Catherine Helen Spence
|Catherine Helen Spence|
Portrait of Catherine Helen Spence in the 1890s
31 October 1825|
|Died||3 April 1910
Norwood, South Australia
|Occupation||Author, teacher, journalist and politician|
|Notable work(s)||Clara Morison: A Tale of South Australia During the Gold Fever|
Catherine Helen Spence (31 October 1825 – 3 April 1910) was a Scottish-born Australian author, teacher, journalist, politician and leading suffragette. In 1897 she became Australia's first female political candidate after standing (unsuccessfully) for the Federal Convention held in Adelaide. Known as the "Greatest Australian Woman" and given the epitaph "Grand Old Woman of Australasia", Spence is commemorated on the Australian 5 dollar note issued for the Centenary of Federation of Australia.
Spence was born in Melrose, Scotland, as the fifth child in a family of eight.1 In 1839, following sudden financial difficulties, the family emigrated to South Australia. Arriving on 31 October 1839 (her 14th birthday), at a time when the colony had experienced several years of drought, the contrast to her native Scotland made her "inclined to go and cut my throat". Nevertheless, the family endured seven months "encampment", growing wheat on an eighty acre (32 ha) selection before moving to Adelaide.
Spence had a talent for writing and an urge to be read, so it was natural that in her teens she became attracted to journalism. Through family connections, she began with short pieces and poetry published in The South Australian. She also worked as a governess for some of the leading families in Adelaide, at the rate of sixpence an hour.
Her first major work was the novel Clara Morison: A Tale of South Australia During the Gold Fever. She submitted it to, and it was rejected by, the same publishers who had initially rejected her first novel some years previously. It was published by J W Parker and Son in 1854. She received forty pounds for it, but was charged ten pounds for abridging it to fit in the publisher's standard format. Her second novel Tender and True was published in 1856, and to her delight went through a second and third printing, though she never received a penny more than the initial twenty pounds.
Although Spence rejected both of the two proposals of marriage she received during her life, and never married, she had a keen interest in family life and marriage - as applied to other people. Both her life's work and her writing were devoted to raising the awareness of, and improving the lot of, women and children. She successively raised three families of orphaned children - the first being those of her sister Mrs Ward.
She was one of the prime movers, with C. Emily Clark (sister of John Howard Clark), of the "Boarding-out Society". This organization had as its aim the placing of destitute children, who would otherwise be sent to "Industrial School", into approved families.2 At first treated with scorn by the South Australian Government, the scheme was encouraged when the institutions devoted to the handling of troublesome boys became overcrowded. These two were also appointed to the State Children's Council, which controlled the Magill Reformatory.3
Around 1850, having become disillusioned with some doctrines of the Church of Scotland, she began attending the Adelaide Unitarian Christian Church in Wakefield Street.4 She preached her first sermons there in 1878,1 (though she was not the first woman to preach there, that honour going to Martha Turner of Melbourne, sister of Gyles Turner)5 and filled in for the pastor Dr John Crawford Woods during his absences 1884–90.
There are numerous memorials to Spence around the Adelaide city centre, including:
- a bronze statue in Light Square
- the Catherine Helen Spence building in the City West campus of the University of South Australia
- the Spence wing of the State Library of South Australia
- Catherine Helen Spence Street in the south-east of the city centre
- a plaque on the Jubilee 150 Walkway on North Terrace
One of the four schools at Aberfoyle Park, South Australia was named Spence in her honour. That school has since been amalgamated with another school to form Thiele Primary School.
- Clara Morison: A Tale of South Australia During the Gold Fever (1854)
- Tender and True: A Colonial Tale (1856)
- Mr. Hogarth's Will (1865) originally serialised as Uphill Work in the (Adelaide) Weekly Mail2
- The Author's Daughter (1868) originally serialised as Hugh Lindsay's Guest in the (Adelaide) Observer2
- Gathered In serialised in Observer and Journal and Queenslander, possibly never published in book form2
- An Agnostic's Progress from the Known to the Unknown (1884)
- A Week in the Future (1889)
- Handfasted (1984) Penguin Originals ISBN 0-14-007505-4
- A Plea for Pure Democracy (1861) pamphlet praised by John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hare2
- The laws we live under (1880) for South Australian Education Department2
- State children in Australia: A history of boarding out and its developments (1909) principally dealing with the work of Emily Clark
- Catherine Helen Spence: An autobiography (1910) (unfinished, but completed posthumously by Spence's friend Jeanne Young, working from diaries.)
- Eade, Susan (1976). "Spence, Catherine Helen (1825 - 1910)". Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne University Press) 6: 167–168. Retrieved 2007-02-13.
- Miss C. H. Spence South Australian Register 4 April 1893 p.5 accessed 26 May 2011
- "The Egg-Laying Competition.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 5 March 1904. p. 10. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Ever Yours, C H Spence ed. Susan Magarey, Wakefield Press ISBN 978-1-86254-656-1. Google books
- "Stories of Early Adelaide". The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 24 July 1943. p. 11. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- "If Jewels Could Only Speak.". The Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 25 December 1937. p. 14. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
- Catherine Spence 1825-1910, "Famous Australian Women" postage stamp issue, Australia Post
- "Catherine Helen Spence: a bibliography", State Library of South Australia
- Works by Catherine Helen Spence at Project Gutenberg
- Gathered In: A novel at Sydney University
- Mr. Hogarth's Will at Sydney University
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Spence, Catherine Helen". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
- Susan Magarey (2010) Unbridling the Tongues of Women: a biography of Catherine Helen Spence, University of Adelaide Press, 214 pp, ISBN 978-0-9806723-0-5 Free Download