Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thomas SPENCE, Builder, Alderman & Mayor of Sydney


[The House that Thomas SPENCE built in 1856 - the Legislative Council Chamber on the right, abutting the northern wing of the original "Rum Hospital" previously known as the Principal Surgeon's residence, which is bounded on the left by the original Council Chamber, still in use as the Legislative Assembly Chamber.]

A somewhat satirical report was published in BELL's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle, concerning the election of a new Mayor for Sydney in December 1862, and in which the outgoing Mayor's speech had been reconstructed by the anonymous reporter into an epic ode, including these two lines about the new Mayor:
"... SPENCE is an architect of great renown,
Whose noble works adorn our ancient town..."

Thomas SPENCE was not an Architect as we know them today, but was instead a Carpenter/Joiner turned building contractor, perhaps best known for his having won the contract in 1856 to erect the cast-iron store-house-cum-church building, prefabricated in Scotland, in the short four weeks he had left before the opening of the first bi-cameral Parliament in the Australian Colonies - and which building is still in use as the Legislative Council Chamber of the N.S.W. Parliament, in Macquarie Street, Sydney - although since Thomas built it, the roof was reconstructed, and the front wall has been moved closer to Macquarie Street in order to enlarge its capacity.

[The Legislative Council Chamber, after the roof had been altered - the original curved
iron roof (the roof line still visible) proved to be too hot under the summer sun, and too noisy when the rains fell
during debates, and was replaced with a pitched slate roof.]

Thomas SPENCE appears to have been a little ahead of his political times - in another mildly satirical report, in the same newspaper only 11 months earlier, he was credited as having made a speech, at the farewell banquet in honour of Benjamin JAMES, in which he advocated that "a House was nothing without women" - the similarly unidentified reporter went on to draw the obvious allusion to the House in Macquarie Street which was without women Members, and said of Alderman SPENCE:

"Really, the men of out time are becoming fearfully enlightened."

[This photo image is part of a collage of 1861 Sydney Aldermen, held in the City of Sydney Archives (see below).
Another image of it appears on the City of Sydney's "Alderman of Sydney" web-page (Ref SRC 20606).]

[Thomas SPENCE's signature, taken from a letter he wrote in 1856, now in the Archives of the N.S.W. Parliament.]

Thomas SPENCE was also a widower, and after he was elected Mayor in December 1862, his late wife Esther was represented, at those Civic occasions which required a Mayoress, by their elder surviving daughter Elizabeth SPENCE, then a young woman 25 years of age, and who would, 3 years hence, become the wife of a pioneering Presbyterian Minister, and would go with him to live in the Manse of the small N.S.W. country town of Carcoar - having earned the stated reputation for being the only Presbyterian Minister's wife who could claim to have been at one time of her "career" the Mayoress of a major Australian city.
That Minister was Rev James ADAM, M.A., and his story can be found in an earlier blog on this blog-site.


Thomas SPENCE and his wife Esther HYDE had arrived in Sydney on 12 February 1842 on the ship Champion, from Liverpool, as bounty emigrants, together with their 5 year-old daughter Elizabeth. They lost a son on day 61 of the voyage, somewhere off the coast of Africa, in the heat of a tropical summer; he only survived his birth by 5 hours; and he joined up to four other children who had not survived their infancy in the town of Manchester, where Thomas and Esther had married, in Saint John's Parish Church, on 28 August 1834. Esther did it hard - she lost two of three more children born in Sydney, and died in 1858, just as Thomas was launching his Civic career as Alderman for Fitzroy Ward, covering Woolloomooloo, on the Sydney Municipal Council.

[Image courtesy of Ancestry.library edition.]

Earlier again, in the early 1830's, Thomas had arrived in Manchester from Fifeshire in Scotland as a joiner and carpenter, probably having learned his trade from his father in Auchtertool; and there joined his younger brother Robert SPENCE, also a carpenter, who also married there, to Alice GRISDALE, and also emigrated to Sydney, about three months before Thomas and Esther, settling in Redfern.
Thomas resided at Owen St, Hulme, as a Joiner (1836, 1839) and Book-keeper (1838), and more precisely at 28 Owen Street (February 1841); his brother Robert, who witnessed Thomas and Esther's 1834 marriage, resided at Salford.
The SPENCE family was enumerated at 77 Devonshire Street, Manchester, 1841 Census - Thomas, aged 38, a Joiner, with Ester, aged 30+ and Elizabeth, aged 5.


They were the sons of Alexander SPENCE (1775-1860), a Clock and Watchmaker and Wright, of Dysart, Dunfermline and Auchtertool, all in Fifeshire, by his wife Jean MACKAY. Their first known child Thomas was born in Dunfermline in 1802, followed by Robert in 1804; two younger sons were born in Auchtertool, and Henry and Alexander both also joined their brothers in Australia, emigrating in the mid 1850's, with wives and children - Henry going to Ballarat in Victoria, and Alexander to Botany in Sydney's south.
Their only two daughters, Margaret and Isobel, remained in Fife, where they were married, with children.

