Enduring love stories of Strawberry Hill at Barmup

Enduring love stories of Strawberry Hill at Barmup

Arts & Culture General Places
Strawberry Hill

10 to 15-minute read. 

Lady Anne Spencer was a great beauty of her age. Tall and lithe with long dark wavy hair, she was born in 1793 during England’s Regency period and raised in a single parent household after her father Matthew died tragically when she was only ten. Born to privilege, the great wealth of her family had gradually leaked away and, though the family owned the grand manor house at Charmouth and land surrounding the estate, it was rented out to a tenant and the family lived in nearby Axminister.

Anne’s mother, also Anne, borrowed against the property after her husband’s death and sold off parcels of land to afford the education of her children and settle them into life. On Anne’s marriage to Richard Spencer, she was gifted a dowry of £2000 – all obtained through loans. This amount equates today to over $300,000.00, a sizeable sum. Unusually, on her mother’s death, Anne and her sisters are left equal shares in the manor house at the center of the family estate alongside their brothers.

Anne Warden Liddon at her family home, Langmore Manor.         Richard Spencer as a young man.
Collection Albany Historical Society Inc.                                                  Collection Albany Historical Society Inc.

Anne was only seventeen when she married Richard Spencer. Permission was required from her mother to allow the union as Anne was underage. There was a significant age gap between the couple – Ann just out of her teens and Richard 33 – but this did not seem to faze either of them. An acquired brain injury caused by a solid hit to the head with a badly aimed oar early in his naval career – along with various war wounds acquired in naval battles during the Napoleonic wars – had left Richard with a short temper, inability to handle stress and significant facial scarring.  None of this mattered to young Anne, they were to remain devoted to each other for their entire married life.

Losing a father at such a young age, Anne may have recognized a stability she was craving in the distinguished and dashing post captain Richard. From Richard’s point of view, Anne was an attractive well-connected, intelligent young woman who would go on to bear him the family he craved. Little is known about Richard’s family; he was the only son of a London merchant and joined the navy at fourteen. Throughout their lives it is Anne’s family Richard remains close to, and there is little mention of his own.

Anne grew up steeped in the traditions of the Royal Navy – both her father and Grandfather had served, and Richard’s career trajectory was familiar to her. When posted to Malta three years after their marriage, Anne took herself and their two young sons, Richard and Hugh, and moved there to be with her husband. Many wives of naval officers stayed at home during the periods their husbands were away at sea so there was no expectation Anne would uproot her comfortable life to move with Richard – especially with such young children – and yet, she does.

The Mediterranean posting holds triumph and tragedy for the young mother. Richard is awarded the Companion of the Bath as Britain begins to move away from a war footing. This is a wonderful boost to his career and recognition of his naval endeavors. Soon after though, heavily pregnant with her third child, two-year-old Richard Warden dies from a fever. Anne, Richard, and baby Hugh bury their young boy in Malta before leaving for Leghorn (now Livorno) a free port in the Tuscan region boasting one of the best harbours in Europe. Anne’s third child, George Oceanus, is born possibly during the sea crossing to their new home.

A cosmopolitan port, Leghorn was independent of Italian rule and bustling with trade and traditions. Anne would have felt at home here, with plenty of social interaction and wealthy families spending the summers. This may have gone some way to supporting her through her grief for the loss of young Richard and she would have been busy with Hugh, not quite two years old and newborn George.

Tragedy was not done with Anne yet. Baby George passed away at one year of age. While mortality of children was then common, particularly babies, it must have been a very sad time for Anne, and she would have leant on the stalwart strength of her husband as they buried another child alongside his brother in Malta. Richard placed on their grave a Greek stone marker which was later taken to Albany and placed on the family grave at the cemetery there.

The little family, Hugh still hale and healthy, returned to England at the end of 1817 and Anne – still only twenty years old – must have been pleased to be among the family once more as she came to terms with the loss of her two little boys. Richard was now put on half-pay along with many other naval men no longer required for active duty but available for call up if required. Their finances were bolstered by substantial prize money from government as return for his various naval conquests but, as a self-made man with no personal family connections, Richard was conscious of the need for economy and already looking to the future with the careful purchase of a house in the seaside town of Lyme Regis a mile or so from Anne’s old family home.

