Skip to Main Content

Catherine Helen Spence: Researching Catherine Helen Spence

A guide to Catherine Helen Spence featuring writings about her and a chronological bibliography of her works.

Getting started

Major biographical works

Original items

The State Library holds the donated papers of Catherine Helen Spence as PRG 88, comprising 1.8 metres of material from 1866 to 1910. The papers include articles written for publication, lectures, letters, literary manuscripts, diary for 1894 with a day per page (PRG 88/26), reminiscences about and by Spence, sermons and scrapbooks and her autobiography which she began writing as a series of short newspaper articles, but died before it was completed. The autobiography begins:

Sitting down at the age of eighty-four to give an account of my life, I feel that it connects itself naturally with the growth and development of the province of South Australia, to which I came with my family in the year 1839, before it was quite three years old. ....Its growth has been more remarkable, because it has been primarily due to its initiation of many social and political reforms which have since been adopted by other and older countries. .....Nothing is insignificant in the history of a young community, and-above all-nothing seemed impossible.

The Library also holds other archival items about Spence: A point lace collar worked by Spence in 1910 as a wedding present to Alfred Allen Simpson and Janet Doris Hubbe (PRG 88/25), a plaster bust of Spence by SA sculptress Ieva Pocius (D 7788 (Misc)) and a wine glass engraved with likeness of Spence by Gwen Williams (D 7959 (Misc)).


  • The State Library has several likenesses of Spence which can be viewed on the Library catalogue. The earliest is a photograph with her mother circa 1880 and the latest is 1902.
  • Miniature
  • The Art Gallery of South Australia has two painted portraits of Spence, one by Margaret Preston in 1911 and the other by Annie Laura Vernon Gee in 1900. The image of Spence on the 2001 Federation five dollar note was based on the Margaret Preston painting.
  • A life size bronze statue of Spence by Adelaide sculptor Ieva Pocius in 1986 is situated in Light Square in the city. The original plaster bust for the head was donated to the State Library.


There are no known recordings of the voice of Catherine Helen Spence. However, the State Library has a recording in which the interviewee recalls her. This is an interview with Launcelot Compton on 16 April 1997 (OH 405/1) part of a series with people who can recall making use in their youth of the Unitarian Christian Church's Children's Library, with which Spence was closely involved.

Newspaper article

'Miss Spence, octogenarian: a distinguished pioneer', The Observer, 4 November 1905, p. 40, columns a-d.