The SPENCE family had a long tradition in the Royal Burgh of Dysart, as Master Clockmakers and before them as Maltsters. Thomas's grandfather Thomas SPENCE, and his great-grandfather Robert SPENCE, were both Clockmakers of Dysart, and their long-case clocks are still listed in on-line sale catalogues, and for asking prices in excess of £8,000 sterling.


[Detail of the maker's mark of a Thomas SPENCE long-case clock, ca 1795, used to illustrate a recent on-line sale.]

But, we should start with Thomas's great-great grandfather:

Thomas SPENCE was baptised at Saint Serf's Parish Church, Dysart, on 12 February 1683, a son of David SPENCE, Maltster, and his spouse Janet SMALL; Thomas was himself a Burger and Maltster, and was several times Baillie of Dysart; he died in Dysart on 25 October 1758, and was buried under his own stone in the Churchyard of Saint Serf's, Dysart; he married at Saint Serf's, on 24 August 1711, Grizell HENDERSON (daughter of Robert HENDERSON, Bailie of Dysart, by Elizabeth LAW); she was buried with her husband, 25 December 1770; they had issue:
1. Robert SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 9 October 1712. See [A] below.
2. David SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 8 August 1714; Salt Master in Dysart; bur Saint Serf's Churchyard, 15 December 1774; married Helen REDDIE; she was buried Saint Serf's, 12 June 1766; issue.
3. Janet SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 8 July 1716; named in her father's deed, 1763; unmarried.
4. Elizabeth SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 26 February 1718; named in her father's deed, 1763; married at Dysart, 14 November 1752, John REDDIE, a Captain in the service of the Hon East Indies Company, with issue including - Grizel REDDIE, the wife of James BLACK, Commander, R.N.
5. Thomas SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 24 January 1720; Maltsman and Tidewaiter; married at Dysart, 26 August 1757, Helen ANDERSON, with issue including - Andrew SPENCE (1761 - 1805), trained as a Dentist with his cousin, and went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he married Mary MAUGHAN and had issue.
6. James SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 22 February 1722; Operator to the Teeth of King George, October 1766, then of Red Lion Street, Holborn; later of Soho, London; died in London, 10 January 1783, and was buried at Saint Serf's, Dysart; by his wife Martha (her will dated March 1784, proved February 1789), he had issue:
     a. Thomas Richard SPENCE (born about 1745), also a Royal Dentist, with issue by his wife Frances.
     b. George SPENCE (1750-1815), another Royal Dentist, who married Ann PITTS, with issue.
     c. Martha SPENCE, born in 1756, the wife of Captain George WHITLEY, with issue.

[A] Robert SPENCE was baptised at Dysart, 9 October 1712, the eldest son and heir; a Wright, Watch and Clock Maker in Dysart; he was buried at Saint Serf's, 6 October 1799; he married at Dysart, 3 February 1738, Margaret PAGE (daughter of Alexander PAGE of Abbotshall and Isabel PHILP); they had issue:
1. Thomas SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 9 June 1740. See [B] below.
2. Grizel SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 12 February 1742; possibly the wife of William McCULLOUGH, with issue.
3. Isobel SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 27 November 1743; probably buried Saint Serf's, Dysart, 30 July 1810; unmarried.
4. Alexander SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 3 December 1745; probably buried Saint Serf's, 22 August 1746; an infant.
5. Elizabeth SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 25 September 1747; probably buried Saint Serf's, 19 December 1752; a child.
6. Margaret SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 30 June 1749; probably buried Saint Serf's, 20 February 1750; an infant.
7. Robert SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 14 June 1750.
8. Margaret SPENCE (2), baptized at Dysart, 23 June 1752; probably buried Saint Serf's, 14 September 1824; unmarried.
9. Martha SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 15 January 1757; probably the wife of George COMRIE, with issue.

[B] Thomas SPENCE was baptised at Saint Serf's, Dysart, 9 January 1740, the 2nd child and eldest son; Clockmaker in Dysart; his death details have not yet located, but he was living in 1795, and probably died very soon after; he married firstly, at Dysart, about 1761, Isabella DUNCAN; she was buried at Saint Serf's, 8 March 1770, having had issue:
1. Mary SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 30 May 1762; probably buried at Saint Serf's, 29 September 1762; an infant.
2. Robert SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 25 September 1763.
3. James SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 12 May 1765; probably buried at Saint Serf's, 28 June 1768; a child.
4. Margaret SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 26 October 1766; possibly buried at Saint Serf's, 14 September 1824; if so, unmarried.
5. William SPENCE, baptized at Dysart, 9 January 1769; probably buried at Saint Serf's, 17 June 1771; a child.
Thomas married secondly, again at Saint Serf's, Dysart, his cousin Amelia (Emily) ORROCK (daughter of Robert ORROCK of Auchtertool by Isabel PAGE, a sister of Mrs Margaret SPENCE alias PAGE); Emily was buried at Saint Serf's, 27 July 1806, having had issue:
6. Alexander SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 1 September 1775. See [C] below.
7. James SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 8 December 1776; he possibly married Mary MURRAY?
8. Isabel SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 14 June 1779; possibly buried at Saint Serf's, 30 July 1810; if so, unmarried.
9. John SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 4 November 1781; possibly married Grizel MEARNS?
10. Orrock SPENCE, baptised at Dysart, 4 September 1763; he married at Kirkcaldy, June 1818, Catherine HILL, with issue.

