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
Half a long life 'mid Scotland's heaths and pines,
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.
An Autobiography -by- Catherine Helen Spence