Catherine Stafford Spence was born on 16th July 1823 in Lerwick and baptised on 31st July. In 1846 she became a governess of the children of the Bressay Minister. For a time she ran a girls School in Lerwick but went to Edinburgh to attend the Church of Scotland Training College, after which she taught in Aberdeen, Perth, and Edinburgh. For five years she was in India as Principal of the female department of the Church of Scotland in Madras. She then taught in New Zealand for six years. In 1888 at the age of 66 she returned to Shetland and taught at West Sandwick and then Gulberwick, after which she retired.
Having a mastery of languages she was able to translate from French, Italian, Danish and Dutch. She translated works in Botany and Chemistry for Dr.Forbes Watson and Ewald's "Valdemar Krons early days", also "Christian Ethics" by Mortasen. She translated Ployen's "Reminiscences of a visit to Orkney, Shetland and Scotland in the summer of 1839". She was author of "Earl Rognald and his forebears" and "Arthur Anderson, his letters and literary remains". Between the years 1902 and 1904 she translated Jakobsen's Shetland thesis and his book on place names. The work, unpublished before her death, is the authoritative text on the Norse language used in Shetland and the meaning of place names. Jacobsen was a Danish Professor living in Denmark.
Catherine died on North Yell on December 21, 1906, never having married.
Adapted from a paper by Graham Simpson - April 2002