Palmer O Spry

Palmer Otto Spry
Born: 15 Dec 1879
Died: 21 Aug 1952 (age 72)

Worked at:

  • Seven years driving “on the Rotorua-Taupo-Napier service” (see news stories below)
  • Wellington City Fire Brigade: Motor Expert, in charge of “the motor” (i.e. the fire engine) from 26 Oct 1906. On 17 December, Mr Spry was driving the fire engine when it struck two pedestrians, killing one. He and the Deputy Superintendent of the Brigade were charged with reckless driving and manslaughter. The manslaughter charges were “thrown out” but the disposition of the other charges is unknown.
  • Wellington City: Motor Inspector, cAugust 1911 – 1912. Mr Spry proposed driving safety bylaws.
  • Wellington Radio on Tinakori Hills (1912) where he was involved in installation of the station1
  • Chatham Islands Radio (1913) where he was responsible for the assembly of the station.1
  • Awanui Radio: Involved in familiarisation with the 75hp Gardner engine prior to the station opening.1
  • Awarua Radio: Engineer from the opening of the station on 13 December 1913
  • Nominated for military commission, 11 Aug 1914
  • NZ Expeditionary Force (Advance Party): PO Spry was an Honorary Lieutenant (promoted to Honorary Captain in April 1915) in the Corps of Wireless Engineers from 8 August 1914, and was Officer in Charge of the Apia wireless station 1914-1916. His enlistment form shows that in 1914 he was married with four children. His military records show that during this time, he had “several absences” in New Zealand (the station was managed in his absence by Sgt Major Dunwoodie). PO Spry returned to New Zealand in June 1916 aboard SS Talune, “invalided” (he “had a marked tremour and was neurasthenic” according to his medical report). On 7 July, he was praised for his work in restoring the Apia wireless station (see letter below).
  • PO Spry’s military commission lapsed in July 2016, but in August he was judged to have improved in health as a result of rest, treatment and living in a colder climate. Because of this, and the shortage of skilled wireless men, he was deemed fit for service as a wireless operator. At this time, he was living in Station Road, Remuera, Auckland. His request to have his commission of Honorary Captain reinstated was denied, but he was told that he would be accepted as a non-commissioned officer and not be permitted to leave New Zealand. This may be related to “an indiscretion” in Samoa (described in his military files).
  • Awarua Radio: PO Spry was working at Awarua when he applied for a commission in the NZ Expeditionary Force (Reinforcements) as a “signalman or engineer” in November 1916. He cited, in addition to his experience in Apia, his skills in “constructional engineering” and “all classes of steam, oil and electrical machinery including motor-car work in all its branches.” His application was declined.

The Chief Telegraph Engineer, Joseph Orchiston, described Mr Spry as “an oil engine expert” who “had followed wireless as a pastime and and made wireless apparatus for his own purposes.” 1

Hon Capt PO Spry was praised for his work in salvaging the Apia wireless station after attempts by its German operators to sabotage it.
Hon Capt PO Spry was praised for his work in salvaging the Apia wireless station after attempts by its German operators to sabotage it.

Taranaki Herald, 22 December 1904, p 4

Rapid transition in a motor car run from Rotorua to Napier has been made by Mr PO Spry, of Rotorua, Mr and Mrs M Bethell of Masterton, and Mr E Peterson, agent for the Rotorua Motor Launch Company.

They left Rotorua on Sunday at 8.25 a.m., arrived at Wairrakei at 11.25, left there at 3.15 p.m., and arrived at 6.45 at Tarawera, where they stayed for the night. The journey was resumed at 8.25 a.m. on Monday. Pohui was reached at 10.40 and left an hour later, and the car drew up at the Masonic Hotel, Napier, at 1.20 p.m.

The actual travelling time was thus only 10 hours 25 minutes.

Mr Spry reports that the road is in excellent order.

Paragraph spacing added to improve readability

Manawatu Standard, 18 December 1906, p 5


A shocking accident occurred on Lambton Quay, Wellington, at about 4.40 p.m. yesterday, resulting in the instantaneous death of Mrs Amy Kensington, wife of Mr WC Kensington, Under-Secretary for Lands, and serious injury to her daughter, Miss Louisa Kensington.