[C] Alexander SPENCE was born at Dysart, 13 August 1775, eldest son of the second marriage; Wright and Watchmaker in Dunfermline and Auchtertool; he died at Auchtertool, 2 June 1860; details of his marriage to Jean MACKAY have not yet been found; she was buried in Auchtertool Churchyard, 26 July 1846; they had issue:
1. Thomas SPENCE, born at Dunfermline, 6 October 1802, and baptised at the Abbey Church, 24 Oct.
2. Robert SPENCE, born at Dunfermline, 31 July 1804; went to Manchester; Carpenter in Salford; married at Eccles, 1838, Alice GRISDALE; they emigrated to N.S.W. on the ship "Ayrshire" departing Liverpool, July 1841, with sons Alexander SPENCE (born 1838) and Joseph SPENCE (born 1840; died on the voyage out); they settled in Redfern, south of Sydney, where they had further issue.
3. Alexander SPENCE, born at  Dunfermline, 17 January 1809; apparently died young.
4. Henry SPENCE, born at Auchtertool, 22 December 1812; Miner; married at Inverkeithing, 4 May 1833, Jane BLACK; they emigrated to Victoria on the ship "Charles Napier" leaving Liverpool, December 1854, with children James SPENCE (born 1837), Isabella SPENCE (born 1840) and Margaret SPENCE (born 1843); they settled in Bendigo, where they had further issue.
5. Alexander SPENCE, born at Auchtertool, 1 March 1817; married at Inverkeithing, 28 September 1838, Elizabeth DEMPSTER; they emigrated to N.S.W. on the ship "David McIvor" departing Liverpool, August 1854, with children Elizabeth Moodie SPENCE (born 1839), Alexander SPENCE (born 1841), Thomas SPENCE (born 1845), William SPENCE (born 1848) and Robert (born 1853, and died on the voyage out).
5. Isabel SPENCE, born at Auchtertool, 21 November 1821; married at Auhtertool, 10 November 1841, William PATERSON of Auchtertool, with issue.
6. Margaret SPENCE, born at Auchtertool, 10 June 1824; married at Auchtertool, 30 January 1852, Alexander KINNELL, with issue.


Thomas SPENCE first resided in Nicholson Street, Balmain, where he was recorded in the 1844 Sydney Directory. He made several property purchases in that vicinity, including 11 perches of land in Johnston Street, Balmain , an "... extension of Nicholson Street," from Elizabeth BURNICLE, in 1850, and which remained in his possession until the 1870's.
It is believed that on that land, in about 1844, and with the permission of her late husband William BURNICLE (he died in February 1846), Thomas had previously built a small stone cottage, later known as Woodbine Cottage, on the south-eastern corner of Nicholson Street and Smith's Lane (later School Street). See William BURNICLE's entry in the 2nd part of Peter REYNOLDS's article published in The Leichhardt Historical Journal, No. 12, 1983, at page 14. The cottage has evidently not survived; but it does appear in John DEGOTARDI's 1865 photograph, "Panoramic View of Simmons Point, Balmain East, from Goat Island, etc", on the web-site; which photo was reproduced in REYNOLDS's article, identifying the exact location.
But Thomas did not stay long in Balmain, and by 1849, he had already taken occupancy of a one-roomed workshop on William Street, Woolloomooloo.
In August 1851, he purchased a brick and Shingle workshop just around the corner, in Palmer Street, and in May 1852, he purchased a brick and shingle house in William Street.
His acceptance into the congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church in Pitt Street in November 1852 gives a clear indication of the removal of his residence from Balmain to Woolloomooloo by that time.
Sydney Directory listings record him as a Builder, at William Street, 1851; at 79 William Street, 1855; and at 110 Palmer Street, 1858; Miller and Timber Yard, 102-104 Palmer Street, 1861; and from 1863 in Palmer Street - No 108 in 1863 - 1865; and No 126 in 1867-1876.
It is not possible, from this distance in time, to identify exactly where these earlier structures stood, but it is apparent from Rating Assessments in later years that they probably part of the package of 4 properties that later came into the possession of his only surviving daughter Mrs Elizabeth ADAM, and after, of her only daughter Mrs Margaret Paton PIGOTT (my grandmother).
In 1861, Thomas was recorded as the owner of the following properties that were rated in Fitzroy Ward:
1. 42 William Street - House and Shop; Brick and Shingle; two floors and six rooms; annual value £170; occupied by James SADLER.
2. 44 William Street - all ditto; occupied by Henry WALLS.
3. 102-106 Palmer Street - Wood and Iron sheds; value £20; occupied by Thomas SPENCE.
4. 108 Palmer Street - House; Brick and Slate; three floors; value £100; occupied by Thomas SPENCE.
There were two other properties listed, at 10 and 12 Spence's Lane, where two cottages of brick and shingle, valued at £28 and £26, were occupied by Margaret PARKER and Edward EVERETT respectively; these were probably shortly after demolished and replaced by a house similar to the one at 108 Palmer Street.
These street numberings were only temporary, and by 1867, the now pair of terraced houses which Thomas owned on Palmer Street were numbered 126 (probably the former 108 - Thomas continued to reside in this one until his death) and 128 (the southern house, standing on the north side of Spence Lane, which ran from Palmer Street to Bourke Street, just north of William Street, and which disappeared, around the year 2000, under the new circular south-bound on-ramp into the airport tunnel).