Life in the seaside spa town was a welcome reprieve for Anne, with her social connections and a husband now at home with time to tend his extensive gardens and a view toward the sea always so much a part of their lives. They were to remain in this house for 17 years, Richard still hoping for a new command and their family growing every year. Young Hugh was soon joined by brothers and sisters at regular intervals. Mary Anne in 1818, Edward May in 1819, Augusta in 1821, Elizabeth Lucy in 1823, Horatio William in 1824, Joseph in 1827, Robert in 1829 and Richard Augustus in 1831. By now Anne has borne 11 children and is 38 years old. Her health has remained strong, she is an excellent hostess and a great support to her husband. Her mother and sisters live nearby, there is money enough for a carriage and servants. Life must have seemed idyllic.

Around the time of Joseph’s birth, Richard began looking for ways to further his wealth and provide a solid future for his sons. He did not have the connections to assure his boys of a solid future as the world now stood. There were limited opportunities for young men now naval careers were restricted. While Edward joined the Royal Naval College at the age of 9, the other children, particularly Hugh at 16, were growing up quickly and the family income was not enough to purchase land for them all, nor set them up adequately in business ventures or even marry the daughters well.

British colonies in Australia held the promise of large landholdings at much cheaper rates than anything in England – here was the possibility for Richard to provide for his large family and find a new direction in life for himself, bored to fretfulness with what he saw as a life without purpose. Living with her husband through these years held its fair share of frustration for Anne, wanting to see her husband happy and powerless to intervene. The more Richard investigated the colonies – as early as 1827 he was planning a move to Van Diemen’s Land – and children kept being born, she must have had her moments of doubt.

Politically, areas of England were facing major challenges, inflation was high, unemployment and crime on the rise and there was unrest among the working and agricultural sectors. Poverty was rife as social change forced rapid increases in population in urban areas. Beginning a new life in a ‘new’ country – sold to potential settlers in England as a verdant fertile land of possibility and promise – may have felt like an escape, as well as adventure, to the family.

A relapse and slow recovery from his head wound delayed Richard’s application to the colonies past the date for obtaining free land grants. Instead, after discussions through a third party with naval colleague Stirling, he agreed to take up a posting as Government Resident in the infant town of Albany on the southern end of freshly colonized Western Australia. He would obtain a small salary of £100 per year (in addition to his half pay) to undertake a raft of official government duties in the town including collecting duties from shipping in the port and regulating merchant taxes. There was also the added opportunity to purchase the government farm and residence there for his family.

Anne must have felt gratified to see her husband happy and busy once again in command of a venture, this time one all his own. Around this same time Richard was knighted, becoming Sir Richard Spencer and, by default, Anne became Lady Anne.

The house in Lyme Regis was packed up, supplies organized, livestock purchases arranged, and many details attended to in preparing to be as self-sufficient as possible in this new position. While Anne moved about as her husband’s career shifted, her previous experience was in places well supplied with amenities and social niceties. Even making extensive enquiries, she could not possibly have imagined the type of life they were moving toward.

Here Anne shows complete faith in Richard. She could have sent him and the older boys on ahead to join him later with their daughters once their situation was more settled. The house in Lyme Regis was not sold at this point, only rented, so presumably there was no reason for her to leave immediately. And yet, she throws her lot in with him completely and, pregnant once more, farewells everything familiar from the docks at Spithead, Plymouth on May 12, 1833, where some 200 years earlier, another band of hopeful emigrants set sail on the Mayflower to a different new land.

The Buffalo was stocked ‘like an ark’ with animals, plants, clothing, crockery, building materials and the servants they had persuaded to accompany them. Anne had a spacious cabin to rest in while Richard could stride the decks back in his seafaring element. The children, nine in all ranging in age from 18-year-old Hugh to 2-year-old Richard Augustus, would have perhaps seen the voyage as a grand adventure – especially Edward with his introductory naval training – and the voyage itself was largely uneventful. Carried with them were the varied hopes, dreams, and fears of each individual.

