the age of 17. In the meantime I had taught my younger sister Mary (afterwards Mrs. W. J. Wren) all I knew, and in the columns of The South Australian I wrote an occasional letter or a few verses. Through Mr. George Tinline we made the acquaintance of Mrs. Samuel Stephens her brother, Thomas Hudson Beare, and his family, who had all come out in the Duke of York, and lived six months on Kangaroo Island before South Australia was proclaimed a British province. I have been mixed up so much with this family that it is often supposed that they were relatives, but it was not so. Samuel Stephens had died from an accident two years after his marriage to a lady much older and much richer than himself, and she was living on two acres in North Adelaide, bought with her money at the first sale of city lands in 1837, and Mr.


AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 4/32

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