Mary Spencer (nee Smith) recorded in her journal that she was born in Mildenhall, Suffolk, England, in 1808. She was the eldest of three children to parents who 'though poor were exceedingly honest and industrious and careful'. Although her parents were uneducated, Mary was taught to read with the assistance of the parish minister. She was a solemn child who 'never knew what it was to enjoy anything like other children' - 'there was always something to check my pleasure as there was might fear of God resting upon me at an early age.' She punished herself for any wrongs by going without meals and setting herself to 'hard work'.

In 1840 Mary married Stephen Spencer, and in 1842 they left London bound for Australia. On arrival they spent three months in Sydney in a lodging house, then moved to a farm in the Hunter Valley region - Comleroy (or Comleroi), near Singleton. The house consisted of two 'dilapitated [sic] huts almost roofless and floorless' (as her daughter recalled). Stephen and Mary's brother William worked the farm. In 1844 Mary gave birth to their first child, a daughter, Maryanna (or Mary Anna). Mary gave a doll and sampler to Maryanna, who cherished them all her long life.

The following year, Mary's parents and sister arrived from England, and the family moved to Iron Bark (or Ironbark Station), near Barraba, NSW. Here they lived in 'a miserable hut occupied by rough stockman [sic].' Mary and the baby slept on a bark bunk, and Stephen on another. 'The place was swarming with vermine [sic]'. The families set about building houses, and Mary gave birth to a son.

In 1857 Stephen purchased a station, Mt Abundance, near Roma, Queensland, from a Mr McPherson. The family move to Mt Abundance in 1858, enduring 'a most dreadful, trying and fatiguing journey of 4 months'. They soon settled into life at their new station. Maryanna remembers her mother as 'kindness itself, and all sorrow, or sickness or trouble had her sympathy and assistance too if she could give it.' Mary took particular pride in her needlework, sewing clothes for the family - 'her fine sewing was a real work of art'.

Mary died in 1866, after eight years at Mt Abundance, and is buried on the property behind the homestead.

When Maryanna died in 1926 (or 1933 - information from family differs) the doll and sampler were passed onto other family members, who treasured them until they were acquired by the Museum in 1988. Today the doll is one of the oldest known provenanced dolls in Australia.

More Information