John Spence joined the HBC in 1820 as a boat builder, moving from the Northern Department to the coast by 1825. In 1833, he returned to Europe (and apparently was saddened to leave behind a native wife, named Margaret), but was back on the coast two years later. He spent the next nine years servicing the likes of the Prince Rupert, the Cadboro (including building a small boat for her), and the Vancouver, which took the skilled carpenter to Fort Victoria in 1844. From 1847 on, he was hired to work on the Beaver. He began purchasing land in Victoria around 1854, retired as a pensioner in 1861, and got married in 1863 to a Maria Robinson. He died on 29 September 1865, and the funeral was held at his home on Superior Street in Victoria.
An undelivered letter from 18 June 1843 to his brother Joseph sheds light on his anguish regarding the abandonment of his first wife, Margaret and also reveals that he may have had a sister on the coast, who he might have visited while servicing the Prince Rupert. He speaks of being deathly ill for six months at that time, and also alludes to his daughters, though he may be speaking of orphans in his care. He shows himself to be a deeply religious man, leaving the health of himself and his daughters in the hands of his “Heavenly Father.”