Francis (Frank) McFarland Spencer (November 25, 1819 – May 19, 1897) was born in Sydney, New South Wales, and was early apprenticed to the carpenter’s trade. In 1849, with many others in the colonies, he set sail and sought fortune from the California gold rush.
On the way, their vessel was wrecked on the reef outside Honolulu; all her passengers were saved. Spencer decided to remain in the Islands and went to work at his trade. (Evening Bulletin, May 20, 1897)
In 1850, he opened a store on Hotel Street known as the Spencer House. His dry goods business flourished; marketing “the most useful and cheapest goods … (promising) Quick Sales and Small Profits.”
But that is not the Spencer House of this story.
To get to that, however, we need to step back a bit; we go back to 1819.
That was the time when whale products were in high demand; whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips. Rich whaling waters were discovered near Japan and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area.
The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands. Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile fields. The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years.
William French arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1819 and settled in Honolulu. He became a leading trader, providing hides and tallow, and provisioning the whaling ships that called in Honolulu. Financial success during the next decade made French known as “the merchant prince.”
French also had property on the Island of Hawaiʻi, with a main headquarters there at Kawaihae, shipping cattle, hides and tallow to Honolulu; he hired John Palmer Parker (later founder of Parker Ranch) as his bookkeeper, cattle hunter and in other capacities. (Wellmon)
When French made claims before the Land Commission regarding one of the properties (identified as “slaughter-house premises” that he bought from Governor Kuakini in 1838,) testimony supporting his claim noted it was “a place for a beautiful house which Mr French would not sell for money. … It was enclosed by a stone wall. There were two natives occupying houses on his land.” (Land Commission Testimony)
The 2.8-acre property is in an area of Waimea known as Puʻuloa; French built a couple houses on it, the property was bounded by Waikoloa Stream and became Parker’s home while he worked for French. (In addition, in 1840, this is where French built his original home in Waimea. (Bergin))
At Puʻuloa, Parker ran one of French’s stores, which was nothing more than a thatched hut. Although this store was less grandiose than the other one at Kawaihae, it became the center of the cattle business on the Waimea plain.
Here, French employed a saddle-maker and operated a tannery. Parker kept busy supervising this operation and collecting beef, tallow and leather to supply the needs of French’s growing business. (Wellmon)
There was no surplus of currency in Waimea at this time, and most of the business at the Puʻuloa store consisted of bartering for goods and services. Long-term credit and buying on time was the rule rather than the exception in these transactions. (Wellmon)
Back in Honolulu, in 1840, French entered into a partnership with John Greenway; it was dissolved “in a manner involving the most disastrous consequences to Mr French.”
In a report of enquiry, a committee that reviewed the matter found “the investigation has ended in a conviction, that Mr. French stands before you fully vindicated, and cleared of all the imputations that were cast upon his honest intentions, that this is proved by the indisputable evidence of every written document found, from the 7th April, 1842”. (Polynesian, August 10, 1844)
French died at Kawaihae on November 25, 1851. “Many who have made their fortunes in these Islands have owed their rise in the world to the patronage of Mr French.” (Polynesian, December 6, 1851)
OK, back to Spencer – in addition to his Honolulu ‘Spencer House’ selling “fancy and staple goods,” Spencer acquired land and started to get into business on the Island of Hawaiʻi.
When French died, Spencer and a partner took over French’s livestock (his partner was James Louzada (one of the first español (paniolo,) Mexican cowboys to Hawaiʻi.)) (Bergin) Spencer also acquired some of French’s property when French died. (Mills) (Presumably, included was French’s home at Puʻuloa we now call Spencer House in Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island.)
Spencer was granted a lease on government lands in 1859 that gave him “…a monopoly on all sheep and wild cattle on Mauna Kea and the mountain lands, including uses of the Pōhakuloa plateau lands, Kalaiʻeha, Keanakolu, Hanaipoe, and smaller stations in between these areas”. (Cultural Surveys)
Later, on August 1, 1861, the Hawaiian Government leased Humuʻula and Kaʻohe lands (including the summit of Mauna Kea) to the newly-formed Waimea Grazing and Agricultural Company (WGAC.) (Mills & Maly)
WGAC was formed in May 1861 through a merger of Louzada, Spencer and Co and Robert C Janion. By 1873, it had a house and wool barn. (In 1883, the operation was incorporated as the Humu‘ula Sheep Station Company and was later acquired by Parker Ranch.)
In 1864 or 1865, Spencer sold his Honolulu dry goods business and moved permanently to the Island of Hawaiʻi, making his home at Waimea, where he engaged in the business of raising sheep, and afterwards cattle. For a number of years he held the office of District Magistrate of Waimea. (Evening Bulletin, May 20, 1897)
In 1865, Spencer obtained a lease of the entire ahupua‘a of Pu‘u Anahulu “excepting the land rights of the native tenants thereon…” (a total leased area of about 83,000-acres.) The addition of Pu‘u Anahulu to Spencer’s holdings gave him almost continuous grazing coverage from Hilo, Hāmākua, South Kohala and Kona. (Cultural Surveys)
On June 1, 1898, Robert Hind Jr and Eben Low acquired Spencer’s interest in Pu‘u Anahulu, and the leasehold Government Lands were added to their inventory of the Pu‘u Waʻawaʻa Ranch holdings. (DLNR)
WGAC sold hides, tallow, salted beef, wool and mutton, and maintained several company stores. The market for sheep and cattle products was in flux in the 1860s and 1870s, with the value of sheep eventually rising above that of cattle. (Mills)
Spencer continued with his cattle and sheep operations on the Island of Hawaiʻi. However, owing to ill health, Spencer came from his home at Waimea, Hawaiʻi, to reside with his daughter. He died May 19, 1897. (Evening Bulletin, May 20, 1897)
Spencer’s daughter, Frances “Fanny” Tasmania Spencer had married Richard Fredrick Bickerton (he later became an Associate Justice for the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court – 1886-1895.) Reportedly, Spencer’s Waimea “Spencer House” was briefly known and used as Bickerton Hotel.
Today, Friends of Waimea’s Historic Spencer House, Waimea Preservation Association and members of the Waimea Community Association are working to restore the historic Spencer House.
“A big piece of (what the groups are trying to do) is trying to preserve a piece of Waimea’s past, retain some of that sense of heritage,” long-time Waimea resident Patti Cook said. The other aim is “shaping the future” by providing a place for nonprofit and community organizations to come together.
The image shows Waimea’s Spencer House (historicspencerhouse.) In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.