Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spence, William

SPENCE, WILLIAM (1783–1860), entomologist, was born at Hull in 1783, and passed his early life in business there. At ten years old he interested himself in botany. In early life he also studied economic subjects; he strongly supported the old corn laws, and was subsequently an opponent of James Mill. He upheld the view that the prosperity derived from agriculture was inherently superior to that derived from trade and commerce (cf. Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 214; Pantheon of the Age, iii. 434).

In 1805 his attention was turned to entomology, especially the study of the coleoptera. He shortly after became acquainted with William Kirby [q. v.], and a friendship began which was terminated only by the latter's death in 1850.

In 1808 the two friends agreed to begin their ‘Introduction to Entomology,’ of which the first volume appeared in 1815, and the fourth and last in 1826 (7th edit. 1856). Spence passed four or five months in the summer of 1812 in London, making researches, principally in the library of Sir Joseph Banks [q. v.] In 1815, after the battle of Waterloo, he made a four months' tour on the continent.

Between 1818 and 1826 he resided at Exmouth, and from 1826 to 1830 he travelled in Italy and Switzerland. He revisited Italy in 1843. Meanwhile he had settled in London, and assisted in 1833 in the formation of the Entomological Society of London, of which he and Kirby were elected sole British honorary members. He was president of the society in 1847. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1806 and of the Royal Society in 1834, and served on their respective councils. He died at his residence in Lower Seymour Street, London, on 6 Jan. 1860.

Besides his joint work with Kirby, Spence was author of:

  1. ‘Radical Cause of the … Distresses of the West India Planters,’ 8vo, London, 1807; 2nd edit. 1808.
  2. ‘Britain independent of Commerce,’ 8vo, London, 1807, which went through four editions in that year, and was severely censured by m'Culloch.
  3. ‘Agriculture the Source of Britain's Wealth,’ 8vo, London, 1808.
  4. ‘Observations on the Disease in Turnips termed … Fingers and Toes,’ 8vo, Hull, 1812.
  5. ‘The Objections against the Corn Bill refuted,’ 8vo, London, 1815; 4th edit. the same year. Nos. 2, 3, and 5, with a speech on East India trade, were printed together in ‘Tracts on Political Economy’ in 1822.

He also contributed some twenty papers, chiefly on entomological subjects, to scientific journals between 1815 and 1853.

A portrait engraved by W. Ruddon from a painting by John James Masquerier [q. v.] is in the possession of the Linnean Society.

[Proc. Entom. Soc. London, new ser. v. 92; Proc. Roy. Soc. xi. obit. p. xxx; Freeman's Life of Kirby, chap. xv.; Gent. Mag. 1860, i. 631.

B. B. W.