[Numbers 126 and 128 Palmer Street, Woolloomooloo, from the files of the Department of Main Roads, photographed shortly before they were demolished in the 1980s to make way for the Bourke Street by-pass under William Street. An Executor's inspection prior to their sale in 1960 revealed that one of them was being used as a "house of ill-repute" otherwise a gay brothel.]

When my grandmother died in 1960, these four properties were sold to satisfy the conditions of her will (they were of unequal value, and so could not be divided equally without realising their cash value). At that time, they comprised the pair of adjoining 3 storey terraced houses standing on the north-western corner of Palmer Street and Spence Lane (both demolished in the 1980's to make way for the Bourke Street "diversion" where it passed under William Street); and the two shops on the north side of William Street, between Crown and Palmer Streets, and were demolished to make way for the Boulevarde Hotel (one of the shops lay under the present driveway entrance to the hotel).


Thomas spent some time in and around the Parliamentary precinct on the east side of Macquarie Street, as a sort of period contractor for minor

Politics was not new to Thomas SPENCE. During his time in Manchester, not only had the Reform Bill of 1837 enabled Mancunians to once again send Representatives to sit in the House of Commons, a right they were deprived of at the Restoration as punishment for their support of Oliver CROMWELL in the Civil Wars, but they were also able to establish a  Municipal Corporation for the Town, despite having to outlay almost £800,000 to "compensate" the MOSELEY family for their surrendering of the Manorial Rights.
And in addition to all of this, the Collegiate Church - where his wife Esther HYDE was baptised in 1804, and where her parents (George HYDE, a Cloth Dyer, and Margaret MOTTRAM) were married in 1794 - was finally elevated to the rank of Cathedral.

But I don't know whether Thomas was new to Politics.
In July 1848, his name was included on a list of members of a Balmain committee established for the election of Charles COWPER and H. Gilbert SMITH to the Legislative Council as Members for the County of Cumberland [Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1848], but in particular for advancing the electoral cause of Mr SMITH.
It seems likely that his association with the world of COWPER, later to lead a number of Governments of an increasingly Liberal persuasion, inevitably led to his own involvement in Municipal politics another 9 years hence; it may also have "facilitated" his involvement with both minor and major new works in the N.S.W. Parliamentary precinct, which he commenced in February 1850.

His "tasks" are listed in Public Works Archives, and are summarised below:

26 February 1850 - tendered for alterations to the Committee Room of the Council Chamber, for £57.
15 May 1850 - instructed to furnish a lock for a desk and a man to regulate the bells.
7 June 1850 - instructed to provide two additional keys for the dressing room at the Head of the Stairs, one for the Sergeant-at-Arms, the other for the Assistant Clerk.
6 October 1852 - ordered to erect shelves in the Speaker's Room, for a large number of books weekly expected to arrive from England.
2 February 1853 - instructed to repair or replace the shelves that he had provided for the Almanacs and Lists, which had warped so badly as to be unfit for purpose.
7 July 1853 - ordered to replace a ladder, supplied by the Gas Company for lighting the Lamps, and broken by one of Thomas's men, resulting in the lights having remained unlit for two weeks.
12 July 1854 - requested to repair sash lines on one of the Chamber windows.

Up to this time, Thomas had taken his instructions from Edmund BLACKETT, the Colonial Architect who had succeeded Mortimer LEWIS in 1849, and who had in turn been instructed by William McPHERSON, Clerk of the Council. BLACKETT resigned in 1854 to take up a position offered by the Senate of Sydney University to erect their first buildings, and was replaced by William WEAVER, who had been BLACKETT's Senior Foreman of Works.
WEAVER's tenure was short-lived, and he "resigned" under the Governor's displeasure over his failure to make timely provision for a meeting chamber required to accommodate the new Legislative Assembly under responsible bi-cameral government.