It must have been an exciting day when the coast of Western Australia was finally sighted in September and the vessel maneuvered its way into the expansive deepwater harbour at King George Sound. How they must have craned at the railings to catch their first glimpse of their new home. Anne, no doubt thoroughly tired of shipboard life in the late stages of her pregnancy, must have longed for the jetty to come into view, the town to reveal itself, the feel of solid ground underfoot and the comfortable accommodations of her new home.

There was, of course, no jetty. No real town, no shops, no paved roads or social whirl. Most disappointing of all, no great ‘residence’ was on offer to shelter these last days of her confinement. Instead, the family were obliged to wade from dingy to shore, no doubt looking about the settlement with confusion. The Spencer’s arrival swelled the town’s population by a third, bringing the total to around 60. The residents were by then in ‘a destitute state’ with no reliable supply of meat or vegetables – and no certainty on the horizon.

A track had been cut through to the Government farm by a previous Resident which, once in view, comprised of a few straggly acres of cultivation and a two-room wattle and daub cottage built for the previous visit of Governor Stirling and his wife. Everything they brought with them had to be laboriously unloaded from ship to shore and carted up the hill to the cottage. Anne possibly stayed aboard with the younger children for the few days this was being carried out for want of a bed to sleep in. How the conversation played out between Anne and Richard as they lay shipboard beneath the creaking timbers on those first few nights we cannot know, but they had come too far to turn back, invested everything they owned and, when the family finally moved into the cottage at the farm, they were still together.

Now came the real work of making a home here. Sir Richard, by all accounts, did not spare himself but set to work immediately, driving the enterprise forward at a furious pace despite his ongoing health problems. Buildings were improved and put to rights, official business begun, and the cottage expanded. More land was cleared and put to cultivation; the stock husbanded.

The Menang people, for whom this location remains central to their sense of place, camped on the grounds as they had always done. Richard and his family for the most part seem to have been sensitive to this, though how often they clashed over place and space is difficult now to determine. No overt violence is recorded though there must have been irritation and misunderstanding at times in both cultures towards the others. The grace with which the Menang allowed these strangers to move across their country – with their bizarre clothing, odd customs, and difficult sense of ownership – is remarkable. They must have wondered, often, just how long these people would stay and when their lives could go back to their timeless rhythms.

Anne meanwhile gives birth to her last child, William Albany, just months after arriving. Richard writes in a letter home that she has

everything as comfortable about her as she ever had at Lyme.

Whether this is a sea captains’ version of all the comforts, Anne reassuring her husband or Anne’s actual thoughts we can only guess.

The following year Baron Charles von Hügel, an aristocratic Austrian botanist and traveler arrives at King George Sound after visiting the Swan River Colony. He visits the Spencer’s several times, enjoying their refined and educated company. He particularly notes the beauty and aristocratic nature of Lady Anne, now in her early forties. When the captain of his ship invites the Spencer’s to dine aboard, Charles makes his way up to Strawberry Hill expecting to escort Lady Anne at a leisurely pace down the hill, resting on benches along the way due to the warm weather.

Instead, he is greeted by Sir Richard inviting him to step into a rough wooden work cart pulled by a pair of mules. Two wooden chairs from the dining room are balanced on the boards for seats. The Baron declines so Lady Anne and Augusta take the seats while Sir Richard mounts a third mule, dressed in full regalia and medals ‘along with his Tricorn hat’. They proceed down the slope toward the township, Sir Richard proudly leading the procession, a servant leading the mule cart with its precarious cargo of ladies, Baron von Hugel with a bemused look on his aristocratic face and a gaggle of children bringing up the rear.

