George Spence – Jurist – 1787-1850

George Spence, Jurist, (1787–1850), born in 1787, second son of Thomas Richard Spence, surgeon, of Hanover Square, London, was educated at a private school at Richmond, Surrey, and at the university of Glasgow, where he matriculated in 1802, and graduated M.A. on 11 April 1805. After some time spent in the office of a London solicitor, he was admitted in 1806 a student at the Inner Temple, where he was called to the bar on 28 June 1811, elected a bencher in 1835, reader in 1845, and treasurer in 1846. A pupil of the eminent equity draughtsman, John Bell (1764–1836) [q. v.], he rapidly acquired an extensive practice, most of which he lost on taking silk (27 Dec. 1834).

He was returned to parliament in the tory interest for Reading on 20 June 1826, but was unseated on petition (26 March 1827). He afterwards (2 March 1829) secured the Ripon seat, which he retained until the dissolution of December 1832. Both in and out of parliament he made some ineffectual attempts to ventilate the question of chancery reform (Hansard, new ser. xxv. 463, 3rd ser. i. 1411, iv. 550, ix. 251, xiii. 467, xiv. 819). In the divisions on the parliamentary reform bill he voted against his party; he did not, however, seek election to the new parliament.

Spence was a pioneer in the cause of legal education and an original member of the Society for promoting the Amendment of the Law, founded in 1844. The last years of his life he consecrated almost exclusively to his opus magnum, ‘The Equitable Jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery; comprising its Rise, Progress, and final Establishment,’ &c., London, 1846–9, 2 vols. 8vo. The work is still the standard authority on the abstruse and intricate subject of which it treats; but the labour involved in its composition damaged his health, and on 12 Dec. 1850 he died of wounds inflicted by himself in a fit of insanity at his residence, 42 Hyde Park Square.

Spence married, in 1819, Anne Kelsall, daughter of a solicitor at Chester, who with issue survived him. He was author of, besides the great work already noticed: 1. ‘An Essay on the Origin of the English Laws and Institutions, read to the Society of Clifford’s Inn in Hilary Term, 1812,’ 1812. 2. ‘An Inquiry into the Origin of the Laws and Political Institutions of Modern Europe, particularly those of England,’ London, 1826, 8vo. 3. ‘The Code Napoléon, or the French Civil Code literally translated, by a Barrister of the Inner Temple,’ 1827. 4. ‘Reform of the Court of Chancery,’ London, 1830, 8vo. 5. ‘An Address to the Public, and more especially to the Members of the House of Commons, on the present unsatisfactory state of the Court of Chancery,’ London, 1839, 8vo. 6. ‘Second Address,’ &c., same place and year. 7. ‘Documents and Propositions relating to the Masters’ Offices,’ &c., London, 1842, fol.

[Times, 17 Dec. 1850; Law Review, February 1851, postscript; Law Mag. February 1851; Gent. Mag. 1851, i. 435; Ann. Reg. 1850, Chron. p. 153, App. p. 286; Inner Temple Books, Law Times, xvi. 294; information from W. Innes Addison, esq., assistant clerk, Glasgow University.]

Source: Dictionary of National Biography, volume 53, page 335.