The process is succinctly described by the Clerk of the Parliaments, W.K. CHARLETON, in his address, in July 1944, to visiting members of the Royal Australian Historical Society, and published in the R.A.H.S. Journal, Vol. XXX, p. 249 et seq, as follows:
"... WEAVER was asked to prepare an estimate for a new Council Chamber and offices. A few days later he attended before a committee of the House and stated that he had approached Mrs BURDEKIN with a view to securing a lease of her residence opposite for a Council Chamber.
"These negotiations apparently fell through, and on 23 February 1856, the Governor (Sir William DENNISON) and the Executive Council approved the purchase of an iron building then in Melbourne for £1,760 (delivered in Sydney Harbour) or £1,835 if delivered (on land, no more than, i.e.) within 1 mile from a public wharf.
"It is said the building was intended for church purposes in Bendigo, but at the time of the gold rush, portion of the material was hastily put up in Melbourne to cope with the extraordinary demand for accommodation. The whole of the material was brought from Melbourne on the ship "Callender," which left there on 13 March 1856.
"On 17 April 1856, the Governor approved the tender of Mr Thomas SPENCE to erect the building, together with adjacent rooms and offices, and provide internal fittings for the Chamber, for the sum of £4,475. The building was erected at the southern end of the old Principal Surgeon's residence."

The offer of the building had been made to WEAVER on 26 February 1856, by Mr James DEAN of Macquarie Place; but by the time it was delivered to Sydney, WEAVER had been replaced as Colonial Architect, on 1 April, by Alexander DAWSON, formerly the Clerk of Works in Hobart.
Responsible Government in N.S.W. had already claimed it's first Public Servant victim.
And Mrs BURDEKIN's stately mansion stood on the site that is now occupied by Saint Stephen's Presbyterian Church.

Thomas worked hard. The whole of the prefabricated cast-iron work (manufactured in Scotland) was erected and fitted-out in about a month, although some of the ancillary office space at the rear had not yet been completed, when the first bi-cameral Legislature in Australia was officially opened on 22 May 1856 - it having only been announced two days prior, that the new Chamber was to become the home of the Legislative Council, and that the new Assembly (or Lower House) would meet in the old Council Chamber.
And Thomas may well have had some recent experience in just this kind of work - eighteen months earlier, and on the site immediately to the north of the Parliamentary complex, the congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church in Pitt Street had built a cast-iron church, also prefabricated in Scotland. This was the Congregation to which Thomas belonged (see below), and although the contract details have not yet located, it seems inconceivable that he did not have a large hand in it's erection, or the supervision thereof.
But returning to the Parliament, we find that Thomas continued to perform mostly minor works functions, with an occasional independent contract:

3 November 1856 - his tender, for £445, for building an Addition to the Steward's House at the Legislative Council Chamber was accepted.
29 January 1857 - requested to repair the leaky roof to the new Council Chamber.
29 July 1757 - requested to "work on" a number of chairs for the Press Gallery before the next Session.
16 November 1857 - ordered to provide a light ladder, 16 feet long, for lighting the gas lamps and other purposes.
20 November 1857 - ordered to re-locate the Legislative Council entrance gate further south, nearer the Infirmary Wall, to alleviate problems for turning carriages which had resulted in accidents, and improving the aspect of the building.
27 January 1858 - ordered to install, on the front veranda of the Legislative Assembly, a press for the storage of printed papers from the last Session.
7 June 1858 - ordered to re-shingle the old stables at the rear of the Assembly.
16 June 1858 - requested to furnish a Carpenter for a day to complete sundry repairs in the Assembly Chamber
2 July 1858 - requested to supply a new spring to be fixed to the door in the centre of passage leading to the Speaker's Room, and effect repairs to the kitchen fire-place.
5 July 1858 - requested to alter frames and sashes in the Office and No 1 Committee Room, so as to afford some ventilation.
14 July 1858 - ordered to investigate the opening in the centre of the ceiling of the Chamber, and fix the covering to the ceiling ventilator.
22 July 1858 - requested to fit two first class patent drawer locks for one of the desks in the Legislative Council Office.
6 August 1858 - requested to fit a lock and key to one of the Water Closet doors at the rear of the Assembly Offices.
15 September 1858 - ordered to purchase three more Urinal troughs to be placed in the new Water Closets being built at the rear of the Parliamentary Buildings.
25 November 1858 - requested to put up ropes, etcetera, for the Prorogation at mid-day the following day.
4 February 1859 - ordered to re-build the large portion of wall separating the Parliamentary grounds from the Domain which had been blown over in a storm.
23 February 1859 - ordered to supply a step-ladder, 6 feet high, light and narrow for the Council Office.
8 April 1859 - ordered to make arrangements for the closing of the present Council Session.
17 January 1860 - requested to re-locate a paper press from the corridor on the 1st floor into the Legislative Council Office.
15 February 1850 - ordered to erect suitable posts for stretching clothes lines behind the Legislative Council.
June 1860 - the Colonial Architect recommended that the contract for a new joint Parliamentary Library, to be built in the old Refreshment Room, with additional additions to abut the rear veranda, valued at £1150, be "...carried out upon the existing Contracts upon the Schedules" in order to save time - it is probable that this was done under the terms of Thomas SPENCE's "Annual Contract."
2 July 1860 - instructed to perform the necessary alterations in the Council Chamber previous to the Prorogation of Parliament on Wednesday 4th next.

