SPENCER, AUBREY GEORGE, Church of England clergyman, missionary, and bishop; b. 12 Feb. 1795 in London, Eng., a great-great-grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and the eldest son of the Honourable William Spencer and Susan Jennison, Countess of the Holy Roman Empire; d. 24 Feb. 1872 at Torquay, Devon, Eng.
Aubrey George Spencer was educated at St Albans Abbey School, at Dr Charles Burney’s private school in Greenwich, and at Magdalen Hall, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in Norwich Cathedral on 24 May 1818 by Bishop Henry Bathurst of Norwich, who also raised him to the priesthood on 24 Feb. 1819 at Welbeck Chapel, Middlesex. Spencer served as curate in Prittlewell, Essex, during 1818 and 1819; he then entered the service of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and was appointed as their missionary at Ferryland, Newfoundland, in 1819. He was transferred to Trinity Bay in 1820. While visiting St John’s in 1821, he informed the society that the intense cold was undermining his health and that he wished to return to England for the winter. He further advised the SPG that he had written William Howley, the bishop of London, requesting an appointment to one of five vacant missions in Bermuda.
Late in 1821 Spencer informed the society that he was in Bermuda and would not be returning to Newfoundland. The governor of Bermuda, Sir William Lumley, nominated him rector of Smiths and Hamilton in February 1822 and appointed him to his council. Shortly after, Spencer married Eliza Musson, daughter of a wealthy Bermuda merchant, by whom he had one son and three daughters. In 1825 Bishop John Inglis* of Nova Scotia appointed Spencer archdeacon of Bermuda and rector of Paget and Warwick. In 1827, the same year that he published Sermons on various subjects (London), he was granted a Lambeth dd by Archbishop Charles Manners-Sutton and a dcl by King’s College, Windsor, N.S. Bishop Inglis offered him the archdeaconry of Newfoundland late in 1829, but he refused because he felt deeply committed to the spiritual welfare and education of the blacks of Bermuda.
By letters patent from Queen Victoria dated 27 July 1839 Aubrey George Spencer was appointed first bishop of the see of Newfoundland. In Lambeth Palace chapel on 4 August he was consecrated by William Howley, by this time archbishop of Canterbury, Bishops Charles James Blomfield of London, William Otter of Chichester, and John Inglis of Nova Scotia.
When Spencer took up his post in Newfoundland he found that the small number of clergy and the depressed condition of the people had cast a shadow on the growth of the Church of England. However, with the financial help of the SPG, the church progressed steadily under the new bishop’s leadership. Missions expanded rapidly and the number of clergy in Newfoundland had risen to 27 by 1842. Spencer divided the diocese into deaneries and, in cooperation with the Newfoundland and British North American School Society-whose work had been opposed by John Inglis for its low church or evangelical leanings – increased the number of church schools. Spencer established a theological training school and in 1841 planned the building of his cathedral in St John’s. However his health remained precarious and in 1843 he gladly accepted the bishopric of Jamaica. His successor Edward Feild inherited a far more progressive see than had existed when Spencer assumed office.
Spencer remained in Jamaica until 1855 when his health broke completely. He thereupon retired to Torquay, Devon, where he lived until his death. During this period he worked on his last publication, A brief account of the Church of England, its faith and worship: as shown by the Book of Common Prayer (London, 1867).
USPG, C/CAN/NFL, 4 add., Spencer to the secretary of the SPG, 4 Jan., 22 May, 15 Sept., 5 Dec. 1821; 22 Feb., 2 April 1822; 6 Jan. 1830; Spencer to G. M. Markland, treasurer of the SPG, 3 Dec. 1822, 1 Nov. 1827; C/CAN/NFL, 6 (letters concerning the building of the cathedral in St John’s, Nfld.). Times (London), 27 Feb. 1872. Pascoe, Two hundred years of the S.P.G. O. R. Rowley, The Anglican episcopate of Canada and Newfoundland (London and Milwaukee, Wis., 1928). “Aubrey George Spencer, D.D., D.C.L” first bishop of Newfoundland, 1839–1843, second bishop of Jamaica, 1843–1872,” Can. Church Hist. Soc. J., X (1968), 186–93 [reprinted from the International Magazine of Literature, Art and Science (New York), II, no.11 (1 Jan. 1851), 157–59].