Henry Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Aberdare
GCB PC FRS
1stLordAberdare.jpg
Home Secretary
In office
9 December 1868 – 9 August 1873
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by Gathorne Hardy
Succeeded by Robert Lowe
Lord President of the Council
In office
9 August 1873 – 21 February 1874
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
Preceded by The Earl de Grey and Ripon
Succeeded by The Duke of Richmond
Personal details
Born 16 April 1815 (1815-04-16)
Duffryn, Aberdare, Glamorganshire
Died 25 February 1895 (1895-02-26)
London
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) (1) Annabella Beadon (d. 1852)
(2) Norah Napier
(c. 1827–1897)

Henry Austin Bruce, 1st Baron Aberdare GCB, PC, FRS (16 April 1815 – 25 February 1895) was a British Liberal Party politician, who served in government most notably as Home Secretary (1868–1873) and as Lord President of the Council.1

Background and education

Henry Bruce was born at Duffryn, Aberdare, Glamorganshire, the son of John Bruce, a Glamorganshire landowner, by his wife Sarah, daughter of Reverend Hugh Williams Austin. John Bruce's original family name was Knight, but on coming of age in 1805 he assumed the name of Bruce: his mother, through whom he inherited the Duffryn estate, was the daughter of William Bruce, high sheriff of Glamorganshire.

Henry was educated at the Bishop Gore School, Swansea (Swansea Grammar School), and in 1837 was called to the bar. Shortly after he had begun to practice, the discovery of coal beneath the Duffryn and other Aberdare Valley estates brought his family great wealth.

Political career

Statue overlooking the Main Building of Cardiff University

From 1847 to 1854 Bruce was stipendiary magistrate for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare, resigning the position in the latter year, when he entered parliament as Liberal member for Merthyr Tydfil. The electorate at this time remained relatively small, excluding the vast majority of the working classes. Significantly, however, Bruce's relationship with the miners of the Aberdare Valley, in particular, deteriorated as a result of the Aberdare Strike of 1857-8. In a speech to a large audience of miners at the Aberdare Market Hall, Bruce sought to strike a conciliatory tone in persuading the miners to retuen to work. In a second speech, however, he delivered a broadside against the trade union movement generally, referring to the violence engendered elsewhere as a result of strikes and to alleged examples of intimidation and violence in the immediate locality.2 The strike damaged his reputation and may well have contributed to his eventual election defeat ten years later.

During his time as member for Merthyr, he became involved in the management of the Dowlais Iron Company. In 1862 he became Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. At the 1868 General Election, Merthyr Tydfil became a two-member constituency but Bruce was defeated by Henry Richard and Richard Fothergill. However, after losing his seat, Bruce was elected for Renfrewshire, he was made Home Secretary by William Ewart Gladstone. His tenure of this office was conspicuous for a reform of the licensing laws, and he was responsible for the Licensing Act 1872, which made the magistrates the licensing authority, increased the penalties for misconduct in public-houses and shortened the number of hours for the sale of drink. In 1873 Bruce relinquished the home secretaryship, at Gladstone's request, to become Lord President of the Council, and was raised to the peerage as Baron Aberdare, of Duffryn in the County of Glamorgan, on 23 August that year.

Public career after 1874

The defeat of the Liberal government in the following year terminated Lord Aberdare's official political life, and he subsequently devoted himself to social, educational and economic questions. In 1876 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; from 1878 to 1891 he was president of the Royal Historical Society; and in 1881 he became president of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Girls' Day School Trust. In 1888 he headed the commission that established the Official Table of Drops, listing how far a person of a particular weight should be dropped when hanged for a capital offence (the only method of 'judicial execution' in the United Kingdom at that time), to ensure an instant and painless death, by cleanly breaking the neck between the 2nd and 3rd vertebrae, an 'exacting science', eventually brought to perfection by Chief Executioner Albert Pierrepoint.

In 1882 he began a connection with West Africa which lasted the rest of his life, by accepting the chairmanship of the National African Company, formed by Sir George Goldie, which in 1886 received a charter under the title of the Royal Niger Company and in 1899 was taken over by the British government, its territories being constituted the protectorate of Nigeria. West African affairs, however, by no means exhausted Lord Aberdare's energies, and it was principally through his efforts that a charter was in 1894 obtained for the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire,a constituent institution of the University of Wales. This is now Cardiff University. Lord Aberdare, who in 1885 was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, presided over several Royal Commissions at different times.

Family

Henry Austin Bruce's grave at Aberffrwd cemetery in Mountain Ash, Wales.

Henry Bruce married firstly Annabella, daughter of Richard Beadon, in 1846. They had one son and three daughters. After her death in July 1852 he married secondly Norah Creina Blanche, daughter of Sir William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular War, whose biography he edited. They had seven daughters and two sons, of whom the youngest was the mountaineer Charles Granville Bruce. Their daughter, Sarah was married to Montague Muir Mackenzie, barrister.3

Lord Aberdare died in London on 25 February 1895, aged 79, and was succeeded in the barony by his only son from his first marriage, Henry. Lady Aberdare, born 1827, died in April 18974 and was a proponent of women's education and active in the establishment of Aberdare Hall in Cardiff.

Memorial

The words on Henry Austin Bruce's grave at Aberffrwd cemetery in Mountain Ash, Wales.

Henry Austin Bruce is buried at Aberffrwd Cemetery in Mountain Ash, Wales. His large family plot is surrounded by a chain, and his grave is a simple Celtic cross with double plinth and kerb. In place is written "To God the Judge of all and to the spirits of just men more perfect."

References

  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 4
  2. ^ "The Great Strike and the Colliers". Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian. 12 December 1857. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Hon. Sarah Napier Bruce". www.thepeerage.com. 17 January 2011. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  4. ^ Cardiff University Archives accessed 28 December 2011

Bibliography

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Josiah Guest, Bt
Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil
1852–1868
Succeeded by
Henry Richard
Preceded by
Archibald Alexander Speirs
Member of Parliament for Renfrewshire
1869–1873
Succeeded by
Archibald Campbell
Political offices
Preceded by
George Clive
Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
1862–1864
Succeeded by
Thomas Baring
Preceded by
Robert Lowe
Vice-President of the Committee on Education
1864–1866
Succeeded by
Hon. Henry Lowry-Corry
Preceded by
Gathorne Hardy
Home Secretary
1868–1873
Succeeded by
Robert Lowe
Preceded by
The Marquess of Ripon
Lord President of the Council
1873–1874
Succeeded by
The Duke of Richmond
Academic offices
Preceded by
(new post)
President of the University College of Wales Aberystwyth
1874–1895
Succeeded by
Baron Rendel
Preceded by
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell
President of the Royal Historical Society
1878–1891
Succeeded by
Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Aberdare
1873–1895
Succeeded by
Henry Bruce