Anne we must remember is to the Manor born. She has generations of good breeding and refinement running through her veins and yet, for the love of her husband – this proud yet sensitive, wounded man – she sits aboard her strange carriage in the wilderness dressed in finery as though they are taking the air at London’s Hyde Park. She will not see him shamed, nor let circumstance dictate her demeanor. When the captain sounds the ship’s cannon in Richard’s honor, she is as proud of him as ever.

Increasingly Richard’s health declines and he pushes himself to establish land out toward Mount Barker where the grazing is more suitable for stock. Anne busies herself with what good works she can, pressing friends back in England to raise money to purchase materials to dress the Menang women and children– whose nakedness she finds perplexing. These friends are not your average assortment. Among them is Lady Byron (wife of poet Lord Byron), the Duchess of Kent (mother of the future Queen Victoria) and the Honorable Miss Wilbraham of Lancashire. The clothing, made up of 5 bales of red flannel outfits, arrived in June 1837 on the Hero and was allowed, by special dispensation, to enter the port free of duty.

A stone house is built in 1836 on the hill looking out toward the harbour entrance, its resemblance to their Georgian home in Lyme Regis obvious. At last Anne has her drawing room and a place for her fine things. The Spencer’s entertain as often as occasion merits. Visitors include passing dignitaries and some remarkable characters. Charles Darwin calls past on his circumnavigation with the irascible Captain Robert Fitzroy, neither man enamored of the small outpost nor its isolation, though admiring of Anne and the farm. Governor Stirling and his wife Ellen were regular visitors along with various clergymen, including notable Quaker the Rev James Backhouse from the Society of Friends who strolled the gardens with the Spencer’s in 1837 discussing the possibility of large-scale migration for members of the Society of Friends to Albany.

From April until August of 1837, Richard was again struck down by his debilitating illness.  Though bed-bound he continued to conduct such official business as was necessary and Lady Anne continued to care for him, assisted by their daughters and servants. In May, with Richard installed downstairs, Mary Ann married Arthur Trimmer in the drawing room at Strawberry Hill. This was not the first marriage to be performed there but being family, one of the happiest. Anne, anxious for all her daughters to make good marriages, knew the options in this isolated outpost were severely limited.

In a letter to the editor in The Colonist in 1838 Sir Richard’s condition is clearly deteriorating. The author has visited King George Sound and proposes the town as a good opportunity for emigration from other colonies. No doubt he was entertained, as so many were, at Strawberry Hill. He goes on to write,

Sir Richard Spencer is an old man, upwards, I should think, of eighty years of age. He is beginning now to betray a good deal of the various infirmaries of age…. Lady Spencer is a lady in the highest sense of the term, whether we consider the dignity of her personal appearance, her manifest mental accomplishments, or the affability and courtesy of her manners. She is the mother of a large and handsome family and proves to Sir Richard a kind and assiduous wife.

Richard at this time was barely sixty years of age.

In 1838, with Richard seemingly recovering, the first real carriage arrived at Strawberry Hill, no doubt a great pleasure for Anne after her earlier experiences.

Lady Anne Spencer                                                                              Sir Richard Spencer KCH.
Collection National Trust of Western Australia               Collection National Trust of Western Australia

By now her family was branching out. Hugh had not long completed a stint as official Postmaster at Albany and Edward was established enough on the Hay to be bringing in stud horses for sale. There was flow of entertaining to organize for Anne; Captain Hassell and his wife, Ellen arrived on the Dawson, the dashing Lieutenant George Grey was about the place and the two Jenkins girls – now young ladies – who had come out on the Buffalo with their shipbuilder father from Lyme Regis – were boarding at Strawberry Hill under the chaperonage of Lady Anne. Another wedding followed shortly between Henrietta Jenkins and the troublesome John McKail in May 1839.

Two months later, Sir Richard succumbed to the injury which had plagued him for so long, passing away at home of an ‘apoplexy’ surrounded by his family. The family bury Sir Richard in the place of his choosing on the farm overlooking the sea.

Anne then wrote to their solicitor in Dorset.

The melancholy event which has occurred since you last heard will I am sure receive your warmest sympathy.

