ALEXANDER BRODIE SPARK, ‘THE RESPECTABLE MERCHANT’ of SYDNEY
This entire was sent from Orchard House, London to Captain H. Freeman, Ship Edward Lombe, to the care of A.B. Spark Esq., Sydney, N.S.Wales and was endorsed ‘immediate’ in the top left hand and had a manuscript ‘4' arrival charge at top right. The ships name ‘[per] Caroline’ was endorsed at the lower left and there was a CROWN/ GENERAL POST OFFICE/ 19 MR 19/ 1833/ SYDNEY reception mark, the letter taking 5 months in transit (vendor stated that the cover left England on 22 October 1832). In addition the vendor stated that the letter’s contents included "Shacks for Batavia" and "Whale Boat from Thompson’s" (Figure 1).
The Edward Lombe was a 347 ton barque whose master was Freeman and it originated in London on 25 June1832 and arrived in Sydney on 6 January 1833. Obviously Freeman had some association with Brodie, of a nautical relation. Alexander Brodie Spark was born on 9th August 1792 in Elgin, Scotland, the son of a watch maker, he went into business in June 1811 with Tod’s counting house in London, and by 1817 he was involved in their shipping department. He arrived in Sydney on board the ‘Princess Charlotte’ in April 1823. He brought with him letters of recommendation and was granted 2,000 acres of land. Six convicts were assigned to him as well as an allotment of land in Newcastle. Later he increased his holdings in the Hunter region to over 6,000 acres and he also owned a farm at Cook’s River. In 1824 he was receiving supplies from the stores in Newcastle.
A store in George Street in Sydney (selling sugar, drapery, and wines, as well supplying salt meat to the commissariat) was taken over by Spark, and by 1825 he was chartering ships for the coastal trade and building the ship ‘Sydney Packet’. In 1826 he started a shipping agency, sent stores to Hobart, colonial produce to Calcutta, and the first of many wool consignments to A.A. Gower & Co., in London. Following remarkable business successes, Spark was a member of the Agricultural Society and the Chamber of Commerce. He was an agent for country settlers and later became the Managing Director of the Bank of Australia.. By 1839 he was an agent for 22 ships. He later extended his land dealings to Melbourne, imported stallions and was recognised for the quality of his horses.
In 1840 he bought land in New Zealand and took pastoral leases in the New England District. Drought blasted Spark, and by the late 1840's he had bills of over £21,000, and by 1844 he was certified insolvent. He slowly recovered and by 1846 he shipped copper ore to England, horses to India, and by 1851 he was a successful speculator in gold.
In 1829 he was at his Hunter Valley property when it was robbed by bushrangers, Richard Brown, Patrick Corcoran, Richard Turnstyle and Andrew Cullen. In an attempt to keep them at bay, he fired through his door at them. Spark was a magistrate and he became a friend of James Mudie, who visited him on his farm at Cook’s River. Later, on Mudie’s return to England, Spark became a private distributor of Mudie’s slanderous ‘Felonry of New South Wales’. In 1834 he commissioned John Verge to design ‘Tempe House’, on the Cook’s River, where he had a party of 778 visitors. In 1835 he was at Government House attending a levee to celebrate the King’s birthday. In April, 1840 he married Frances Maria (nee Biddulph), the widow of Dr. Henry Wyatt Radford of Ravensfield Station at the Hunter River. He died at Tempe, N.S.W. on 21 October 1856. He was described as a patronising man, severe on wrong doers and himself, prone to oft-expressed piety, but his knowledge of shipping and commerce were recognised as a boon to the economy. The Sydney University Press published a book by Abbott Graham and Godfrey Little about Spark in 1976, who was known as ‘The Respectable Sydney Merchant’ (Figure 2).