This was the last mention of Thomas SPENCE in the files of the Colonial Architect's Correspondence, N.S.W. State Archives, researched some years ago in the Globe Street Reading Rooms.

[A view of Macquarie Street, Sydney, in the 1890s.
The "Bear Pit" of the N.S.W. Parliament (just right of centre) and its appurtenances, immediately behind the left half of the solid "white" fence, book-ended by two imported pre-fabricated iron church structures erected by Presbyterians:
1. The Free Church in the foreground, and
2. Thomas SPENCE's Legislative Council Chamber, just beyond the old wing of the former Rum Hospital,
and immediately in front of the then newly built Sydney Hospital (on the extreme right.]


Thomas was a Scot, and so a Presbyterian. He was baptised into the Established Church of Scotland at Dunfermline Abbey Church. His younger siblings were baptised at the Established Church of Scotland in Auchtertool, so that is presumably where Thomas had his first encounter with a Scottish Sabbath School.

As a young man in Manchester, he had two of his children baptised at the Scotch National Presbyterian Church in Saint Peter's Square. It is not yet known why he did not marry there (which he did instead in the Parish Church of Saint Anne's); nor why his other children born in Manchester were not baptised there.
The reasons may be related to there having been some qualifying "ground-rules" in Anglican jurisdictions prior to the Hardwicke Marriage Act (particularly as regards qualifying periods of residency), which Act freed up some Dissenters rights (particularly in regards to the Licensing of non-Established Ministers to perform marriages after the commencement of Statutory Registration); or to the fact that his wife was not Presbyterian, and they may have had a "share and share-alike" agreement relating to the children's baptisms; or simply that he or they didn't like a particular Minister, or one was then unavailable.

In Sydney, Thomas first lived at Balmain, although it seems likely there was no separate Presbyterian Church there, which is probably why his second surviving daughter, Esther Junior, was baptised in Sydney - but here again, this took place at the Parish Church of Saint Philip's - and here again, this may have arisen due to it being Esther's "turn," or due to the unavailability of a suitable Presbyterian Minister at the time.
I have not yet found his name associated with any particular Congregation before 1852.

But there is another factor that may have come into play. The Scottish Church was well factionalised by the time Thomas emigrated to N.S.W., with a number of "dissenting" Synods operating outside of the Established Church of Scotland; and the latest "disruption" which separated the Free Church of Scotland from the Established Church would occur in 1843, shortly after his arrival here, essentially repudiating the Established Church for accepting financial support from the State for Ministerial Stipends and Building costs.
In Sydney there operated a man of the cloth even more vociferously opposed to such State Aid, one Rev John Dunmore LANG, whose stridency even kept other like-minded Free Church adherents at arms length!

Thomas does not appear to have played any major part in this Clerical factionalism, other than by his adherence to what was left of the Free Church's Synod of Eastern Australia, under Rev Alexander SALMON.

This he appears to have done after he removed his residence from Balmain to Woolloomooloo, and was recorded in the Session Minutes of the Pitt Street Free Church Congregation on 29 November 1852, as Mr SPENCE, his name attached to the Communicants Roll "... for the first time." Which does suggest he had not been a communicant Presbyterian during his earlier time in the Colony. Or if he did, perhaps with another Synod?

Thomas was undoubtedly in attendance, if not as the builder, then certainly as a very interested member of the congregation, when the new "Iron Church" on Macquarie Street was opened for divine service on 5 August 1855:

[The Free or Iron Church, Macquarie Street, Sydney, on the site of the present N.S.W. State Library.]

This building served its 2nd purpose (it had previously been partially erected in Melbourne) until taken over by Sydney Council for use as a Lending Library (very appropriate to the function of the site today, as home of the State Library of N.S.W.), and finally being removed, about the 1890's, to the State Hospital at Lidcombe, and re-erected for the third time for use as a chapel building.
Rev SALMON buried Thomas's wife Esther at Devonshire Street Cemetery in 1858; but that is the only other indication we have of his Church going activities - other than his contribution to the Building Fund of the Established Church of Scotland Synod for the erection of a church in Carcoar, in 1861, for their minister, Rev James ADAM, Thomas's future son-in-law.
But by the time ADAM had married Elizabeth SPENCE in 1865, concerted efforts had managed to effect a tolerably functioning Union of the dissenting Synods, notwithstanding the Rev J.D. LANG.