I have met with the greatest loss possible for a wife and mother, in the person of my beloved husband, who was suddenly taken from us after an illness of only 48 hours. On the evening he was taken ill he was sitting laughing and talking in the midst of his family, apparently in excellent health.

Augusta and Eliza were with him till all was over…. Edward and two other of our boys arrived from the Hay River a few hours before he breathed his last…. Mary Ann arrived from Swan River with her two children, unfortunately 3 days after all was over…

Anne goes on to arrange details regarding the family’s changed circumstances. Sir Richard’s half-pay will now cease, and she is concerned at their financial position. Sir Richard had written a considered Last Will & Testament in which he makes careful provision for his wife and daughters. They are to maintain use of the house at Strawberry Hill for the rest of their lives unless married. Anne herself inherits the bulk of the estate and any woman marrying into the family must obtain her written permission to reside at the house.

Tragedy has not finished with Anne yet. In October that same year, young Horatio is killed by a falling tree at the Hay River property, brought home and buried on the hill beside his father.

In January 1840 Eliza sailed from Albany with her new husband George Grey. This was a sad farewell for Anne – though neither knew at the time how little they would ever see each other again.

At the same time, a row erupts over the placement of a road which would effectively cut the Strawberry Hill property in half and

unnecessarily bring it within 150 meters of the door of lady Spencer’s dwelling house and within a few yards of the ornamental and highly cultivated ground in front of it….it would take from the grantee its best acres of land.

While the road was resurveyed and moved away from the Spencer’s house, it was an argument no one needed at the time.

Petty government wranglings paled into insignificance when Anne’s beloved eldest son Hugh is drowned in a boating accident in the Harbour along with George Morley in March the same year. This last blow, on top of her recent losses, affected Anne terribly. Six months later she writes to Captain McCrea answering his sympathies expressed over Richard’s passing,

At length I summon resolution to address you since the death of my beloved husband. My only excuse for not having done so before, is the excessive mental affliction that I have suffered for the last 15 months, has totally incapacitated me, from attending business of any kind.

Twelve months ago, two months after the death of my dear husband, I lost my third eldest son, and 6 months since it pleased the Almighty to visit me with another most severe trial. My eldest son had gone off in a ship in the harbour and in returning in a boat….it was upset, and my poor boy sank to rise no more…. you may imagine my dear, but it is impossible to describe the agonizing feelings of sorrow I have since experienced…

Anne drew on her reserves of inner strength, leaning on the support of her family, and gradually recovered some of her energy. Edward, now her eldest surviving son, wrote to Anne’s beloved brother Matthew Lidden late that same year assuring him that Anne was – while still low in health – regaining her composure.

The marriage of her daughter Augusta to Lieutenant George Edward Egerton Warburton at Strawberry Hill in 1842 was a bright spot in a dark time. This marriage, unlike poor Eliza’s, would be a happy one and the couple settled not far away on the Hay.

By 1843 Anne had recovered enough to accompany her three youngest boys to England for their education. They sailed from Princess Royal Harbour aboard the Houghton-le-skerne on January 15th for London via the Cape of Good Hope along with a cargo which included 350 bales of wool, 10 casks sperm oil, 11 bundles whalebone, 1 bale kangaroo skins and 13 cases of natural curiosities – proof that the little settlement was becoming increasingly productive.

At the time of Sir Richard’s death, the initial dowry Anne had taken into her marriage was still intact. Whether this was Richard’s pride or Anne’s natural caution having been raised by a single mother, we can only guess but at the age of 50, she is now well placed to sell up her assets and move back to England on a permanent basis. This is not Anne’s way – either she is determined to see Richard’s hopes for his family through or has fallen in love with Strawberry Hill herself – Anne and her sons arrive back in Albany two years later aboard the Unicorn in October 1845.

On Anne’s return home she is surrounded by family once more. Residing at Strawberry Hill were sons Edward and William, the Trimmer family and a new baby born at the house to Augusta and George a mere 15 months after their first. Anne lived out her later years at Strawberry Hill with the house constantly full of family members coming and going. The farm was still very much home base and, though she grieved those lost to her, Anne’s life was a busy and productive one.