The deceased and her two daughters, Misses Louisa and Olive Kensington, were proceeding homewards along Lambton Quay when the Fire Brigade motor engine, which was proceeding to a scrub fire in the Botanical Gardens, came along the quay, and turned sharply from the quay into Bowen street, dashed into the ladies as they were passing over the Bowen street crossing.

The front of the car struck Mrs Kensington, knocking her over, and the machine passed over her prostrate body [graphic reference deleted]. The left-hand side wheel must have passed over Miss Louisa Kensington’s left leg, for it received a compound fracture. The car was pulled up in its own length, and what assistance could be rendered under the distressing circumstances was offered. Drs Pollen and Izard were soon upon the scene, and the body of both the deceased lady and her daughter were removed to the family residence in Hobson crescent.

PO Spry, motor engineer and car-driver for the brigade, states that the car proceeded along the quay at a rate of from 15 to 16 miles an hour. About forty yards from Quinton’s corner the bell was rung many times, and the speed was reduced so that the corner could be rounded in safety. When he saw the ladies they were nearly half-way across the Bowen Street crossing, and seeing that they were proceeding northwards he guided the car to run between them and Quinton’s corner. Then when they went back he swerved slightly to clear them on the other side, but they started forward (northwards) again, getting right in the track of the motor (which was then proceeding at a rate of between eight and nine miles per hour). When he saw an accident was inevitable he applied the two internal expanding brakes, and pulled the car up in three of four yards. Had the ladies gone on when they first heard the bell or had stopped still no accident would have occurred, but the flurry the ladies got into made his task a most difficult one.

Spry states that the brakes were on before the car struck the ladies. This statement is borne out by the fact that when it was brought to a standstill the rear part of the car was just clear of the body, and the motor had to be moved on a little to get at the deceased. Spry, who is very much concerned over the accident, is a skilled motorman and motor engineer, and has been in charge of the brigade motor since October 26th. He has been connected with the motor-car business for the past ten years, the last seven of which he has been driving for some time on the Rotorua-Taupo-Napier service. It is understood that Mr WC Kensington (for whom a great deal of sympathy will be felt) was among those who walked across from the Government Buildings to ascertain the nature of the accident.

[Mr Spry and the Deputy Superintendent of the Fire Brigade were charged with reckless driving and manslaughter.]

Colonist, 6 February 1907, p 4


Wellington, Feb 5

At the Supreme Court the Grand Jury threw out the bill charging William O’Brien and Palmer Spry, of the Wellington City Fire Brigade, with the manslaughter of Mrs Amy Kensington.

In 1911, Palmer Spry was the Motor Inspector in the City of Wellington – notwithstanding the fact he had been the driver in a fatal accident five years earlier. In this article, he argues for better road safety.

Evening Post, 25 August 1911, p 7


Recently the City Council took the question of the further regulation of the motor traffic of the city in hand, and appointed Mr PO Spry, motor expert to the Central Fire Brigade, inspector of motor traffic.

Mr Spry has since been busy with his inspection of cars plying for hire, and last evening an interesting report of his on the problem was placed in the hands of the Mayor. It will be dealt with at the next meeting of the council.

The report is as follows:

“I have to report, having inspected all the taxicabs plying for hire on the streets of Wellington at the present time. There are several taxicabs just now off the road for repairs; these will be inspected and tested when finished. Out of the number inspected, fully 60 per cent failed to pass, chiefly owing to unsatisfactory brakes, and were not allowed to ply for hire again until the defects were remedied and the brakes tested. In one case the vehicle had insufficient brakes, and a licence was therefore refused.


“I might here state that the inspection of these motors will have to be frequent, systematic, and thorough, otherwise it will be of little use, as experience already gained in carrying out the duties of inspection has convinced me that some of these motors would in a short time be as bad as ever if not inspected frequently. In my opinion, they should be inspected once a month. I suggest that the following regulations with respect to all motorcars in the city should be adopted, viz.


