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(above) The Spencer Family

The earliest of the sustained settlements, in the European sense at least, was Bluff, Where in the early 1820’s James Spencer decided to spend the rest of his life. He had come to preside over one of Johnny Jones of Waikouaiti’s whaling out stations. He was joined by two other Europeans, William Stirling and James Joss. Soon he had gathered quite a settlement around him, he was running cattle and had pigs on Spencers Island and goats on Dog Island. About ten years after his arrival he bought two sections from the main chief, Tuhawaiki, sales which were confirmed by native title deeds in 1839. A cottage and store were built, the heard increased, a fishing station employed a score of workers and sixty acres were brought into production. Any shipping calling at Bluff could stock up with wheat, barley, vegetables and other fresh commodities. Spencers wife was Tini Ra Waho from Otakou, christened Mere Kauri at the time of her marriage which was performed by Missionary Watkin at Waikouaiti.

Mr and Mrs Spencer lived in a house among the flax and manuka, near to where the present Bluff hall is situated. There is a story that two rough sailors invaded the house with intent while James was away, he came home , hove one of the intruders into the fireplace and the other into the yard. Mere Kauri too was a strong character in her own right. When Spencers Island was required by authority for quarantine barracks, she reefed up her skirts seized an axe and drove the builders off.

In 1844 Bishop Selwyn called, married William Stirling to Mary Parker and Lidiard to a native woman, baptised six children, found three readers among men - Spencer - included and lectured them about teaching the children of the settlement. A large party from Centre Island gathered in the Spencer home for an audience.

One of James Spencers sons married Louisa Coupar(see picture above) from The Neck, daughter of Te Mahana of Temuka and Stewart Coupar from Dundee. Louisa was an experienced nurse ever ready day or night to lend her help to the suffering. Another Bluff personality was the dark, clever good looking little Louisa Christina de Smidt, who helped her husband Henry manage the Golden Age Hotel during the 1860’s and carried on after his death in 1872. One of her helps remembered Mrs de Smidt’s anxious cry from the kitchen when a ship rounded the point “Sarah! Put some more water in the soup”. Of the four de Smidt children, Henry died in infancy, Louisa, lively, somewhat haughty, married Walter Henderson, a dealer in sealskins. Kindly, gracious Christina married Mr, later Sir Theodore Boys and died in England at about 90, and Theresa married a near neighbour who became Prime Minister of New Zealand: Sir Joseph Ward. All the de Smidt girls were clever at lacemaking and embroidery. An accomplished family indeed!

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