The George Spencer Story 1877

This story first appeared in the Melbourne Argus on April 26th 1877, a more detailed report appeared in the same paper on August 30th of that year under the heading “Law Report”, the story subsequently appeared in other newspapers of the time. This story is part of our Arcadia history, quite serious at the time, but amusing now 140 years later.

In 1876 Mary Spencer who owned land on the corner of the present Dawson Rd./ Karramomus Rd./ Summer Rd. corner, Allot 30 where a house/hotel was situated. She also owned Allot 47 the block of land directly north of this one as well. The land house/hotel/store was advertised for sale on April 26th 1876 following the death of her husband George Spencer in 1874 at the age of 51 years.


However the deceased George Spencers past life caught up with him which had repercussions for his wife Mary Spencer. The story that came out in The Supreme Court of Victoria is as follows:

George Spencer earlier known as Joseph Rayner had enlisted as a soldier in the 40th Regiment in 1845 in Ireland. He married a woman by the name of Mary Mather in Dublin in 1848, one child John Rayner was the only surviving child of this marriage. In 1852 Joseph Rayner came with his regiment to Australia. However his wife deserted him in1857 and she took up with a chinaman named Sing Song. Shortly after Rayner was tried by a general court-martial for being drunk and assaulting his superior officer, he was sentenced to four years hard labour. After his release from prison he worked on a farm at Malmsbury before again marrying, having changed his name to George Spencer.

In 1872 the Spencers took up land at Arcadia, as described earlier, there were several children from this marriage. Prior to George Spencer’s death he had written to George Groves a warder at the Castlemaine gaol making enquiries about his son John Rayner, with the instruction that if he was found he was to come to the farm at Arcadia but to call himself John Spencer, the so called young brother of George Spencer. John Rayner did turn up following the death of his father, putting in a claim for the farm at Arcadia, which was valued at about 540 Pounds ($1080). Mary Spencer refused the claim, consequently it went to The Supreme Court of Victoria to be adjudicated upon. Mary Spencer said she was not aware of her husband’s past life and only ever knew him as George Spencer. His Honor Mr Justice Molesworth no doubt handed down his decision regarding the case, the result of which is probably hidden away in some dark archieve somewhere???

Freeman’s Journal
1 September, 1877.