In November 1857, Thomas was nominated to fill the office of Alderman for the Fitzroy Ward for the Municipality of Sydney, by John PALMER of Palmer Street and Michael CHAPMAN of Crown St, the notice appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald on 30 November. The elections were held on 1 December, and Thomas defeated Michael GOLDEN, being elected to a term of two years.

Sydney had first obtained its Municipal Charter in 1842, the year Thomas had arrived in Sydney from Manchester. With six Wards, and the first six Alderman elected on a Sydney wide basis for a full term, with the next six for a lesser term, and a Mayor elected directly by the populace, this model did not survive much more than a decade. In 1853, the Council was dismissed by the government, in the face of losses of great numbers to the gold-rushes, for failure to providing adequate water supply and drainage/sewerage services.
The Administrators were themselves sacked, also for incompetence, and after some alterations to the Municipal Acts in Parliament created a Second Sydney Corporation, a new council was elected on 11 April 1857, with 8 wards, each with two Alderman, the first to a two year term, and the second to retire early.
One of the new Wards was Fitzroy Ward, created out of Cook Ward, and comprising the rapidly developing area between the harbour foreshore and William Street/Bayswater Road, and between Riley Street and the creek emptying into Rushcutters Bay (the area now occupied by the present-day suburbs of Woolloomooloo, Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay).

The first rotation of Alderman took place in November of the same year, and it was this election, held on 1 December, that Thomas SPENCE contested and won, giving him a two-year term.
And at the expiry of this term, Alderman SPENCE was re-elected, on 2 December 1861, by a large majority, to yet another two year term, to expire in December 1863.

But sadly, shortly after the start of his first term, on 2 February 1858, Thomas lost his wife Esther, who died at their residence in William Street, at the relatively young age of 52.
And on 10 October 1859, he was appointed by the Colonial Secretary's Office to the Bench of Magistrates for Sydney.

In Council matters, Alderman SPENCE took the usual interest in water supply, formation of streets, their kerbing and guttering, the laying of gas pipes, etc.

[The Mayor, Mayor Elect and Aldermen of the Municipal Council of Sydney, 1861. Image courtesy of City of Sydney Archives. Thomas SPENCE appears in the 4th Row, 2nd from the left.]


On 9 December 1862, Alderman Thomas SPENCE was elected, in his absence due to illness, by a meeting of the Aldermen, to serve as the Mayor of Sydney Municipality for the year 1863.
But not without some debate, both as to the method of election, and concerning the level of remuneration. SPENCE's supporters sought an election by ballot, his opponents by open voting; after the open voting amendment was defeated, SPENCE, was declared elected, polling 10 votes to 4.
As to the Mayoral Allowance, which had been denied for 1863 by a motion passed during the previous term, acrimonious debate took place over a rescission motion that was moved to re-instate the Allowance, and amendments canvassing allowances varying from £750 to £2,000. The rescission motion won the day, and the Mayoral Allowance was set at £1000.

On Tuesday 10 March 1863, Mayor SPENCE thanked his supporters, and entertained the Aldermen and Officials of the Sydney Municipality to a dinner at Manly Beach, which was marked by "... unrestrained social intercourse and enjoyment of the good things provided."
And on Wednesday 14 October 1863, the Mayor went one step further - he gave a public picnic at what is now Balmoral Beach, to which his friends, and a large number of the citizens of Sydney were invited. He was clearly mindful of the debate which had occurred at his election concerning the excesses of previous Mayoralty's in the staging of lavish Balls for the entertainment of the elite; and decided to buck the trend, and entertain all classes of the people, including some of his own poorer relations.
Not that he was thanked for this display of egalitarianism. The editor of the Empire took him to task after the event, advising him to be "... more select in his company" in the future - although it must be said this advice arose due to the political co-incidence of their having just been a change of Government, which saw several outgoing Ministers taking the opportunity to make pointed political remarks, which were judged unseemly in the presence of the Governor, Sir John YOUNG, and his wife.
Thomas entertained  the gathering alongside his daughter, Elizabeth, who "... very gracefully did the honours of Mayoress on the occasion." There was a fine repast, furnished in Mr COMPAGNONI's best style, the table centrepiece, a huge block of solid ice weighing 500 lbs, creating much amusement. It might be pertinent to note here that ice was not manufactured in Sydney until 1862 - previously, ice was made in Melbourne (from 1858) and some was sent to Sydney, and before that ice, cut from frozen lakes near Boston, in Massachusetts, had been shipped to Sydney from as early as the 1830's, insulated with bales of straw, and deposited in a purpose-built Ice House.

The evident success of the Mayor's picnic resulted in a return match, on 10 November, at the same place, some 500 being in attendance; it was organised by a committee representing the guests who had attended the previous picnic; and Elizabeth SPENCE again represented her late mother as the Mayoress.

During his Mayoralty, Thomas SPENCE presided as chairman of several major gatherings in public meetings. In July there was a celebration of the first anniversary of the arrival in the colony of the Rev Dr Robert STEEL, a fellow Presbyterian; in September it was a meeting in support of Free Education; and in December it was a crowded meeting concerning the libel suit that was being prosecuted against the editor of the Empire newspaper by the Doctor who had sectioned a Mr MELVILLE in the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum, who had smuggled out a letter detailing his false committal, and which the Empire had published.

