Alexander Blair Spence Esquire
Described as having been a gentleman of high standing, Alexander Blair Spence practised as a surgeon dentist within his adopted town of Dundee. He was resident for a period of 60 years, a kenspeckle character around the town .
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Personal details and history
Alexander Blair Spence
Date of birth
Name of spouse
Age at death:
Western Cemetery, Perth Road, Dundee
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Conservative - he was described as a 'strong Conservative'
Clubs / societies
MRCSE: Dundee Art Union: Free Library Committee Member: Dundee Chess Club: Snuff and Twopenny Club: The sum of £100 was bequeathed to each of the following clubs and societies - Dundee Royal Infirmary: Dundee Female Society: Dundee Clothing Society: Dundee Industrial School Society: Mars Training Ship Institution: Dundee Orphan Institution: Dundee Convalescent Home: Dundee Institution for the Blind: Dundee Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland Fund: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
Career and worklife
Surgeon and Dentist
Place of work
A Spence, Surgeon & Dentist
Career to date:
Alexander Blair Spence was said to have been 'educated for medicine.' He graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1834, aged approximately 21 years. He was the eldest son of a leading surgeon dentist in Edinburgh. From medicine, he was reported to have 'changed course and turned his attentions to dentistry, then a more lucrative profession than in the higher walks of medicine.' By 1835, he was declared to have arrived in Dundee to take charge of a branch of his father's dental business which had been established in Dundee. His father continued to practise as a surgeon dentist in Edinburgh. A listing in the Dundee Directory of 1837-38 for 'J (father) Spence, Surgeon & Dentist' indicated the location of the business to have been 'at the Head of Reform Street.' An advertisement of the same time names Meadowside as the location, comfortably pinpointing the site of operations at that time. Eventually, by 1845, Alexander Blair Spence relocated his business to Shore Terrace, from where he remained henceforth. He was referred to as both a Member (MRCSE) and Licentiate (LRCSE) of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh.
Alexander Blair Spence was born to John Spence, surgeon/dentist and his 1st wife, Sarah Grant Dickson, in London in 1813. His father, John Spence practised in Edinburgh. Alexander, their eldest child, was the only one to have been born in London. Much later, all the offspring of John Spence (and of both wives – a total of 11 children) were recorded together, in the Register of Births and Baptisms in Edinburgh, on 29 August 1840, although not declared to be ‘neglected entries.’
By the time Alexander had reached 14 years of age and after the death of his mother, his father had remarried in 1827. The mid 1830s saw major life decisions taken by Alexander Blair Spence and his younger brother, William Wallace Spence. While Alexander moved north to Dundee, his brother, William, aged merely 18 years of age, moved far west to the USA, with, allegedly, the equivalent of $100 in his possession.
Ultimately, William Wallace Spence (reputedly descended from William Wallace), after a spell as a clerk in New York, became an extremely successful financier in Baltimore. Another younger brother, John Fyfe Spence also landed in Baltimore. William’s mark on his adopted domain was the gift of a tall, bronze statue of Scots’ hero, William Wallace. The statue stands 30′ high from its base to the tip of his sword – an imposing sight.
Meanwhile, back in Dundee, Alexander was continuing to expand the range of dental services offered to his clientele, including artificial gums and palates! Spence continued in practice for a period of 6 decades, the latter years assisted by a junior partner.
Marriage beckoned for Alexander Blair Spence in 1844. His wife, Mary Müller was originally from Dumfries, where her father, Johann Cristoph Müller, had been a renowned piano and music teacher. He became well known in musical circles in Edinburgh in the early part of the centruy. Three of her brothers were to follow in his footsteps, with her oldest brother, Robert Müller, gaining notoriety as the instructor of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Mary of Cambridge, a popular figure, given the unfortunate nickname of ‘Fat Mary.‘ He was also appointed pianist to the King of Saxony. Her sister, Harriet Frances, lived out her days with Mary and her husband, Alexander in Dundee from at least 1851, possibly as early as the time of Mary’s removal to Dundee in 1844.
Over the 60 years that Alexander Blair Spence spent in Dundee, his interests in art, literature, chess and amateur dramatics occupied his leisure time. It was said that he possessed a wide ‘artistic knowledge, acquired by long study‘ and became ‘a passionate lover of art.’ Reputed to be a firm friend of both Horatio McCulloch and Edmund Thornton Crawford, notable Scottish painters, Alexander also gathered a valuable collection of paintings.
Alexander Blair Spence also enjoyed treading the boards and was reported to have often ‘taken part in amateur theatricals in the old Theatre Royal, Castle Street.‘
A founder member of Dundee Chess Club, Alexander Blair Spence gained a reputation as being its most enthusiastic member. For more than 48 years and to the end of life, he was faithful in his devotion to the game.
‘His natural gifts of tenacity and resourcefulness made him an opponent whom no man could afford to despise.‘
Such was his love for the game that he gifted £300 to be the nucleus for a fund to be raised by the members to provide for a free meeting place for the club. In December of 1895, Spence’s wish came to fruition in the creation of the rooms, ‘situated in the handsome range of buildings in the eastern half of Whitehall Crescent (a stone’s throw from his former residence on Shore Terrace).’ The rooms were fitted out appropriately, together with a number of paintings purchased from Spence’s collection and a photograph portrait of the man himself.
Alexander Blair Spence was survived by his brother, William in Baltimore and his sister, Sarah, his sister in law and his wife having predeceased him in 1878 and 1892 respectively.
Not having had any children, a number of nieces and family members became beneficiaries of his estate, valued at almost £10,000.
- Old Parish Registers. Edinburgh. Births. (1840). 685/1 580 130. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Registers. Edinburgh. Marriages. (1844). 685/1 670 343. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1842-43. p.18. National Library of Scotland website.
- Census Returns. Dundee. (1841). 282/ 25/ 7. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1861-62. National Library of Scotland website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1895). 282/3 126. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Legal Records. Wills and Testaments. Dundee Sheriff Court. (1895). SC45/31/47. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Advertiser. 18 March 1895. p.6. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser. 14 March 1895. p.6. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1837-38. p.76. National Library of Scotland website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1837-38. p9 of the Advertisements. National Library of Scotland website.
- Census Returns. Dundee. (1851). 282/ 16 10. ScotlandsPeople website.
- UK & Ireland Medical Directories. via Ancestry website.
- Dundee Evening Telegraph. 14 March 1895. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1845. p.87. National Library of Scotland website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1864-65. p.188. National Library of Scotland website.
- Scottish Post Office Directories. Dundee, 1867-68. p.200. National Library of Scotland website.
- Old Parish Registers. Edinburgh. Marriages. (1827). 685/1 630 408. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Portrait Collection. The Johns Hopkins Medical Institution website.
- Baltimore Heritage website.
- Dundee Courier. 14 March 1895. p.2. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier. 22 March 1895. p.4. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser. 16 December 1895. p.3. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee. Deaths. (1892). 282/ 3 392. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Memorial Stone Inscription. Western Cemetery. Dundee.
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