William Spence of Greenfield

William Spence of Greenfield was the son of Gilbert Spence the second of Hammer who inherited Greenfield in the northern part of the island of Unst, where William was baptised on 3rd September, 1782 (Zetland County Families, by Grant). An account of life on Unst at that time by Sir John Sinclair was published in the Statistical Account of Scotland for 1791-00.

William was sent off to become a surgeon in the British Army when Napoleon was threatening to overwhelm Europe. He obtained his appointment in 1806 and worked his way up to become a Staff Surgeon by 1814 when he was retired on half pay when the war, which reached its climax at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, ended. William must have returned, not to Greenfield in Unst, but to Lerwick where he took up a medical practice. His house there was named Greenfield Place.

It seems probable that William's partner Catherine Farquhar actually accompanied him to Gibraltar or at least to Leith, in Edinburgh, the port of embarkation of many army regiments from the north of England to the Peninsular War. They had two children, Wilhelmina Spence (who married Capt.Thomas Irvine Fordyce, then Robert Robertson. They emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand where she died on 10 Oct. 1885) and Margaret Hay Spence, who married James Simpson in Glasgow. Wilhelmina looked after her mother until her death in 1856.

William's will was proved in Edinburgh. A relative, Robert Neven Spence, was the writer (lawyer) who prepared the will. His executors were named as "Mistress Jane Fea or Spence, my beloved spouse, Gilbert Spence of Hammer, Magnus Sinclair Fea, Surveyor of taxes, Lerwick, David Nicolson of Sa. Hammer and Robert Neven Spence, Writer in Lerwick" etc. The will, written in lengthy legalistic language leaves his house and property in Lerwick to his wife for her "liferunt", meaning it is only for the term of her life and then it was bequeathed to his son and heir or in order, "Gilbert William Spence, Thomas Fea Spence, Jane Fea, Jessy, Catherine Stafford, Martha Joan and Philothea Spence his lawful daughters and to any others who might be born after his death" etc. He did not include either Wilhelmina or Margaret Hay as his legal children. His property of Greenfield in Unst was under a debt of 500 pounds and that was to be paid out of his estate so it is possible that the debt was in some way a legacy for them but neither of them were resident there at any time.

Adapted from a paper by Graham Simpson - April 2002