“Every person driving a motor-car in the City of Wellington shall possess a certificate of competency. Certificates of competency will be issued to every person complying with the following regulations: (a) An applicant for a certificate shall be at least eighteen years of age; (b) he must show by a practical driving test and by successfully passing an oral examination that he is sufficiently acquainted with the working and use of the different levers, brakes, clutches and steering gear, also the speeds attainable on different gears, and be a reasonably good judge of speed and distance; (c) he shall have had at least six months previous experience in driving motorcars; (d) he shall produce two testimonials from previous employers as to general good conduct and sobriety.

Every person driving a motor vehicle plying for hire or engaged in any commercial undertaking shall possess a certificate of competency. Every paid driver of a motor vehicle shall possess a certificate of competency. The City Council shall issue a certificate of service to every driver of a motor-car used solely as a pleasure car providing the said owner has been driving the same for not less than six months prior to these regulations coming into force.

In all other cases an applicant for a certificate must pass the above examination. Any motor-car running in the City of Wellington for more than ten consecutive days must be registered by the City Council. The council have power to cancel a driver’s certificate on being satisfied that it is desirable to do so.


“All motor vehicles plying for hire or engaged in any commercial undertaking shall be inspected by the inspector appointed for the purpose before being licensed. Taxicabs or any other motor vehicle engaged in carrying passengers shall be inspected every month or as often as necessary. The owner of a licensed motor vehicle plying for hire shall notify the inspector of any alterations or repairs that are being effected to the same.

The inspector shall have power to enter any garage or workshop for the purpose of inspecting any licensed motor vehicle therein. Should the inspector consider any part or parts of any licensed motor vehicle unfit for the purpose for which it is licensed, he shall give notice in writing to the owner and such vehicle shall be deemed unlicensed until repairs or alterations have been effected to the satisfaction of the inspector. Every motor vehicle running in the City of Wellington shall be passed by the inspector before registration.


“A driver of a motor vehicle shall not cause it to travel at a greater speed than two miles per hour when turning into or out of the following streets: Cuba-street, Willis-street, Manners-street, Courtenay-place, Vivian-street, Ingestre-street, Ghuznee-street, Customhouse-quay, Lambton-quay, Taranaki-street, Tory-street, Kent-terrace, and Ellice-street, and in no case shall he turn a corner at a greater speed than four miles per hour. He shall at all times drive with the greatest caution and consideration for other users of the highway. The speed limit in the City of Wellington shall not exceed twenty miles per hour.


“All licensed taxicabs shall be fitted with approved taximeters within six months of these regulations coming into force, and shall be maintained in good order and will be tested periodically by the inspector. It shall be an offence for the driver of a taxicab to take a fare that is not registered by the taximeter unless specially engaged by time. Fares for the hire of taxicabs by distance shall be 1s per mile for one person, and 6d per mile each for two or mote persons.

The charge for time will be 15s for the first hour, 12s 6d for the second hour, ,and 10s for every additional hour. For a fractional part of an hour — viz., a quarter, half, or three-quarters of an hour — the charge shall be pro rata. The hirer shall have the option of paying by time or distance.

Detention: For every fifteen minutes or fractional part of same after the first five minutes, the charge shall be 1s 6d. Special orders for night work to be charged by time at the following rates: Between 7 p.m. and midnight, 15s per hour; between midnight and 6 a.m., 25s per hour; minimum for any special order shall be 5s.”

Mr Spry, in conclusion, points out that these suggestions are made only as a guide in the drafting of by-laws.

Evening Post, 22 May 1912, p 4


(By “Autos.”)

It is not apparently realised by the public that the motor bylaw, which originated about this time last year, and was actually passed, adopted, and confirmed by the City Council well over a month ago, is now ostensibly in force.

“Ostensibly” only, as no successor has yet been appointed to Mr PO Spry, the late motor inspector, who is now doing good work in the Post and Telegraph service as an expert on oil motors and wireless apparatus.

Without a City Motor Inspector the motor bylaw is nothing but a dead letter. Its provisions have almost been forgotten by this time, and there is no indication that the chief persons affected by it — the taximotor drivers — are visibly concerned…

Paragraph spacing added to improve readability


1. J Orchiston, Chief Telegraph Engineer. Letter dated 4 May 1916


Mr Spry is cited as the source of information in a 1912 newspaper article explaining wireless telegraphy.

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