He also had two more civic functions to attend to - one was the "gala fête" of the National Schools of the metropolis "... on the occasion of a monster demonstration" held in Parramatta Park on 17 December, with over 3,000 pupils attending, with their teachers and family members - the other was watching the Regatta near Woolloomooloo Bay, from the comfort of the deck of the Flagship, the fine clipper ship Canaan, again with his daughter Elizabeth in tow.

Thomas SPENCE hung up his Mayoral robes in December 1863. He had foreshadowed his retirement several months earlier, announcing that he would not seek re-election for another term as Alderman.


Thomas lived out his final years in retirement at his residence in Palmer Street. His younger daughter Esther and her husband Nathaniel NEALE lived with him, and she probably acted as his carer.
Thomas was very shaken by Esther's death in 1876, and one of his obituaries went so far as to suggest he never recovered from the shock of it (see below).

His financial circumstances may not have been as rosy as his property portfolio might have suggested - he was either forced, or chose, to mortgage one of his properties, a mortgage that was not discharged during what was left of his lifetime.

Thomas SPENCE died at his residence at 126 Palmer Street on 1 August 1878; he was buried at Devonshire Street Cemetery, along with his wife and daughter.

His additional details were inscribed on the standing sandstone gravestone he had erected when his wife died. It was removed, along with their exhumed remains, and re-erected over their re-interred remains at Gore Hill Cemetery. This was done in order to make way for the Central Railway extensions to the suburban Railways network, begun around 1900, and completed by the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932.

The Sydney Morning Herald published an obituary in their issue dated Thursday August 1878:

"In the obituary of the past month occurs the name of Mr Thomas SPENCE, once Mayor, and for many years alderman of Sydney. He died last Thursday week. His arrival in the colony dates as far back as 36 years, and from the first he took a very active part in public affairs, particularly interesting himself in politics during the time that the Late Sir Charles COWPER was before the country. Mr SPENCE entered the City Council in 1858, shortly before the passing of the new Municipalities Act, as a representative of Fitzroy Ward, and he was Mayor of Sydney during the year 1863. As an alderman he was attentive to the wants of the ratepayers and the welfare of the city, and as a magistrate he was very regular in his performance of his duties. By trade he was a master builder, and during his life became possessed of considerable property. He died at the age of 76 years, more from a general break-up of the system than anything else, but the death of one of his daughters four years ago affected him so deeply that he never fully recovered from the shock of that bereavement."


Thomas informed the N.S.W. Registrar on the occasion of his wife Esther's death in 1857 that they had had issue of eight children, six of whom had pre-deceased her, they being four boys and two girls un-named; three of the children have yet to be identified; those that have been identified are as follows:

1. Margaret Jane SPENCE, born Manchester, 9 February 1835, and baptised at the Scotch National Presbyterian Church, Saint Peter's Square, Manchester on 14 February; died young, before the 1841 Census, and probably before Statutory Registration commenced on 1 July 1837.
2. Elizabeth SPENCE, b Manchester, 14 May 1836; emigrated to N.S.W. with her parents, 1841; died at "Cadara" near Tottenham, 21 June 1932; married at 108 (later re-numbered 126) Palmer Street, Woolloomooloo, 4 April 1865, Rev James ADAM, M.A., Presbyterian Minister of Carcoar; issue 4 children, two of whom died in infancy. See his separate blog on this blog-page.
3. Alexander SPENCE; born at Owen Street, Hulme, Manchester, 7 June 1839; died at 28 Owen Street, 10 February 1841, of Measles (both events Registered at Chorlton). Possibly buried in the Rusholme Road Cemetery, Chorlton Row.
4. An un-named son; born 27 December 1841, at about the half-way point of the voyage out to N.S.W.; died aged 5 hours, and buried at sea.
5. Esther SPENCE, born at Balmain, 29 May 1843, and baptised at Saint Philip's Parish Church, Sydney, by Rev William COWPER; died at 126 Palmer Street, Woolloomooloo, 7 July 1876; married at 126 Palmer Street, on 2 November 1869, Nathaniel NEALE, Customs Locker; no issue.

Of the six deceased children that Thomas mentioned in 1857, the balance of unidentified children, two boys and one girl, were either born in Manchester (possibly about November-December 1837, or about September-October 1840) or in Sydney.
An Alice SPENCE was buried at Rusholme Road Cemetery, Chorlton upon Medlock, on 5 September 1841, aged 8 months (so born about December 1840), late of Hulme, grave number 305. death from diarrhoea, parents not named in the burial register.
Rev J.D. LANG buried in Sydney a Thomas SPENCE, 7 July 1854, an infant, parents not identified.

Thomas SPENCE was my great-great grandfather.

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