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Bruce, Theodore (1847–1911)

by Eric Richards

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Theodore Bruce (1847-1911), auctioneer and politician, was born on 5 April 1847 at Leeds West, Yorkshire, England, son of William Bruce, wool and oil merchant and his wife Charlotte, née Baines. His maternal grandfather was Edward Baines, author and politician and founder of the influential daily newspaper, the Leeds Mercury. The family arrived in South Australia in 1852 and Theodore was educated at J. L. Young's Adelaide Educational Institution and the Collegiate School of St Peter. He then spent six or seven years on stations in the far north, experience which convinced him of the potential for development of the Northern Territory. He returned to Adelaide to join the office of Messrs (R. I.) Stow & Bruce, but soon moved to the National Bank of Australasia for which he worked for several years, again in the far north. On 24 August 1876 in St Luke's Church, Adelaide, he married Mary Ellen McFie; at this time Bruce was a commercial traveller.

About 1880 he joined forces with his brother-in-law G. S. Aldridge, chairman of the Stock Exchange of Adelaide, in Henning, Bruce & Aldridge, an auctioneering concern which also established a brewery at Broken Hill. The partnership was dissolved in 1889 and Bruce continued the auctioneering business alone from his offices in the Old Exchange, Pirie Street. 'He was a master in every way with the hammer, being bright, good natured, witty and quick'. In 1885 he had been commissioned lieutenant in the Rifle Volunteer Force. Next year he helped form the Goodwood Literary Society, and he was the first president of the Goodwood Institute.

Much of the last twenty years of his life Bruce devoted to civic affairs. For two years he represented Goodwood Ward in the Unley City Council, and in 1897-98 was mayor. He was also a member of the Adelaide City Council for the Hindmarsh Ward from 1894; an alderman in 1900, as mayor of Adelaide in 1904-07 he was closely involved with Premier Tom Price in planning the tramways scheme, a very substantial achievement; he was city council representative on the Municipal Tramways Trust until 1909. The regulation of the meat supply and the creation of abattoirs in the metropolitan area were also part of Bruce's municipal work.

His parliamentary aspirations were delayed by six electoral defeats, but in 1909 he stood as a Liberal for the Central District in the Legislative Council and 'routed the Socialist candidate'. Described as a 'Progressivist' he adopted advanced principles wherever desirable and practicable. Bruce's speeches ranged over a wide group of questions: municipal works, quality control of food, and loans for low cost housing. He was respected for his business expertise and was 'fearless in expressing his views'.

Bruce was a patron of the arts and sport, a racehorse-owner and a member of the Stock Exchange of Adelaide. He was elected first president of the Yorkshire Society the day before he died at his Mount Lofty home on 1 July 1911, after suffering for several years from rheumatism for which he had sought relief at hot springs in New Zealand. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and three sons and his estate was sworn for probate at £15,927.

Select Bibliography

  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • H. T. Burgess, Cyclopedia of South Australia (Adel, 1907-09)
  • Universal Publicity Co., The Official Civic Record of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • G. B. Payne, History of Unley, 1871-1971 (Unley, 1972)
  • Evening Journal (Adelaide), 29 Feb 1896
  • Observer (Adelaide), 10 Dec 1904
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 July 1911
  • biographical index, and newsclippings 1223/37 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Eric Richards, 'Bruce, Theodore (1847–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bruce-theodore-5401/text9149, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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