Gilbert Spens acquired citizen rights in Bremen on 16 January 1672. One of his sponsors was his fellow citizen and English merchant William Willet. From Bremen Spens worked as an agent for Sir William Bruce of Balcaskie in Germany and the Dutch Republic between 1672 and 1676. Spens arrived in Rotterdam on 7 March 1672. There he met in with a Mr [John?] Gordon with whom he travelled in search of the consignment of timber sought by Bruce. In a letter to Bruce written on the 8th March he noted that there was both scarcity and difficulty in getting the order. He specifically sought planks of 14 inch bredth and 16 feet long. He could only get 12 inches broad and 12 feet long, and they were more expensive that in Spens’s commission. Because of these factores, Spens left Rotterdam for Amsterdam on 9th March taking Mr Gordon with him. In his letter, Spens also noted the preperations being made by the Dutch for war, including putting a fleet to sea and arminG civilians. By 19/29 March, the men were back in Rotterdam having secured some of the planks and ribs at Dortrecht. He did not know how he was going to transport them (because of the hostilities) and determined to go to Bremen where he had instructed the merchant in Dortrecht to deliver them. He noted that all but French vessels were being arrested in Zeeland. Spens returned to Bremen in 1676 with the skipper Magnus Wilsone whom he felt had robbed him and cost him money and he actively encouraged Bruce to ensure the ship was emptied of its cargo in Scotland before paying the man.
At least from 1689 he had contact with the Scottish merchant in Rotterdam, Andrew Russell. In October he also helped to transfer money to the Scottish traveller Mungo English to the tune of 288 Guilders (£30 sterling), drawn on Russell. By 18 November English wanted Russell to pay Spens back 400 Dutch guilders (at 24 pence per guilder = £40 sterling).An undated receipt from Captain James Sutherland shows that Spens had paid him 88 guilders dutch money plus charges for ship freight. On 23 November the same year he sent Russell a bill of exchange to pay Herr Henrich Malste 200 guilders, though the bill does not say what for. His brother, John Spense of Blair (writer in Edinburgh), left a will in 1699 which mentions Gilbert in Bremen.
National Archives of Scotland, Kinross House Papers, GD 29/1906/1-5; National Archives of Scotland, Russell Papers, RH15/106/689/ various documents from Bremen (1689); National Archives of Scotland, CC8/8/80. Will of Sir John Spense, 20 June 1699; Staatsarchiv Bremen, Burgerbuch der Altstadt 1657-1674, 2-P.8.A.19.a.2.e.; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), p.152, Kurt Schwebel, Salz im Alten Bremen (Bremen, 1988), pp. 64-68. Entry updated by Dr Kathrin Zickermann.
- SCOTLAND, BREMEN
- Arrived 1672-01-16
- Capacity MERCHANT, purpose TRADE, COMMERCE
- SCOTLAND, THE DUTCH REPUBLIC, ROTTERDAM, DORTRECHT, AMSTERDAM
- Arrived 1672-03-07
- Departed 1672-03-29
- Capacity MERCHANT, purpose MERCANTILE, COMMERCIAL