- Born 14 March 1824, Mayfair.
- Died 1 December 1915, Brympton D'Evercy, Yeovil, Somerset
- Educated Harrow School
- Occupation Foreign Office Official, Royal Household Officer
- Debut 17 May 1858 v MCC at Lord's
- Cap Number 31
- Style Right-hand bat, also reserve wicket keeper
- Teams Gentlemen, MCC, Surrey, Middlesex, I Zingari, Na Shuler
Spencer Ponsonby, he adopted the suffix Fane in 1875 under the terms of his aunt's will, was a member of a well known Anglo-Irish family distinguished in public service. He was an aggressive batsman, "a free and lively hitter," according to S&B and a good field often at mid wicket. He ran quickly between the wickets, but as, perhaps, a prototype Denis Compton, "has run himself and his partner out often." (S&B). In first class cricket which he played, from the age of 16, for 21 years, he scored 1359 runs at an average of 11.92. It should be remembered that, on the bad wickets of the time, these figures are by no means as poor as they might appear.
It took the advent of WG Grace to establish the supremacy of the bat. Ponsonby scored one hundred at this level, 108 for the Gentlemen of England v the Gentlemen of Kent and Sussex at Canterbury in 1856. His side, for whom he opened, were following on. His runs, made out of a team total of 192 enabled them to set a target of 190. The home side just got home. He also hit 4 fifties in first class matches.
For Ireland he appeared twice, both times were at Lord's against his first love, MCC. In 1858, in a match which Ireland all out for 120, still won by an innings thanks to the bowling of Charles Lawrence and Joseph McCormick, he was second top scorer with 18 (run out!) in the first innings, when HH Montgomery carried his bat for 37*. There were only 7 double figure knocks in the match. In 1862 his first innings 37 at 5 was vital in setting up a narrow Irish win. Ireland's next highest first innings scorer was Arthur Samuels with 8. Ponsonby's 37* was one of only two double figure Irish scores in either innings.
A co-founder of I Zingari, with his brother Fred and JL Baldwin in 1845, he became its Hon Secretary and Governor. In the latter role, he was according to his Wisden obituary, "autocratic but much loved." He took part in the first I Zingari Irish tour in 1851, and kept wicket in the comfortable win over Phoenix, stumping two batsmen. The MCC however was his passion. Nephew by marriage to the controversial cricketing cleric, the autocratic master of Lord's, Lord Frederick Beauclerk, Ponsonby first played for the Club in 1839, was elected a member in 1840 and had thus been one for a then record 75 years when he died.
First serving on the Committee in 1866, he several times declined the Presidency, but was Treasurer from 1879 until his death. His work did much to establish the importance of the role so that, in the second half of the 20th Century holders of the office such as Harry Altham and GOB "Gubby" Allen could wield immense power, not just in the workings of Lord's but in English Cricket generally. Probably Ponsonby's main achievement, however, was to begin and develop the Club's collection of paintings, something for which not only cricket owes him a debt.
He also found time to have a career. Entering the Foreign Office in 1840, he was attached to the Washington Embassy, before becoming Private Secretary to three Foreign Secretaries including future Prime Minister Lord Palmerston. He attended the Paris peace talks that ended the Crimean War and was responsible for bringing the resultant Treaty back to London. He later held a variety of Royal Household positions including Gentleman Usher to Queen Victoria. Knighted in 1884, he was a close friend of Edward VII, when the latter was Prince of Wales and also held royal office during that reign.
In 1875 he inherited the house and lands of Brympton d'Evercy from his aunt Lady Georgiana Fane, on the condition that the name Fane was adopted into his surname. Legend has it that he was far from overjoyed at the prospect, because the estate was debt ridden and because he was, allegedly on the family's Irish estates avoiding the repercussions of an "indiscretion" committed in London, but that on seeing Brympton he pledged to keep it whatever the cost. He made it a centre for cricket in the area and also became President of Somerset, but Lord's remained his main delight. He continued to be a regular until 1913, and contributed an introduction to Harris and Ashley Cooper "Lord's and the MCC"(1914), from which much modern knowledge of the famous ground's early years comes.
Seven other members of his family, his brother Fred the most prominent, played first class cricket, Fred and Spencer's son John, also played for Ireland In 1847 Spencer had married the Hon Louisa Dillon. A long suffering but formidable woman, she bore him 11 children, some of whose descendants, now under the name of Clive- Ponsonby- Fane, remain prominent in several walks of life today. The house was sold in 1959 and became a school, which, unlike Sir Spencer's dynasty, has not survived.
His biography is in S&B Volume 2 and his obituary is in Wisden 1916.
Edward Liddle, September 2007