Family, bushrangers, and Great Grand Fathers

So, who has not wondered where they came from? I mean, what was my family like a generation ago, or even maybe two, three or four generations ago? Ok sure, most younger people don’t wonder, but I can assure you, as life goes on, and one starts to realise ones mortality, you will start to wonder where it all started, or at least, how come I am like I am. What made the man, what made Peter Spencer, Peter Spencer?

It was about 1982 when I first got the urge to look further into my family history and find out what my ancestors were like. Well, not exactly my ancestors, firstly I wanted to know what my grandparents were like. You see, I did not know my grandparents at all. I used to hear the other kids talking about their grandparents, how they would visit them and how their Pop and Nan would give them presents and lots of lollies. Surely that is just what any kid would want, loving, caring grandparents? I did not get any, or at least my parents did not introduce me to any.

I should explain a bit, I think. Both my grandmothers died in 1955 and I was born in 1958, so it was a little hard to get to know them, I suppose. My maternal grandfather died in 1963. He lived in a town called Inverell, 2 days drive from our home on the North Shore in Sydney. My paternal grandfather died in 1969… when I was 11 years old… so how come I didn’t know him… how come I have no memory of him at all? How come all my cousins talk so fondly of this man but I was prevented from seeing him let alone getting to know him? How come I can never ever remember my father visiting his dad? How come my father or mother for that matter never took me to visit my one surviving grandparent, while he was still alive? Was there some sort of sordid history to this man? Was he a criminal that my parents did not want around their son? Or is there another more sinister, cloak and dagger style reason that I will never get to the bottom of? I reckon there would be a book in that story.

So, I thought I would delve into the Spencer family, I’ll start with my father.

Dad was quite a good poet and story writer and left behind lots of writings on pieces of paper when he passed in 2015, aged almost 92. Although he wrote well and talked the leg off an iron pot with others, I can never remember him being a big one on chatting with me. However, I will cut him some slack on that subject, as I am sure most blokes of that generation were like that. One funny incident I can remember was when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I had just gone to bed and was lying there reading. Dad came into my room and sat on the end of the bed. I did not know what to think as he had never done this before. ‘Pete.’ he said. ‘mmm.’ is all I got out. ‘Your mum has told me it is time for me to have little chat with you.’ ‘Ok.’ ‘Pete.’ He said again. ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you know how babies are made?’ Dad said looking at the ceiling. ‘Yes.’ I replied. ‘Well thank God for that.’ Dad announced with relief in his voice. And with that he slapped his knees, got up and walked out of my room. My dad and I, well we could have talked for hours.

Now I have digressed somewhat from my intended question that I was going to ask my father. The question about my grandparents, as I wanted to get to know what they were like. ‘Dad, how come I never got to know my grandfather, your dad?’ Straight away I knew I had hit a sore point; I could read the body language and the huge sigh was a dead giveaway. ‘Oh, Um, I don’t know Pete, we were never a real close family and um that was um just how it was.’ Dad really stumbled even to get this airy fairy answer out. ‘Ok.’ I thought about some even simpler questions that I could ask that might get to open him up a bit. ‘Was granddad buried or cremated?’ ‘Um, I think he was cremated.’ ‘Ok, what was done with his ashes?’ I prodded. ‘Um, nope I don’t have a clue, maybe they were scattered with my mother’s, maybe in Melbourne somewhere.’ ‘Oh, Ok, were her ashes scattered in Melbourne?’ ‘Nope I couldn’t tell you that either, maybe in Melbourne, as when my sister died, during the war from an ectopic pregnancy, she was in Melbourne, so maybe mum is with her.’ So, you see I was getting nowhere fast. I even phoned some of my Spencer cousins and they also were of no help finding out the nitty gritty about the Spencer family. Now, on the other hand, my mother was a font of knowledge when it came to her family, the Monckton’s.

She knew all about her parents, their parents and offspring, the convicts, the bushrangers… wait, what? ‘Yes, your great grandfather was a bushranger.’ She announced. ‘Really? Tell me more.’ ‘He rode with Fred Ward, also known as Captain Thunderbolt, for three years. He was captured by the Glen Innes police and sentenced to six years imprisonment. The police shot Captain Thunderbolt in 1870 and he is buried in Uralla Cemetery. Late in Grandfathers life he made a statutory declaration saying that the police shot the wrong man near Uralla and the real Thunderbolt got away.’ The conversation went on and on over many years, and I developed a strong intrigue for this man William Monckton, my great grandfather. It caused me to research for myself, the Thunderbolt story he supposedly claimed to be true, and due to my investigations, I have come up with my own opinion on that subject. Too Young to Hold a Gun should help you to see that my beliefs are based on my research. I discovered that my great grandfather, William Monckton, had sixty-one grandchildren. My mother was number fifty seven of the sixty-one. At the time of writing this bio, there are only three of the grandchildren left, including my mother. This got me thinking… where are all my relatives now, all the descendants of this William Monckton? So, I made it my mission over a decade or so, to track them down to my best ability. My wife Linda and I have seen this mission through finding hundreds of ‘family’ members all over this country. It is from ‘getting to know’ this wider family that I realised I grew to ‘know’ William Monckton. This ‘knowledge’ allowed me, no - pushed me - to write his story, through his eyes, about his colourful life.