Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 29, October 1985
LUCY FISHER (MRS ROBERT FREDERICK SPENCER)
NETHERTON PIONEER, AGED 103
INTERVIEWED BY C.W. MALCOLM 24 October, 1984
A photograph and brief newscutting in the Auckland Star, sent to me by our Treasurer, Mrs Townshend, with the request that I visit this grand old lady, resulted in a memorable interview.
I found her in her room in the attractive Methodist home for the elderly in Mt Albert. Quietly spoken, slightly hard of hearing, her sight excellent with glasses, this pleasant lady in her one hundred and fourth year was gracious and eager in recalling memories of the past.
The "Star" claims she was born in Paeroa but she says "No! it was Thames" and the year was 1881. In 1895 her father, Steven Fisher, his five brothers and their families including the school-aged Lucy, journeyed up the Waihou in the well-known "Patiki" (photo Journal 3, page 23) [see: Images from Journal No.3 - E] and landed on the river's edge hemmed in by the dense virgin kahikatea bush from which they ware to carve out their pioneer homes.
The spot, to become known as Fishers Landing was near the present Captain Cook Memorial cairn where the Peka Peka Road begins. The Hauraki Plains Story by Rufus E. Tye states that there they pitched their tents. An article in the Magazine of the Netherton School's 65th Anniversary celebrations by Mr Pat Fisher records that "the women folk did not come up until houses were built." Lucy remembers that her father built their kauri house at Thames and brought it up-river to Netherton in sections by barge.
Lucy has clear and happy memories of her school days at Netherton in the old school on the Old Netherton Road (see locality map and article in Journal 13 pages 42 — 45) [see Journal 13: History of Netherton School - E]. I showed her a photo of teacher and 22 children. Putting on her glasses, she exclaimed "Oh! there's dear Miss Wilson." Miss Sophia Wilson was the sole teacher from 1891 to 1907, tall, stately, Victorian, slim-waisted, ruff at the neck, skirt to the ground. She could pursue the truant boys through the bush with cane in hand but the girls considered it a great honour to clean the clay from her outer footwear before her afternoon home going over the muddy tracks of those days. The school girl remembers the "tin chimney and open fires" of the old schoolroom.
The first occupation of her father and his brothers was, of course that of bushmen, clearing the dense undergrowth, felling the tall kahikatea trees, transporting them from deeper and deeper in the forest along the tram line, drawn by horses to the river for raftinq to the sawmills of Gibbins at Kopu and Bagnalls at Turua. Than came the burning, the clearing, and the grass-sowing in preparation for dairy farming.
Captain Cook in his Journal records his excursion with pinnace and long-boat up the Waihou (which he named the Thames) to about this point and details the measurements of a giant kahikatea. Lucy states that, as children, they used to play round the huge bole of that same tree.
There were, of course, no roads. Everything was brought by river to Fishers Landing and everything was bought "in cases." But they were largely self-sufficient. Bread was home-made in the camp oven. And "Oh! the beautiful fresh meat when a beast was killed by the men!" Her eyes lit up at the memory of it! There was fresh pork, fresh eggs, vegetables from the garden, fruit from the orchard, roast turkey, and home-made butter, the milk set in large pans for the skimming off of the cream which was made into butter in the old fashioned hand churn. Using the ebb and flow of the tides, the woman folk rowed to Paeroa for shopping excursions when the grocer would exchange their butter for other grocery items.
I suggested that their home would be lit by kerosene lamps. She replied, "Oh yes, and candles, and the first wonderful electric light we ever saw was that on the steamers that passed up and down the river."
Young Robert Frederick Spencer was employed by Lucy's father in the work of felling the trees. His chief responsibility was attention to the large cross-cut saws that were used. He became her husband. They were married in the dining room of her home and a large marquee accommodated the overflow of guests outside. She remembers, "There was roast turkey and oh! roast everything!"
There were ten children of the marriage. Today only two of them are still living - the oldest, Robert, in his 80s, and the youngest, Douglas, in his 60s. I spoke to him on the 'phone after my visit to his Mother. Robert at one time had a jewellery shop in Paeroa's main street by the theatre.
Some of the children, Robert, Emily, and Ronald, attended the Netherton School that was erected in 1901 on the present site. Their Mother remembers their teacher, the late Thomas Dominic Rice. When I was head teacher at Netherton (1937 — 1945) I found carefully preserved, the official admission register containing the names of Lucy Fisher herself, those of her Spencer children, and of a great many other Fishers.
Douglas did not attend the Netherton School for the family moved to the Waikato and then to the Thames District where he was a pupil of the Te Puru School.
ROBERT FREDERICK SPENCER
ROBERT FREDERICK SPENCER who married Lucy Fisher was the son of Doctor Robin Spencer who came out to New Zealand as a surgeon attending to the wounded in the Maori Wars. He was a man of many parts, a school teacher and a churchman conducting Anglical services in the church at Kerikeri.
Robert, working for Steven Fisher at Netherton, married Lucy Fisher there, establishing his own dairy farm adjacent to that of his father-in-law. There was a period when he worked on the construction of the Te Aroha - Paeroa Railway. He died some 16 or 17 years ago at the age of ninety-five. His father, Dr Robin Spencer, is buried it Rotorua.
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....Since Mr. Malcolm wrote the above article we learned with regret of the death of Mrs Spencer on 7th December 1984.