Friday, 13 September 2019

Charles Spencer (1854-1933) – Part III – Serving the Community

S.S. Taupo, as she lies on the Rocks at Stoney Point, Tauranga Harbour
Photographed at low water on the afternoon of April 9th [1879], by Charles Spencer
Albumen print mounted on printed card, Tauranga City Library, Ref. 05-445

The s.s. Taupo ran aground on Stoney Point Reef in the entrance to Tauranga Harbour on 18 February 1879. Several attempts were made to raise her off the rocks over the next two years, eventually succeeding on 2 March 1881, although she sank a few weeks later off Tuhua while being towed to Auckland. This large format photograph by Charles Spencer was supposedly taken on 9 April – although the year wasn’t specified, it is likely to have been in 1879, three weeks after the accident, and only a week after Spencer’s arrival in Tauranga.

Portrait of (back row) Edward Ker Mulgan and Everard F. Buckworth,
(front row) William Tuthill and George Noble Gair
Carte de visite by Charles Spencer, Tauranga, April-June 1879, with annotations on verso
Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref. PA2-1686
G.N. Gair arrived from Wellington on 25 May 1878 to take up the position of manager of the local Bank of New Zealand branch. Having purchased a farm and an allotment in the Quarter Acres, he quickly became involved in the local scene, being appointed to several committees, engaging in amateur dramatics, and endearing himself by playing a prominent role in fighting a fire which broke out in a shed on the Town Wharf in late September. He was Treasurer of the Tauranga Cricket Club, and no doubt a frequent player. He participated in Tauranga’s annual St Patrick’s Day Regatta in March 1879. Sadly, he took his own life on 26 June 1879. The names of Mulgan, Buckworth and Tuthill appear frequently in the newspapers of that period in connection with cricket, boating and horse racing, and it seems likely that the carte de visite above celebrates one such event. It was taken by Spencer soon after his arrival in Tauranga, probably in his tent adjacent to Wrigley’s Brewery. Other carte de visite portraits in an identical format by Spencer held at the Alexander Turnbull Library depict other Tauranga personalities, including John E Grace and Fred Clarke, and were probably also taken c.1879-1880.

Lake at White Island, partially dry, c.1882-1884
Glass plate positive by Charles Spencer (Series # 107)
Auckland Library Sir George Grey Collection, Ref. 1285_09999

In November 1882, March 1883 and again in February 1884 Spencer made trips to Whakaari (White Island), partly to take photographs, but also to evaluate the prospects of extracting sulphur, to be used in the manufacture of fertilizer and sulphuric acid. In May 1883 he accompanied a survey party to Karewa Island, and brought back not only some exposed glass plates but some specimens of tuatara which he displayed in his shop window.

Children at a Maypole Dance, probably at the Temperance Hall, Tauranga
Cabinet card albumen print attributed to Charles Spencer, 25 February 1886
Tauranga Heritage Collection, Ref. 0569-08

In March 1884, when the Governor visited, he captured both the reception given him at Whareroa Marae and the subsequent speeches celebrations along the Strand from an upstairs window. During a Maypole Dance conducted on 25 February 1886:
“Mr Charles Spencer succeeded in taking a couple of photographs of the group, which we doubt not will appear in due course with the impress of this gentleman’s well known finish and prove to many a pleasant souvenir of the Wesleyan Gift Auction.”
It is almost certain that the cabinet card illustrated above is one of these photographs, even though it does not have Spencer’s name on it. At the same event there was a magic lantern show, “at which will be shewn a number of well-known views,” probably also conducted by Spencer.

Sailing Regatta in Tauranga Harbour, c. mid- to late 1880s
Carte de visite albumen print attributed to Charles Spencer
Tauranga Heritage Collection, Ref. 0572-08

Likewise this carte visite photograph of small yachts competing in a regatta on Tauranga Harbour, with the Papamoa Hills visible on the skyline, was almost certainly by Spencer. A regatta was held annually in Tauranga in mid-March, although there were smaller meets as well. Spencer donated prizes for the regatta comprising sets of his photographs of the Hot Lakes in 1887 and 1889, and it is possible that the above view was taken on one of those two occasions.

Charles Spencer was elected to the Borough Council in May 1887, but failed in his bid for the Mayoralty in December that year.

(to be continued)

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