John Brodie Spence

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John Brodie Spence (ca. 1824 – 7 December 1902), born in Melrose, Scotland, was a prominent banker and politician in the early days of South Australia. He was a brother of the reformer Catherine Helen Spence.

He arrived in South Australia on 31 October 1839 on the Palmyra[1] with his mother Helen Brodie Spence (1791–1887). Other children of David and Helen on the passenger list were his sisters Catherine, Jessie, Helen and Mary and brother William. His father David Spence (1790–1846), solicitor and first Town Clerk of Adelaide arrived earlier (13 October 1839) on the Dumfries.[2]

The family was struggling to make ends meet, so after some seven months he and his brother went farming, without much success,[3] and he moved to Adelaide in 1845, joining either the Bank of Adelaide or the Bank of South Australia, where he remained for seven years. He was afterwards for five years official assignee and curator of intestate estates, then in 1856 accountant in the Railway Department,[4] and from 1859 to 1864 Official Assignee and Curator of Intestate Estates. but left that office for the management of the English and Scottish Bank (soon to become English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank) which he held till 1878. Between around 1879 and 1881 he was involved with Arthur Harvey in land development at The Grange and East Adelaide.[5][6]

He was elected a member of the Legislative Council in 1881, second on the poll with Henry Ayers, W. C. Buik, James Rankine, John Pickering, and R. A. Tarlton. He was Chief Secretary in the Downer Government from June to October 1885, when he retired to take the position of Commissioner of Public Works. In June 1886 he again took office as Chief Secretary, retiring the following month.[7] On 5 February 1896, he was appointed one of the first five trustees of the State Bank, and was Chairman of the board at the time of his death.


His parents were David Spence (1790–1846) and Helen Spence (née Brodie) (1791–1887). Their children were:

  • Agnes (eldest daughter, Born 9 February 1818 – Died ca.1835)
  • William Richard (13 December 1822 – 1903 New Zealand )
  • John Brodie (1824 – 7 December 1902) married Jessie Cumming (1830 – 31 January 1910) on 22 April 1858. Their home was "Fenton", Glenelg. They had three daughters:
  • Lucy (1 March 1859 – 10 June 1951) married James Percy Morice on 20 March 1886. She was awarded the MBE for her work with the free kindergarten movement.[8] She was also one of the founders of the Mothers and Babies' Health Association in Adelaide.
  • a Miss Spence (19 December 1862 – ) no more details yet to hand.
  • Margaret Ethel (26 August 1867 – ) married George A. Stephen on 18 August 1887
  • Catherine Helen (31 October 1825 – 3 April 1910)
  • Jessie (1821 – 21 November 1888) married Andrew Murray, businessman then writer for the South Australian.
  • Mary Brodie (ca.1830 – 22 November 1870) married solicitor John Wren
  • David jnr. (1827–1890) stayed in Scotland for his education, emigrated in 1846. Never married.

Further reading[edit]

Magarey, Susan Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A biography of Catherine Helen Spence University of Adelaide Press 2nd edition 2010 ISBN 978-0-9806723-1-2 (paperback). Available for free reading at


  1. ^
    The passenger list does include David Spence. This is an error – the Spences were entitled by the South Australian Company to four berths; the fourth was taken by a servant. This fact is alluded to in C. H. Spence's autobiography.
  2. ^
    This list shows a Mr. and Mrs. Spence/Spencer. Errors and omissions in passenger lists were surprisingly common.
  3. ^ "Catherine Helen Spence – An autobiography Chapter V.". The Register. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 16 April 1910. p. 15. Retrieved 7 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Concerning People". The Register. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 8 December 1902. p. 4. Retrieved 6 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "The Grange Job". The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 6 October 1879. p. 9. Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Late Mr. Arthur Harvey". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 7 February 1902. p. 6. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Late Mr. J. B. Spence.". The Advertiser. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 8 December 1902. p. 5. Retrieved 6 April 2012. 
  8. ^ "Honored By The King—Mrs. Morice.". The Mail. Adelaide: National Library of Australia. 27 June 1936. p. 2 Section: Enlarged Section. Retrieved 6 April 2012. 
Political offices
Preceded by
John Colton
Chief Secretary of South Australia
Succeeded by
John Bray
Preceded by
John Darling
Commissioner of Public Works
Succeeded by
Luke Furner
Preceded by
John Bray
Chief Secretary of South Australia
Succeeded by
David Murray