During Richard’s lifetime he accrued not only large areas of farmland but several buildings in the nascent township of Albany itself. Anne’s collected letters evidence discussions about rents, tenants, and repairs to buildings in the township throughout these years. She is very much still holding the reins of the family holdings and managing her own business affairs. In a letter to the Acting Colonial Secretary regarding the addition of a chimney for warmth in the bitter Albany winters, she writes.

I beg to state that I will cause the addition to be made immediately provided the Government guarantees to occupy the premises for the space of two years at the present rent, or for one year at a rent of twenty-five pounds per annum.

Throughout, Anne remains a gracious host and central to the social life of Albany. In 1848, when the first steam ship – the Acherton – entered Albany harbour, officers and visiting dignitaries were invited to dine at Strawberry Hill. The Rev. Wollaston, not one to turn down a dinner invitation, later noted in his diaries:

 ‘A cheerful party of nineteen at Strawberry Hill. I was not at all prepared for so nice a dinner with so many things not procurable at Leschenault…. I was agreeably surprised to find a well-completed drawing room with all the etcetera’s found in an English gentleman’s house, for I had heard that Lady Spencer was badly off. She truly has much to do with very little means in providing for her children and grandchildren. It is a pretty place with an abundance of flowers.

William Albany – Anne’s Australian born son – boarded the innovative new steamship the following day to travel to New Zealand and broaden his horizons to spend time with his brother-in-law George Grey, then Governor of New Zealand. Anne always sought to give her children wider experiences than Albany could provide. Her daughters, when younger, variously spent time in Perth with the Stirling family, attending soirees and being introduced to the upper echelons of Perth society, essential in so small a colony with a dearth of suitable marriage prospects.

In 1851 Anne, perhaps feeling her own family are well settled now, passes her remaining interest in Charmouth Manor to her younger brother Matthew Liddel and is committed, wholly, to the Albany region.

As late as 1853, at sixty years of age, she is travelling regularly between her home and family properties out on the Hay River, the Rev Wollaston noting,

 On this day I met Lady Spencer in dusty plight returning in her son’s cart to Strawberry Hill from the Hay River…

Two years later, in early 1855, Lady Anne Spencer travelled overland to Perth by carriage, crossing the newly completed bridge spanning the Williams River. She would not have attempted such an arduous trip if not feeling up to it. It was far quicker, and less strenuous, to travel by one of the now frequent shipping services sailing up and down from Fremantle. This trip would have given her the opportunity to visit her many friends and family along the route and in the capital. Along the way she would have seen the many changes wrought by European settlement on the landscape, the growth of industry and convict gangs now attending public works. It would be the last time she would see these sights. A notice in the Perth Gazette dated July 20, 1855, states,


On the 19th instant, at Perth, LADY ANN WARDEN SPENCER, widow of the late Captain Sir Richard Spencer, Royal Navy, K.C.H

Anne’s body was brought back once more to Albany overland by cart, arriving back at Strawberry Hill on the 18th of August. She was lain to rest high on the hill overlooking her home and the harbour, surrounded by family and alongside the man she loved.

Anne’s life had been an extraordinary one, full of love and the inevitable tragedy loving deeply brings. She faced her many challenges in life with strength, determination, and grace. Perhaps he got to the heart of things when, musing upon the women he came across in the far-flung settlements of Swan River and King Georges Sound, Baron von Hugel wrote

, I found the women placed in these distressing circumstances in both settlements more reconciled to their fate than the men. I will not presume to judge whether this is because they are better at dissimulation or stronger characters.



There are many great books on the history of the Kinjarling Abany region.

A good place to start for further information on the Spencer family time at Strawberry Hill at Barmup is Gwen Chessel’s engaging biography Richard Spencer: Napoleonic War Naval Hero and Australian Pioneer. UWA Press.2005.

Join the National Trust Community
Subscribe now
Follow Us On
Back to Top of the page.