Spotlight on… Spencer Smith of Brooklands

August 19, 2008 at 6:06 pm (spotlight on) (, )


A Surrey archive owns a late-nineteenth-century Gosling photo album. One page contains two interesting identifications: Mrs S. Smith and Mr S. Smith. Surely… Spencer Smith and his wife Frances (née Seymour). So, it was devastating to read the words “photo missing” after Spencer’s name! A photo that once was, but now is lost…

So who was Emma’s brother Spencer??

He was born in 1806, five years after Emma and was the second son born to Charles and Augusta Smith of Suttons. He was destined to outlive both his elder and his younger brothers… As Mamma Smith once lamented, ‘the three were so united’.

From letters and diaries, Spencer led the life of an eager sportsman. It was Spencer who put together a sledge and pushed the girls around when they spent some winter weeks at Suttons; he is usually mentioned among those who go out ‘skaiting’, and is described once as the ‘most agile of the party’. Letters document his worries over a misplaced gun (therefore, Spencer went out on shooting parties during the Autumn season) and his purchase of a hunter – which understandably worried Mamma: ‘Mr Cure fell out hunting & broke his arm … Spencer may perhaps be the next sufferer, for he has bought a Hunter at Oxford, which is just arrived.’ Many in the Smith household, Spencer included, enjoyed the game of Billiards (and they seem to have owned a table and had a Billiards Room). It is also obvious that he was an enthusiastic player of cricket or at least a knowledgeable critic. He passed something along to his sons, for three can be found on the rolls of players.

He attended Harrow and his comings and goings are documented in Emma’s diaries. As an older teen, Spencer seems to have followed the same schooling as his brother Charles: he is found in the company of a Mr Twissleton of Warwick; Mr Twissleton may have been a private tutor (though more information is required before identifying him), since Charles had resided with a Mr Boudier of Warwick.

Spencer attended Oxford (Balliol College), matriculating in 1823 (BA 1827; MA 1833). About this time Emma was touring Europe – along with Mamma, brother Charles, and her three eldest sisters. The Smiths had journeyed through the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland and then wintered in Italy; ultimately, they remained abroad an entire year! The ‘little children’ (Spencer, Drummond, Charlotte and Maria) who remained at home were slowly told the plans as they unfolded… which did not make for happy children. Emma, writing home, pictures the brother she has not seen in about ten months: ‘Spencer I suppose will be considerably aged, grown tall, with a hoarse voice, & perhaps a beard’; she had already recognized that ‘we hear so much of the growth of [Spencer]  perhaps he will out top us all, before we come home’.

Like Jane Austen, he must have enjoyed dancing, for in 1829 Mamma mentions ‘Spencer is a little animated about the Ball [the Smiths were hosting a ball of their own]; they are getting up Waltzing, & Le Gallop, which is rather new. He thinks we shall have quite Beaux enough, & wishes to refuse farther introductions.’ She closes this letter with, ‘At this moment Spencer is practicing the Waltz with his Sisters & Madame Lennox, the Mistress.’ He may have sometimes joined his sisters in providing entertainment, as he is once noted as ‘playing a little on the flute’.

Spencer evidently inherited property from an uncle of his mother, for he travels to Jamaica in 1831. Unfortunately, he left on 1 January; his brother Charles died a couple weeks later. It is probable that the family encouraged him to continue with his plans; they may have realized that Charles’ prognosis was not very promising, although his death came as quite the shock to Mary (Lady Smith). Spencer sailed from Bristol in a ship captained by ‘Cap’n Trip  He had no fellow passenger’. He arrived back (landing at Falmouth) by the 20th of July, after a ‘prosperous journey of 40 days’. Emma’s diary for the 21st says, ‘Dearest Spencer arrived well  thank God – he looks rather thinner’.

more later…

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