The Spencer Family of Rouchel Brook

Adapted from the original by Harry Clive Spencer (Matthew Descendant)

In the late 1870s the Spencers gifted land from the Vale to build an Anglican Church. With the passage of the public Schools Act in 1880 the church was used as a public school. This phot is from the mid 1880s and in a classic school photo shows the school age children of Thomas Jnr and Rebecca Hooper. The teacher on the left is Grace McGregor who later married William Spencer.

On 21st May 1841 the good ship “China,” of 658 tons, with Captain Robertson in command, cast her moorings in the Port of London and headed down the English Channel under full canvas bound for Australia. En route she called at Plymouth to take on emigrants additional to those she already carried. There were 270 all told, anxious to try their luck in the new colony. On board ship they were under the superintendence of Dr Best, and it speaks well for his attention, under multiple difficulties of those “Bad old days”, that only two adults and six children succumbed to the rigors of the long voyage.

Among the Irish emigrants was my grandfather, Thomas Spencer, who hailed from the port of Arklow in the County of Wicklow and his wife Mary who had been reared in the beautiful Vale of Avoca. Thomas was twenty five years old and Mary twenty three.

The “China” arrived in Sydney on 7th September 1841, nearly four months after leaving London, and Thomas and Mary made their way almost immediately to the Hunter Valley, where he became engaged as a farm labourer on “Bigeberry” (then spelt Binjerberry) Estate on the Rouchel Brook, part of which is now held by Reg Mullins.

Binjerberry comprised 1610 acres, and extended from Stoney Creek to Black Creek, taking in some splendid country including areas now known as Half Moon and Main Camp. It had been purchased by John Terry Hughes, a Sydney merchant, at a Crown Land auction at the Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, on 12th December 1838, and the deed of grant issued 21st March1839. The Purchase Price was five shillings per acre, and the land became subject to quit rent of “one farthing per annum forever, if demanded”. Hughes transferred to Dr James Bowman, holder of “Ravensworth”, on 6th November 1840, and Bowman in turn sold to James and William MacArthur on 12 September 1845.

So Thomas went to work for Dr Bowman on the Binjerberry corner of Ravensworth, at a salary of 10 pounds per annum and “a ration and a half”, being based on the formula of 10:10:2 and 1/4, which in terms of kind meant 10 pounds of meat, 10 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of sugar and 1/4 pound of tea per week. In addition, a dwelling in the form of a slab hut was provided. The remains were still to be seen until the early 20th century, not far from where old Bingeberry homestead now stands.

This would seem a logical site for various reasons. It was close to the good permanent water of Rouchel (then spelled Ruckhill) Brook. It was no doubt the terminal point of the road from Aberdeen, and it avoided still one more river crossing (at the point where the Cameron Bridge now spans the Rouchel), which the establishment of the residence in the centre of the property would have meant. This was important, as the crossing was a rather deep one – a point to be considered, not only when a journey to town was made, but also when heavy supplies were brought to the property by bullock dray, which was then the only means of such transport.

The countryside round Ruckhill Brook was very sparsely populated, for the days of free selection were still twenty years ahead, and whatever land was then held in the “settled districts” of the colony had been acquired by companies or well to do individuals by way of grant from various governors, or under purchase at auction sales of Crown Lands. It is extremely doubtfull whether a large holding such as Binjerberry was fenced, but it may safely be said that there were plenty of dingoes roaming around and Thomas Spencer’s main duty would be to shepherd the sheep.

It is possible that his nearest neighbour was on Davis Creek where a portion of 1086 acres formed another part of Ravensworth.

“Ravensworth” owned by Dr Bowman, consisted of scattered blocks of land stretching from near Singleton almost to Belltrees.

Life at Binjerberry was undoubtedly hard and it speaks volumes for the grit, fortitude and mangement of Thomas, that after a period of approximately 14 years, during which he raised a large family (11 surviving children), he was able to purchase a couple of small blocks some trhee or four miles downstream from Binjerberry. In July 1855 he bought 2 blocks of land of 48 and 51 acres for around 2 pounds fourteen shillings per acre at auction. He then bought another block of 43 acres from a Thomas French of Scone. The land had a “Quit Rent” of one peppercorn per annum forever, when demanded. The three blocks of land, acquired by Thomas Spencer, formed the nucleus of the property which he named “Rouchel Vale”. The old home has been rebuilt on or near the original site, but an adjacent cottage, built for Mathew Spencer when he married in 1882, still stands. A good deal of the timber, even the flooring boards, utilised in the construction was cedar, cut and sawn by hand at Mullee and brought by over a very rough track to Rouchel Vale, by bullock dray.

In 1861 the “Crown Lands Alienation Act (Known as the “John Robertson Act”) was passed andallowed small settlers to select land. Thomas Spencer bought land from other selectors and also made selections himself. So did four of his sons. So by 1875 Rouchel Vale hade grown to 2,700 acres of sound country with many patches of flats fronting Rouchel Brook. The first sowing of lucerne in the Rouchel area was done on this property and it is still used for lucerne production today.

The property is today called just “The Vale”.

Thomas retired from farming in the mid 1880’s and made over the title to four of his sons, Thomas jnr, John, Absalom and Mathew. Thomas and and his wife Mary moved to Muswellbrook. Thomas Spencer died in 1888 and his wife Mary in 1901. In 1881or 82, John Spencer and his brothers moved to “Cuttabundah” station on the Bokhara River north of Brewarrina.

In 1889 the brothers sold Rouchel Vale to a W.H. Holmes. The Holmes family held the proerty until the 1960’s Of the Cuttabundah story, all I have found is that they were beset by the many difficulties that faced early pioneers in the outback. They did well for a time. Then drought, floods, bushfires and a big bank crash hit them at various intervals and they were forced to quit.